The Cost of Textbooks Is Rising Faster Than the Price of College Tuition

Textbook inflation is through the roof, but students don't necessarily have to fork over the extra $1,200 every year just to be prepared for class

College students already have to worry about rising tuition costs, but today's students need to be concerned about rising textbooks costs, too. The College Board recently found that the average college student spends $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies.

Though that's a drop in the bucket for students at pricey private universities, it's 14% of tuition costs at a state-run public college or 39% of tuition costs at a community college. And when you consider the fact that textbook costs have increased by 864% since 1978 — rising faster than tuition prices or the consumer price index — it's no surprise why these essential educational materials are adding to the ballooning problem of student debt.

And publishers aren't helping, as they continue to encourage students to buy new books by releasing updated editions or bundling textbooks with software and other extras. Since textbook requirements are set by professors, students don't have a choice when it comes to what to buy: Unlike opting for a generic version of the same type of TV, for example, students can't shop around for lower-priced alternatives. The end result is that some students, as many as 65%, just don't buy required texts, even though it may put their grades at risk.

How to Save on Textbook Costs

So what's a cash-strapped college student to do? The first step is to chat with your professor. Some professors will lean on textbook readings a lot, and others will only use textbooks as a reference. Depending on how much use specific books are going to get, you could get away with checking certain texts out from the library occasionally or sharing a book (and the cost) with a friend or two in the same course.

If you definitely need your own textbook, however, buying used is the easiest way to save, with prices up to 30% off the original retail cost. If your professor recommends a brand new edition of a book, you can often find the previous edition at an even deeper discount, and probably without many changes, though you'll want to check how different the old and new editions are before you buy. If you do buy an old edition, expect the page numbers to be different if nothing else. This can make reading assignments a hassle, but one that may be worth the savings. Try your campus bookstore or sites like Amazon, Craigslist, or to pick up used books for less.

Another option is renting a textbook from your college bookstore or an online retailer like Amazon, Chegg, CampusBookRentals, or Rental times and prices vary greatly, but no matter what you decide on, expect a significant savings over buying new. The campus library can also be a source of books for no cost at all, but you may face competition from other students doing the same.

Readers, do any of you have your own tips to help students save on textbook costs? Let us know in the comments!

Elizabeth Harper
DealNews Contributing Writer

Originally working in IT, Elizabeth now writes on tech, gaming, and general consumer issues. Her articles have appeared in USA Today, Time, AOL, PriceGrabber, and more. She has been one of DealNews' most regular contributors since 2013, researching everything from vacuums to renters insurance to help consumers.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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I've been able to get nearly all school books needed in eBook format. These are far cheaper than new textbooks, and often cheaper than used.

Some perks: Instant download. Cloud access on all devices. Share/borrow. Highlight (& see popular highlights of others). Take notes. Copy/print. Search. Sync. Set View preferences. Very fast to find info during open-book tests etc. Keep your books after course without taking over all house storage. Carry one device instead of six heavy books to class. No extra gear needed to use (highlighters, pencils, lights etc.). "Real" page number feature for cites (not in all ebooks tho; for formula to overcome this, Google it). If your device dies, just use another, because it's all in the cloud (Kindle version). Easily refer to multiple books when writing papers; no struggling with piles on desk.

I found Kindle ebooks to be a major improvement in my school experience; I highly recommend it or something similar to old-school textbooks.
Also, echoing what StevenThai said. Renting a book is rarely worth it. Even buying a textbook brand new then selling it directly to another student the next semester has a lower net loss.
It's also a good idea to look into older editions. Usually, there's very little difference between older and newer editions of textbooks (page numbers, pop culture references) except the older editions often cost less than half of the latest edition.
Go to for international editions. I put my daughter through school (applied mathematics) and paid $54 one time for one book. All the others were between $8 and $26 each. She never had one single issue with the international additions. Shipping is quick from overseas suppliers, usually DHL. Longest shipment took one week.
Buy used books if possible, then sell to other students. If you do it right and are lucky, the saving could be more than renting option.
International editions are also way cheaper. They may have a different cover, and it's usually a soft cover, but the contents are exactly the same. eBay is the way to go when looking for an international edition.