Cheap Textbook Guide

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Many students get "sticker shock" when they go to the UC Davis Bookstore to find out they need to spend hundreds on new textbooks for the quarter. This guide will hopefully help students save some money and not get burned in the process. There are two ways to buy textbooks: locally or online. It all depends how quickly you need the book and if you did your research early. In general, the cheapest prices on textbooks are to be had by buying from other students on campus, since it cuts out the middlemen, there's no shipping charges, and no fees. That said, it is a bit more troublesome than going to a bookstore and getting all your books at once, so it just depends on whether your goal is to save money, or to get your books ASAP.

Shopping Locally

There are many options in Davis if you do not have time to wait to buy a book from an Internet seller due to the shipping delay.

  1. UCDavis.CourseBooks.com is an online bookstore designed for UC Davis students. Unlike other online stores, you can find out which books you need for all you classes and their prices are just about the lowest anywhere. It is designed and managed by current UC Davis students and is the easiest place to get textbooks from.

  2. Off-Campus Books is prominently located a block away from the bookstore across from the Social Sciences and Humanities Building.

  3. Culpepper Used Books is located in the University Mall and is most convenient for Freshman living in the nearby dorms.

  4. The ASUCD Used Book Board board located inside the Coffee House allows students to post the books they want to sell. It can be rather inefficient and cumbersome to contact an individual person to buy a book unlike the Book Exchange or one of the off-campus bookstores who have fixed locations and hours.

  5. DavisPost - www.davispost.org - DavisPost is a free classified ads website exclusively for Davis residents and students. The site includes a UCD Textbook category for buying and selling textbooks from other students.

  6. The UC Davis Bookstore should be your last resort. One way to take advantage of their generous return policy is to reserve your book from the bookstore for a few days. Buy the textbook you need and if you find a better deal online or at the Book Exchange, just return it.

Textbooks on the Internet

Buying books on the internet can save you more money compared to shopping locally for books. However, it takes time to ship the book to you. Therefore, to shop online you must plan ahead and buy your textbooks before the quarter starts. Expedited shipping (if it is available) can also speed up your book's arrival. Keep in mind that most online stores don't charge sales tax.

In order to shop for textbooks on the internet, you'll need to know which books to purchase for your classes. To effectively purchase your books online it's best to have the ISBNs for the books, as these numbers will correspond to the exact books used in the course (not just one with the same title). A good time to obtain the numbers would be during finals of the previous quarter. ISBN's can be found at:

  1. The UCD Bookstore - Just go to the bookstore about 2 weeks before class starts or during finals and copy down the ISBN's for the required textbooks you'll need.

  2. At the ASUCD Book Exchange's website - [WWW]http://bookexchange.ucdavis.edu also has the same master list of the ISBNs. However, their search engine for ISBN’s is a bit buggy.

  3. Siscast - View textbooks by class or crn. If Siscast doesn't have the book list, it will send you an email listing the books as they become available. Siscast links you to amazon.com for purchasing.

If these methods fail, you may be able to contact the instructor for the course or find their website to obtain a list of required books.

There is always the "Do what ye want 'cause a pirate is free" option. Many students go through college without buying a single textbook and instead pirate them online.

Searching for the Lowest Price

There are many websites to buy the books you need. Plug in your ISBN's into textbook search engines such as [WWW]Cheap Textbooks,[WWW]SmartBookFinder.com, [WWW]Campusi.com, [WWW]Textbook411.com, and [WWW]AddAll.com to search multiple bookstores to find the lowest price. Oftentimes, used books are sold by independent third parties on sites like [WWW]Amazon.com or [WWW]Half.com. Amazon and Half.com charge sellers a percentage of the price of a book for listing it on their site. Shopping on these sites is generally safe since there is customer service to help you out in case of disputes. However, there is still a chance of something going wrong. Therefore, it is a good idea to check someone’s feedback rating to see if they have had problems with other transactions. [WWW]AbeBooks.com allows you to search the inventory of hundreds of independent book stores across the country, and often has incredible deals on older editions of textbooks.

While well-known stores such as half.com and amazon.com pop up frequently on SmartBookFinder.com, Campusi.com, Textbook411, and AddAll.com, other lesser-known sites will also appear. For example, Valore Books may also allow third parties to sell their own books on their website, just like amazon.com. You should exercise particular caution when purchasing from these smaller third party vendors. Of course, buying directly from the merchant instead of the third party on the website is always your safest bet.

Bidding on textbooks on [WWW]eBay is generally not recommended due to the uncertainty of whether you will win the auction or not.

If there is an international edition (see below) of the book available, it may be prudent to buy only from sellers who specifically state that the book they are selling is in fact a hardcover US edition. This gives you that extra assurance that you are in fact getting a hardcover book. Many sellers will list their International edition book using the ISBNs of the US edition books.

For added protection, use a credit card instead of a debit card so you can always request a charge-back if something happens.

