Can textbooks really be free?  It's a great concept and the topic generates plenty of coverage, but what does it really mean?  If you had asked me back in January 2008 what the buzz would be six months later I would have told you “textbook rental”.   I was pretty sure that the concept of rental was going to really take off and catch the media by storm.  I mean, what a great concept, you pay a lower price for your books getting the buyback value upfront and reducing your overall expense.  Don't get me wrong, rental is still a great choice for students but the idea of renting textbooks never got picked up.  The media it seems, doesn't seem to like things that are just cheaper, they want them to be free!

Unfortunately not everything in life can be free.  Professors still have to be paid for the intellectual property (their ideas) that textbooks are based on.  Photographers need to be paid for illustrations and images to make the book more interesting to read.  Editors and printers need to be paid to put the book together and the bookstore (or online marketplace) needs to be paid for distributing the book to you.  So, I guess if everyone wants to work for free then the textbook can be free as well?

As you see, to the dismay of many students, textbooks can't be free.  So what is the real future of textbooks and how can we reduce those costs?  Let's examine a few things that are going on right now.

Advertising Supported Textbooks – love this concept.  The student's accesses an online version of their textbook and gets peppered with ads that help to reduce or eliminate the cost of the books

Torrents – A student buys the book, scans it in and then posts it online in a file share program for others to download.

eBooks – As we have well documented in our blog, this is a new market in which students can access online or download the textbook for use.

Open Source Textbooks – using open source file sharing warehouses, professors can create and share content which can then be used in place of the traditional textbook

All of these have potential to make a dent in the cost of textbooks but none of them will be the “textbook killer” that the media is looking for.

Over the next few weeks we will examine each of these and see what benefits they can bring and what pitfalls to be aware of.

By: Jeff Cohen


I am always surprised at how many college students feel that they want to hold on to their textbooks and not maximize there value by selling them at buyback.  Textbooks, like cars, are a depreciating asset.  The greatest value for a textbook is seen selling it as early as possible.

I remember standing in line one day and watching the people in my class sell back their book for $55 apiece.  When it was my turn they only offered me $20 for the same book.  What happened?  Why did I get less?  It is the basic laws of supply and demand.  The buyback program was only going to purchase so many copies back at the premium price.  Once those were purchased the offer price drops as the books are no longer being purchased for your campus, they are being purchased for the wholesale market.

So how do you get the most value for your books?  For starters you should have a sense of what the current online market looks like.  How many sellers are selling your textbook and what online buyers are currently paying for it?  This will help you make an informed decision while in the buyback line.

Next, sell you books back before your final class.  As soon as your test gets out everyone in your class will be running to the buyback counter to sell back books.  If you are not one of the lucky few who get to the line early you may not get the premium you are looking for.

Finally, don't be stupid!  If they are offering you 30% – 50% of the value of the book sell it now, don't hold it until later.  Your books will just sit on the shelf and collect dust for the next twenty years.  You will pack and move them five times and then realize the information is out of date and they are worthless.  We live in the information age where you can reference anything online; does that book really have a magical power that will help you succeed in a job?

By: Jeff Cohen


In some of our last posts on eBooks we explored the idea of total value (TV). But, what is it really and do students really care? We have all been in the situation of spending $150 for a book and at the end of the semester selling it back for $20. It kind of seems like a slap in the face to me. That slap gets even worse when someone else in your class goes to the same buyback station and gets $50 for the book. So how does this work? How can I get the most value for my books and what is the total value I am receiving? Over the next few weeks we will explore these ideas and try to provide you with ways to increase the total value you can get from your textbooks.

Total value is the cost of the book minus the amount you got by selling the book back at the end of the semester. The real cash you get is your “real” value but to determine how to apply it at the beginning of the semester you have to consider “perceived” value. This is making a calculated guess as to how much you will get back for the book at the end of the semester. Ultimately, it's a gamble.

Guaranteed buyback – one way to determine what the future value of your textbook would be to shop at locations that offer an upfront buyback price. Some campus bookstores have begun this practice, as well as websites like Textbooks.com and Chegg.com. You simply buy the book from them and they will guarantee an end of semester buyback price. Return the book and receive that predetermined amount of cash.

Current Market Value – with a little research you can find out what the current market value of a textbook. This is done is two ways. First, check the current online buyback price. These quotes are only good for 10 to 30 days but it if the book currently has value the chances are that value should remain close to that level for the semester (but this is not a guarantee). Second, take a look at the current marketplace value. See how much people are selling the textbook for at sites such as Amazon.com or Half.com.

