Long Live the Party Fund! Save Money on Books


Students can save money by purchasing digital copies of their textbooks or by buying them online. (Photo Illustration by Lucy sutton/kindle photo courtesy of amazon.com/MCT)

Published: August 25, 2010

September again. As students settle in, the nervous excitement of a new semester is soon accompanied by the sad realization that all the money that was stockpiled over the summer will not be going toward party funds but toward textbooks.  The law of conservation of mass kicks in, and heavy wallets become heavy backpacks.

Later, as the semester ends, the bittersweet feeling of accomplishment is accompanied by a feeling of bitter rage when students sell back their $100 textbooks and receive some pesos and a gumball. Or by a feeling of reluctance when students decide to just keep their media communications textbooks, written by a middle-aged man who has yet to figure out how to update his Gizmogadget status.

This year can be different. There are several legitimate and possibly illegitimate options to try and beat the system, and your parents will be proud:

Textbook Rental
Barnes & Noble is offering textbook rentals to college students, either online or at their local campus store. According to a B&N press release, “Rented textbooks save students more than 50 percent of the cost of buying a new, printed textbook.” Students are allowed to take notes and highlight in the books, but if they judge the book to be no longer suitable for use, they will charge you for the replacement of the book.

Although the Fordham College at Lincoln Center (FCLC) campus bookstore does not yet offer the textbook rental option, students can still rent textbooks online from Barnesandnoble.com. Textbooks can be rented for a period of 60 to 130 days and can also be purchased by students who just can’t get enough.

Electronic Books
E-readers are increasing in popularity and more e-books are being published. Textbook publishers are lining up deals with Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc., and although it seems like a pricey option right off the bat, it could be an investment that appreciates with time.

For example, the Kindle 3 is now available for about $140, which is roughly the price of a new textbook. E-books are considerably cheaper than their ink-and-paper counterparts, so if a student were able to find electronic versions of the textbooks needed, the savings on books could eventually equal and surpass the cost of the Kindle, especially during the average four-year stay at college.

Right now, the major downfall of e-books is the lack of content, especially in the realm of textbooks. There is a risk that students will not be able to find an electronic version of the book they need. Some classes require textbook packages that include workbooks, and in that case, an e-reader would not help.

Many books, such as biology books, have illustrations and charts that would not appear in their full glory as an e-book. Something to keep in mind.

Order Online

This could actually be a sneaky way to make money (here is where we fall into the range of possibly illegitimate options). It is usually possible to find new and used versions of textbooks for sale online, on websites such as Amazon.com, for ridiculously low prices.

Even when the cost of shipping is taken into account, the total price is still usually lower than it would be at the campus bookstore. At the end of the year, it is sometimes possible to sell these books back to the campus bookstore for more than they originally cost. The bookstore should really consider this a service, since they do not have to buy them directly from the publishers. Right, bookstore?

Greg Fitzgerald, FCLC ’12, recently purchased a book for his Tudor England history class. “I went on Amazon and looked at the used books, and found the cheapest one,” said Fitzgerald. “It shipped from the UK. But it was still only five dollars for shipping, which is the normal price. This year I bought all five of my books for a total of 50 dollars.”

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to shop for books online and still receive them in time for class. This July, however, the Higher Education Opportunity Act went into effect, which, among other provisions, requires colleges to provide students with a list of course textbooks at the time of registration. This is designed to give students more time to find the best deals.

Also, Amazon is offering their Amazon Prime service free for one year to students, providing free two-day shipping on most items. Even if students are pressed for time, they can probably think of a suitable excuse to get professors off their backs for two days.

Other Options
There are still more ways to beat the system. The school library often has copies of the textbooks that students will need. This does not require too much explanation, just make sure to get there before everyone else.

Sharing a textbook is another good, cheap alternative to buying a textbook. Split the cost with a friend, and then argue about who has to read over the other’s shoulder. Or make copies. As legally as possible. Just make sure there will not be any open-book quizzes coming up in the semester.

Last, but definitely not least, (or definitely not least impressive), is the option to forego books entirely.  My roommate made it through his Roman History class by playing a video game, reading Wikipedia articles and watching an HBO TV series. It probably ended up being more expensive than the textbooks. But it remains an option. His parents probably do not know about this one.