Strategy 4: Buy A Used Textbook

Pay less, plus get help taking notes

If you stop and think about it for a minute, there’s not really any reason that used textbooks are cheaper than new ones. Unlike a new car, a textbook doesn’t lose its value as its ‘mileage’ goes up. A textbook is either readable or it’s not; it doesn’t break down or require maintenance (unless you spill your coffee all over it). Yet, used textbooks are invariably cheaper than their new brethren.

Once you make that realization, it seems fairly obvious that buying a used book is always preferable to a new one. Certainly a used textbook might have dog-eared pages or some highlighting, but that doesn’t actually render the words on the page any less readable (and in the case of the highlighting, it can even help you take notes!). Plus, remember Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince? You never know what secrets you might discover in a used textbook.

New doesn't mean best

Getting a new iPhone or seeing the new superhero movie is usually pretty awesome, but getting the ‘new’ version of a textbook doesn’t usually have the same appeal. This holds especially true when you consider that there’s not much of a difference between new and used textbooks.

The entire used textbook industry is built on the idea that a book doesn’t lose its value after it has been read, or opened, or highlighted in. In theory, as long as the text is readable and the information is still true, a textbook still has value. That’s not to say you should be buying waterlogged textbooks at Barnes and Noble, but rather that you shouldn’t be afraid of getting a used textbook, even if it’s a bit worn around the edges.

The thing is, when you buy used, the publishers don’t make any money. So, some publishing companies have tried to make buying new textbooks mandatory by including special supplemental materials. That’s why so many “updated” editions include a unique access code that can only be used once to access online content associated with that textbook, such as homework, quizzes, and videos. The goal is to make buying used a hassle, so you follow the path of least resistance straight towards a new textbook.

The good news is, most of the time you can buy one of those unique access codes without the attached book, which means used textbooks are still a better option for you. Just search for that particular publisher’s website to buy the code direct from them.

How used is too used?

Now that you know that used is nearly always better, and that you can buy used textbooks even if you need that special code, it’s important to consider exactly how ‘used’ you want your book to be. Try to distance yourself from the idea that a brand new book is somehow better than a used one, and from that frame of mind, think. You can save more money by opting for a book that’s had its pages turned a time or two.

There are all sorts of different ways to describe the quality of a used book. Here we break down exactly what you’re getting when you buy a ‘Good Used’ book versus an “Acceptable” one from Bookbyte.

Please note that these condition descriptions apply only to Bookbyte. We can’t say for sure how the other guys grade their books.

Like New - A used book in an almost new condition, there is no writing inside and it does include the textbook’s supplements.*

You’d be hard pressed to pick this textbook out of a lineup and be able to tell that it is “like new” instead of “new.” In terms of used books, Like New textbooks are the nicest quality, but they’re also the most expensive because of that. That being said, it’s still cheaper than the new version.

Good Used - Minor wear or markings; may not always have the supplements* included, it may or may not have writing.

This book looks like a textbook that spent a semester bouncing around a backpack. The pages may have a few notes written on them, and the corners of the book probably aren’t sharp and crisp, they’re a bit more rounded. There may be a scrape or two on the cover.

Used - Moderately worn cover, writing, markings or slight discoloration. It may or may not have the supplements* the new book would have, it probably has highlighting and or writing in it.

‘Used’ textbooks have had their pages turned a time or two, as you’d expect. These textbooks have likely gone through the hands of a few students before they get to you, but they’ve been evaluated for quality and they still have a few more years to go. There’s almost certainly going to be writing and highlighting in the margins of a ‘Used’ textbook. It’s older, so the pages may be a bit darker around the edges, and you might find a coffee ring or other such discoloration inside.

Acceptable - All text is legible, but it may contain markings, cover wear, loose/torn pages or staining, and a great deal of writing. It probably does not have supplements*, and it almost certainly has been written or highlighted in. Overall, the condition is good enough that you can learn from it without issues.

Textbooks listed as ‘Acceptable’ are the grizzled veterans of our inventory. They’ve seen a lot over their many years of service, endured scrapes, bumps, drops and every color of highlighter imaginable. Despite all that, they’ve still got a few semesters left in them. An ‘Acceptable’ textbook is one you can immediately tell has been around the campus a few times. It’ll have markings on many pages, the cover may be moderately scratched, a few of the pages might have minor tears, but no content is missing. This book has been well loved and well used. You’re going to get it for much cheaper than you would a ‘Good Used’ textbook, but it’s not going to be winning any beauty contests.

*Supplements are CDs, DVDs, access codes, access codes with an ebook (or etext), ebooks, audio cassettes, VHS cassettes, study guides, activities manuals, handbooks, pamphlets, etc.