Once you know the perceived value you can make a more informed decision.

By: Jeff Cohen


Kindle, the wireless reading device from Amazon.com, is certainly an amazing device and one that was a long time coming.  Now eBooks have been around for a long time prior to Kindle's introduction, but Kindle truly raised the bar by being wireless and completely portable.  Let's face it, what's the advantage to downloading a book if you have to haul around a computer to read it.  Even in a best case scenario you'll be using a lightweight laptop, but unless NASA built your battery you'll still have to be plugged in to read for more than a few hours.  At just over 10 ounces, Kindle is far lighter than a laptop with a much longer battery life.

Kindle was so sought after that when it was released in November 2007 it sold out in less than 6 hours.  Amazon couldn't even keep the device in stock until this summer, and with good reason.  Kindle has few flaws.  It allows it's users to buy and download books in less than a minute, it allows users to download blogs, newspapers, and magazines, it can hold over 200 titles allowing you to take a virtual library with you wherever you go.

But what does this mean for college students?  Right now Kindle is not geared toward textbooks.  It lacks many of the basic features that a student would need to make it a worthwhile expense.  Kindle currently lacks the ability to take notes, highlight or print a page.  In addition, the Kindle's graphics are not really up to the standards that you would need to see a diagram in great detail.  Finally the acquisition cost is pretty steep for a college student.  Starting at $340, many students are already struggling to pay for the books they need and this additional expense would require the textbooks to be really cheap to make up the difference.
Kindle is a great device for the avid reader and has all the features they would require but a new version would need to be created to really attract students.

By: Dan Russell


So in our last post we spoke of the many good reasons why you may want to consider buying an eBook instead of the new or used textbook, now it is important for you to see the whole picture to understand what disadvantages the eBook may have.

In some estimates the cost savings are not great enough, especially when you consider the overall value of the textbook.  How you calculate this is up for great debate and many students have had personal experiences which will alter how they choose to fill in these numbers.  In the beginning of the semester you pay cash up front for your books.  At the end of the semester during buyback your books have a retained value.  For an eBook to be worthwhile the total cost to the student (purchase price minus retained value) must be less than the physical book price.  Let's use a best case example.  If the new textbook costs you $100 and you get $50 back for the book at the end of the semester your total cost to own that book is only $50.  If the eBook costs you $60 at the beginning of the semester and you can't sell it back at the end of the semester, you paid $10 more to own the eBook and you have nothing to show for it in the end.

As a student you can probably see where the debate starts and ends.  How much are your books worth?  If you think your books won't have any buyback value then an eBook is a good bet.  In the best cases scenario listed above you are getting top dollar back for your book.  How often does that happen?  Different experiences will lead to different answers.

Other things to consider when buying an eBooks is will you print your book?  Does the book have a subscription limitation?  Do you have access to your computer all the time? The answers to these questions will differ for each of you but you should know what you are getting and how to use it.

I have been working with eBooks for over 3 years now and the truth is they do have a place in the market.  Many students do find value in them and find them easy to use.  Don't just write it off because it is different.  Talk to others who have tried and maybe give it a try yourself.  You may be surprised at how much you like it.

by: Dan Russell


Lately there has been quite a bit of press about eBooks.  Like all things in life there is a positive and a negative to the subject.  In essence the idea of eBooks is a great one.  Let's face it; nobody enjoys lugging 20 pounds of textbooks across campus on a hot day, or really any day.  I might be overly simplifying the subject but it's that very idea that has had many people begging for eBooks for over a decade now.  There really are a number of reasons for all sorts of people to get behind eBooks.  Conservationists love the fact that eBooks consume zero paper and result in zero trees being cut down.  Publishers love the fact that it costs nothing for them to ship eBooks.  If you don't like lugging around that 10 pound biology textbook, how would you like to pay the shipping costs for a truckload of them?  It doesn't stop there.  Think about the sheer volume of space that is dedicated to warehousing all those hundreds of books.  For a reader the eBook has even greater advantages.  Having trouble reading the small font of the text, with the click of a button you can increase the size.  How nice would it be to go on vacation and bring your textbooks with you without having to lug them all in your suitcase?  With eBooks you can simply download your texts and not have to worry about bringing all those heavy texts along.

By: Dan Russell


While strolling through campus on a gorgeous day I was distracted from my fruit smoothie by someone offering me a free t-shirt. Since t-shirts comprise 75% of my wardrobe I stopped to learn more. I quickly found out that I would more or less be paying for this t-shirt for the rest of my life in the form of a credit card. With my budget, I know that if I can't afford something now, I probably can't afford it when the bill comes due next month. And I am absolutely sure I can't afford it plus 8% the following month.

