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Study finds buying, selling textbooks cheaper than renting

Published: Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 01:01

 

As students wait in line to buy textbooks during the first week of classes, new research has been released to propose the most cost effective way to get textbooks.

The study, done by BigWords.com, a price comparison site for textbooks, suggests that buying used textbooks instead of renting them can potentially save the average student $1,000 a year.

Jeff Sherwood, the website’s founder and CEO, said his research indicated the average student spends approximately $1,137 on textbooks per year. 

The study, based on the website’s ability to compare textbook buying and selling prices, gathered data from students who used their “consider buyback value” feature.

“Students who used our recommendations wound up saving $1,000 a year,” Sherwood said. “They turned the third highest cost of college into something that can become groceries.”

Tia Salajan, a senior majoring in film studies, said she usually spends about $500 per semester on textbooks. Before she changed her major to film studies, Salajan said she used to spend $200 per science textbook when she was majoring in biology.

“(Textbooks) cost so much, and classes don’t even use them as much as I think they should, for what I pay for,” she said. 

The study was conducte by comparing prices of the 1,000 most popular textbook titles. The prices of the cheapest available option for each textbook at the start of the fall semester were subtracted from the highest offer price found for those books at the end of the semester.

“We record all of the prices we gather, and with a million users per semester, it’s a tremendous amount of data…” Sherwood said. “We found that students who bought the recommended used books and then sold it for the highest offer price did better than those who rented them.”

Kimberly McDaniel, a sophomore majoring in biomedical sciences, said she spends an average of $500 to $600 per semester for her textbooks. This semester alone, she said she spent about $700 for her textbooks.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I paid $117 for an access code, and $120 for a textbook for pre-calculus.”

Also included in the study was the option of purchasing e-books. 

Sherwood said e-books are becoming more popular among college students, but that they are still nowhere near as popular as used textbooks.

“In general, an e-book is discounted 10 to 15 percent off the price of the new textbook, when you can buy a used book for
50 to 75 percent less than the cost of a new book,” he said. “It’s just dramatically better value.”

At the USF Bookstore, rented textbooks can be purchased for up to 50 percent lower than new textbooks, and e-books can be purchased for up to 60 percent less, according to the website.

Sherwood said used books are often better in value than e-books, because buying a used textbook can be permanent, whereas some e-book purchases will only stay downloaded for several months or a year. 

He said, however, though the price is not as cost-effective, students usually find e-books to be more convenient to use. 

A trend Sherwood noted of the study was the varying textbooks costs for different subjects. 

“Science books, engineering, medical, law, these books are generally more expensive than literature, journalism or other liberal arts disciplines,” he said.

McDaniel said she usually shops at the university bookstore because of convenience and the Bookstore Advanced Purchase Program, which allows students to purchase their books and supplies before their financial aid refund is sent to them. However, she said she plans on changing how she buys her textbooks next semester.

“Now I will shop for textbooks online,” McDaniel said. “I plan on looking around online before going to any bookstore in person. I want to make sure I compare prices and get the best one.”

Sherwood said his website searches the inventories of more than 50 different online retailers, renters and book buyers to compare prices and markets for students.

“At the end of the day, what we are trying to do is show students the best way to buy, download or rent their textbooks,” he said.

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