Online textbook marketplaces and textbook rental sites have altered the textbook marketplace permanently. College bookstores no longer have a monopoly on textbook pricing. However, it’s not always obvious if its better for someone to rent a textbook or to buy it used from an online vendor.
Renting textbooks and buying them used both come with drawbacks compared to buying new textbooks. For example, new textbooks always come with supplemental materials such as CDs or digital access codes. However, the low prices associated with renting and buying used textbooks usually offset the additional cost of supplemental materials.
That said, students face a tough decision when it comes to deciding whether to buy a used textbook that they can keep or to a rent a textbook that must be kept in good condition? A lot of time, the math works out in favor of renting, but one site, AbeBooks is challenging that assumption. AbeBooks doesn’t offer textbook rentals, but we found a number of books where the price of buying a used book from AbeBooks was actually lower than renting a book from leading textbook rental sites like Chegg, Amazon and CampusBookRentals.
Should you buy a used textbook from AbeBooks? Here’s what you need to know about it.
- Low priced used textbooks (sometimes cheaper than renting)
- Many free shipping options
- Some sellers are offering international editions
Buying Textbooks On AbeBooks
When you buy textbooks from AbeBooks, you’re likely buying an “international edition” of the textbook. Generally, international editions of textbooks contain the same text, problems, examples, etc. that the U.S. editions contain, but they may have a few differences. The photos in the book might differ, the cover will look different, and the international editions rarely come with supplemental materials.
However, the international editions are much less expensive than the U.S. editions, and they contain the same information. Since it’s now legal to buy used international editions in the United States, this is a great way to get low cost textbooks.
Just remember, these used books won’t contain supplemental materials (neither will rental books), so you may have to purchase those on your own.
Is It Actually Cheaper To Buy Used?
I was surprised to find that purchasing a used international edition textbook was consistently cheaper than renting a textbook from Amazon and CampusBookRentals. eCampus.com and ValoreBooks sometimes offered lower prices.
However, the place where used books become cheaper is on the “return” end rather than the buy end. If you don’t manage to return a book on time to a rental site, you’ll often have to pay the full list price of the book. When you purchase a used book from AbeBooks (or any other site), you don’t have to return the book ever. However, you may be able to sell the book back to AbeBooks or another retailer.
As a rule of thumb, if the prices are within a few dollars, you’ll probably be better off buying used and reselling if you want. Much less risk with this approach.
What Are The Drawbacks Of Using AbeBooks?
Unlike most textbook rental sites, AbeBooks doesn’t have a guarantee refund window. It’s up to the book seller (often someone in an international location) to decide whether to accept the return or not.
A second drawback to purchasing used books is that the shipping time may be quite a bit longer than standard shipping times from US based textbook rental sites. If your semester has already started, you probably don’t want to wait days or weeks to get the books.
Rent Or Buy - The Decision Is Yours
With shockingly low textbook prices, purchasing used books from AbeBooks could make a lot of financial sense, but you need to compare prices. You may find that your textbooks cost less to rent from textbook rental sites.
However, you also need to make sure you know exactly what you're getting and see if an international edition would make sense.
AbeBooks features consistently low prices on used textbooks, but buying isn’t always the right choice. Do your homework (before class starts), and make the best choice for your needs and your wallet.
AbeBooks offers great prices on used textbooks, especially if you’re comfortable getting an international edition of a book.
Robert Farrington is America’s Millennial Money Expert® and America’s Student Loan Debt Expert™, and the founder of The College Investor, a personal finance site dedicated to helping millennials escape student loan debt to start investing and building wealth for the future. You can learn more about him on the About Page, or on his personal site RobertFarrington.com.
He regularly writes about investing, student loan debt, and general personal finance topics geared towards anyone wanting to earn more, get out of debt, and start building wealth for the future.
He has been quoted in major publications including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox, ABC, NBC, and more. He is also a regular contributor to Forbes.