Now, I could have filled out the form, gotten the t-shirt and not used the credit card. I'd like to believe that I am responsible enough for that. In fact, I am that responsible. I have a couple of credit cards on me right now. I can't remember the last time I used them because they are only for emergencies. Luckily, I live a disaster-free life and never have to use my credit cards.

There really is no such thing as a free lunch, or free t-shirt for that matter. On every campus across America there are dozens if not hundreds of students who have been lured into staggering credit card debt by the promise of a free shirt, alarm clock, or coffee maker. Not every student understands the finer points of credit. Not every student understands how interest rates and late fees can raise the price of a cup of coffee from $4 to $400 by the end of the year. Credit cards are great if you have a stable income from month to month. If you know with absolute certainty you can pay the credit card bill at the end of the month than by all means use it. But, if like me you are on a limited budget and drinking free coffee at work in the morning, keep the plastic at home.

To sum up, there are some three great cliches that ring true here-

  1. There is no such thing as a free lunch (free t-shirt)
  2. Beware of wolves in sheep's clothing (NOBODY just gives things away without an ulterior motive)
  3. Don't borrow from Peter to pay Paul (which is what you do when you use a credit card. Peter is far meaner than Paul and charges ridiculous interest rates)

Sometimes there are things even I have trouble understanding. Shocking but true. Take for example some of the results from a recent survey on buying textbooks conducted by campusbooks.com. Every time I think about it I get more confused as to why more people don’t purchase their textbooks online.

There is no good reason why less than half of all students surveyed purchase their required texts online. Where someone might look at this survey and see numbers, I look at it and see students throwing away money that could otherwise be used on food and entertainment. I see someone eating Ramen Noodle when they can be eating carry-out Thai food. The average college student is now spending more than $4,000 on textbooks over the course of their education. The average savings on books purchased online rather than at the main campus bookstore ranges from 38% on a new book to 49% on a used book. Over the course of 4 or 5 years that’s thousands of dollars. Now we aren’t talking Ramen Noodle to Thai Food we are talking about the difference between riding a beat up Huffy to class and a new scooter.

This overspending on textbooks is made that much more confusing because most people list PRICE as the main factor when buying a book. Not convenience, not rubbing elbows with your fellow students at the campus bookstore, not the warm fuzzy of having purchased a bag full of heavy textbooks, but PRICE. Even though price is the main factor, and studies show significant savings when purchasing texts online, students still buy elsewhere. Even crazier is that most people who do shop online DON’T use a price comparison tool! You don’t need a college education to know that different stores have different prices. Textbook prices fluctuate wildly across the country and the best way to get the best price is to use a simple price comparison tool. Campusbooks.com’s price comparison tool lists price, shipping costs, and availability from dozens of vendors. Some students using the tool have saved almost 60% on their books.

To sum up, if you want to eat Thai food and ride a scooter to class, use a price comparison tool and shop for your books online.


Campusbooks.com recently conducted a survey of textbook buying students and the findings were quite interesting. The survey confirmed some of my long held beliefs when it comes to the textbook buying public but there were also a couple of surprises. The results won’t necessarily make the latest edition of Scientific America but they were pretty interesting nonetheless.

My first surprise was to find out that almost as many people are shopping for books online as at the campus bookstore. It wasn’t too long ago when the campus bookstore was a clear cut choice. The least surprising fact to emerge from the survey was that price is the most important factor when shopping online. In fact, price was the main factor in just under 70% of the respondents. And even though price is an overwhelming factor when shopping online I was surprised that there were so many other factors at work too. Other factors included (in order) reputation of seller, reputation of website, inventory availability, and delivery time. All of these other factors were listed on less than 10% of the surveys. The reputation of seller and website were listed as the 2nd and 3rd most important factors and combined for almost 18% of responses.

This clearly shows that there is still a bit of fear on the part of the purchasing public, despite how commonplace online shopping has become. We all want the lowest price, but for close to 20% of us we fear we might be getting duped. As for the other respondents, who listed inventory and delivery time as the most important factors,well, you people need to jump start your book buying process. In all honesty, when time becomes a more important factor than price it means you should have purchased your books earlier. Time is money. And those without the time tend to pay more money.

It’s very simple, the earlier you purchase your textbooks the less money you will spend. So please for your own sake, find out what texts are required for your courses as soon as possible. Then visit campusbooks.com to use their price comparison tool. Within seconds you’ll know the price, availability, and shipping times from a variety of online stores.