International Editions/ Paperback Editions

Paperback versions of hardcover books are becoming quite common. The price of these international editions may be substantially less that the cost of a hardcover. These editions generally have the exact same content as your regular (and expensive) hardcover editions. However, the books may be printed in black and white (no color), use lower-quality paper, or have big words and an ugly border on the cover that says "International Edition."

So why do publishers sell international editions with the same content at a lower price? Textbook publishers sell textbooks worldwide, and they generally sell books at prices relative to the prices in the country they are in. Therefore, a textbook in Malaysia may retail for $30 US while the same book in the US would be sold for $80. The international editions make it harder to sell textbooks from one country to another due to the difference in quality. It may be very difficult to re-sell an international edition because the bookstore will not buy them back. You could try to sell it on the internet on sites like [WWW]Amazon or [WWW]Half.com.

SI unit editions may pop up. These books have units in the SI Units instead English units (i.e. ft. vs. meters).

A serious drawback is that page count and layout can be entirely different from the US edition, rendering the book of questionable value depending on the class. Also, sometimes the international edition is prepared by scanning the US edition instead of getting the original files/artwork. Some colors may be rendered nearly invisible and you might get all sorts of fun image distortion.

Overall, the purchase of International editions is encouraged if you plan on keeping your books and don't mind a lower-quality paperback. However, you may find that the price difference between a US edition and an International edition is so small that it may be better to buy the US hardcover edition so you can re-sell the book if you decide to get rid of it.

Buying Overseas

In many cases, [WWW]Campusi and [WWW]AddAll show that the cheapest textbooks you'll find are sold overseas like at amazon.com's UK website or Blackwells in the UK. Generally, if the ISBN's are the same, you should be ok purchasing that book. These books may be the exact same books sold in the US, but just shipped overseas (and re-shipped to the US after you’ve purchased it). It is also a good idea to double-check that the book you are buying is the correct soft or hard cover binding. Buying from third parties on these overseas websites may pose somewhat of a challenge because if there is a problem with your order, the sellers are half-way around the world. Shipping books from overseas may cost more and take a bit longer than usual to be delivered but the high shipping may be offset by the cheaper textbook price.

Previous Editions

Older editions of textbooks are commonly available from online textbook resellers for no more than a few dollars. For many books, changes between recent editions are insignificant, and won't have an impact on the usability of the textbook. However, for classes in fast-changing fields or classes with textbook-based assignments or problem sets, these books may be near-useless. As with international editions, page count and layout may be very different from the current edition. Previous edition textbooks tend to have very low resale value.

Online Book Exchanges

There are many websites that allow students to post their books online for free. Prospective buyers then contact the seller via email or phone to arrange to meet on campus to sell. This concept is similar to the ASUCD Used Book Board.

These websites generally have a more limited selection of books than your college bookstore, but are usually a whole lot cheaper, as students are selling to other students directly without fees. Plus, it can actually be more convenient than going to the bookstore if you arrange to meet at a place you usually go to anyway (coffee shop, library, outside your class, etc.). However, keep in mind that you have no guarantee of their intentions or identity, so be sure to play it safe and meet in public places, preferably during the day.

Textbook Rental

For high-priced, high-demand textbooks and new editions, rental may also be an option. Before new editions are available to the used market (Amazon, eBay and Half.com), textbook rental companies will offer rentals at significantly below retail price.

Selling Your Textbooks

Buyback_Sign.JPG

Also see Textbook buyback.

You can always sell your book back to the UC Davis Bookstore. They will give you about 50% of the new book price if you are lucky or tell you that your book is worthless and send you on your way (avoid selling back to the bookstore unless you are desperate for fast cash and have a starving family to feed).

If your not in a hurry, and want to avoid any fees and thus get the best price for your book, your best bet would be to post your book on the free online book exchange websites. You could also always sell your books online or at the ASUCD Book Exchange or to one of the off-campus bookstores.

Note that if your book is not being used the next quarter, it will be worth a lot less. Waiting until the book is used again will net you more money back. However, the longer you wait, the higher the likelihood that a new edition will come out, which can sometimes make your book worthless.

Alternative Options

You could always try to take some classes without books.

Further Reading

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2007-09-27 11:43:44   what happened to the cool files book tool on davis wiki? The link above no longer works. The book search thing was one of the most useful tools for getting books without having to go to the bookstore in person in order to find out what books you need. Using the davis wiki tool has saved me hundreds of dollars every quarter over the awful UCD bookstore. —BenJohnson


2011-04-03 00:40:51   I don't know if I should be saying this, but if one is absolutely forced to or is curious, it is possible to find ebook versions of quite a few textbooks floating around on the internet. Of course, this is very much illegal, but if you've bought the print edition and don't want to lug it around campus (MAT 21-series) or want to compare the differences between the 8th and 9th editions of the ENG 35 book (word-for-word with the exception of the problem set), it's worth a shot. —HarrisonM

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