The Best Places to Get Cheap Textbooks Online


Once you get past the whole thing about maintaining good grades, besting standardized tests and making sure you’re involved in enough unique admissions board-enticing extracurricular activities as humanly possible, there is still one mighty hurdle between you and college. Cost is a huge and unavoidable factor, and it extends well beyond just tuition. That’s why finding cheap textbooks online can be such a lifesaver and keep you from experiencing meltdowns in the middle of your college bookstore. First impressions are important after all. 

From downloadable e-books to rentable textbooks, there are alternatives that help you laugh in the face of campus-bookstore prices. In many cases, you can set the exact length of your rental period (if, say, it’s a textbook you know you won’t be required to have indefinitely), access preview features that allow you to check out samples of text and even scan some e-textbooks for free seven-day trial periods. With the help of these resources, you’ll be sure you’re got every topic on the syllabus covered, with a little change left in your pocket for that final college hurdle: Your social life. 

Table of Contents

Here are a few places to get you started whether you want to rent textbooks, buy textbooks or trade textbooks. After you’ve saved on your textbooks, checkout these 60+ college student discounts that will save you a bundle on food, clothing, tech and more.

Best Places to Buy College Textbooks 


Chegg is all about getting you started as quickly and easily as possible with your textbooks, and for that reason it’s a great place to check  out. Although primarily positioned as a place to buy books outright, they do fill in the downtime between your purchase and the order delivery by making online versions of your textbook available to you while you wait. What also sets Chegg apart is their dedication to educational help beyond just books. They’re not just a place for scoring a cheap college text book; they give you access to  24/7  online tutoring services and even list internship and  job opportunities for students.  

Why it’s cool:

• You can read the online version of your textbook for free while Chegg ships you the hard copy of your book.

• There’s access to homework help, including step-by-step solutions to textbook problems and online tutoring services.

• There’s a 21-day satisfaction guarantee, and return shipping is free.

• Aside from books, you can explore career profiles and internship opportunities to immediately apply for.


Despite its name, TextbookRush actually allows you a full 30 days to return books for a full refund, so even if you snag unneeded books during your frantic initial buying spree, you have time to make things right. TextbookRush also has a vibrant trade-in and used-book purchase marketplace, and can even provide access to international editions of textbooks (which are identical to the U.S. editions, but can be up to 80% cheaper). Sign up for the Rush Rewards U program to be able to buy, sell, or rent not only textbooks but video games and electronics, too. You can also  earn “Carrot Coins” which  can be redeemed for exclusive swag. 

Why it’s cool:

• You have 30 days to return books for a full refund.

• Shipping is free on orders over $35, and all returns are free.

• Most textbooks ship in a reusable box, which you’re encouraged to return your books in.

• Identical international editions of books are available at up to 80% off U.S. edition textbook prices.

• The Rush Rewards U program lets you buy, sell and rent textbooks, video games and electronics to earn your way towards swag, like T-shirts, water bottles and more.


Alibris Textbooks

If your area of study takes into rarified academic territory, then you need to head directly to Alibris. Their calling card is rare and out-of-print books, and they offer free shipping on orders over  $39 (which is a small bar to reach). Alibris is also easy to navigate,  in that it lets you search for all of your textbooks at once  – just enter the ISBNs in the search box. Alibris will display the “best textbook price” results, and you select which books to put in your cart. And they’re not just about schoolwork – Alibris also offers music and movies, too!

Why it’s cool:

• The site specializes in rare and out-of-print books.

• Shipping is free on orders over $39.

• Alibris will buy your books, too — and buybacks ship for free.


A gathering place for international booksellers, AbeBooks specializes in harder-to-find textbooks, and also has the unique ability to offer relevant articles or essays on a topic, which can help with research and studying. Because the booksellers are independent, pricing can vary wildly (especially when items are shipped internationally) and it can sometimes be a risk if the seller isn’t recognized for being reliable (much like how Amazon operates). So read the reviews and star ratings before you purchase!

Why it’s cool:

• The site specializes in rare and collectible books, but you’ll find plenty of textbooks, too.

• Affordable international versions are available.

• AbeBooks has a buyback program, so that you can make some money on your used books.

Best Places to Rent College Textbooks


Amazon textbooks

We know what you’re thinking: Isn’t Amazon the best place to buy books? That would normally be the case, but when it comes to college textbooks it’s a surprisingly good outlet for the non-committal.

What sets Amazon apart as a renter is that they actually allow you to choose the exact rental length, and you only pay for that specified period of time. So if you’re auditing a class or know you’ll need a certain textbook only for a short period, this is a great, financially efficient option. You can also access a large variety of e-textbooks, many of which can be viewed free for a seven-day trial period. Amazon’s “X-Ray” feature (which is available on the Kindle Fire HD and free Kindle app) also lets you look up words in a dictionary, translate text and get relevant information from sources like Wikipedia and YouTube.

Why it’s cool:

• You can choose your exact rental length and pay only for that specific time (30 days, 60 days or 90 days).

• A preview feature allows you to “look inside” some books to see a sample of the text.

• Orders over $35 get free shipping.

• Get free two-day shipping when you join Amazon Student or Prime.

• Want to keep a rental? You can opt to purchase it during your renal period and keep it forever.

Campus Book Rentals

Campus Book Rental

Some students can’t fathom renting books because they love to highlight and make margin notes. CampusBookRentals is a safe haven for these people. Not only do they allow you to mark up the books and still return them, they actually encourage it (they say “Highlight Like You Own It” right on their homepage). You get free shipping both ways, the rental periods are flexible, and you have 21 days to return a book for a full refund. 

Why it’s cool:

• Your rental period is totally flexible.

• Shipping is free both ways.

• It’s okay—and even encouraged—to highlight and write in the books.

• You have access to live customer support.

• There’s a 21-day cushion to return books for a full refund. textbooks

While not as flexible as Amazon, offers rental periods built around the academic calendar – so you can choose between a full semester rental, a quarter semester rental or a “short term” rental of a few weeks. And don’t worry about having to make that call right away, they structure it so that you can extend your rental at any time. eCampus’ eWards program lets you earn points on purchases, for referring friends, and just for signing up you get $5 off your next purchase of $30. There’s an eCampus Reader that gives you offline access to all of your purchased e-textbooks in one easy place.

Why it’s cool:

• Rental durations are flexible, with a choice between semester, quarter or short term. Plus, you can extend your rental at any time. YOu can also return your purchase for any reason within 25 days.

• Shipping is free both ways on orders over $35.

• There’s almost always some kind of offer live on their site that offers you a certain amount (usually $5) when you text a number.

Best Places to Trade College Textbooks



Why not cut out the middle man? Student2Student, just as the name implies, is a site where students can trade with each other directly. It’s is like a Craigslist for college textbooks. The sellers/renters post their wares, and the buyers/renters arrange the transactions. It’s ideal for small, localized trading on campus or in the immediate area, and Student2Student doesn’t charge any fees for the transactions. If your desired textbook isn’t available from a seller on your campus, a comparison tool will show you where to get the book online for the best price. Being so local limits the resource pool, but it also increases the chances you’ll get a book already marked up according to a specific professor’s preferences! 

Why it’s cool:

• No third party is involved. Meet the buyer/seller on your campus.

• There are no transaction fees involved.

• No shipping. No credit cards.

• If your desired textbook isn’t available from a seller on your campus, a comparison tool will show you where to get the book online for the best price. works with the largest number of online book vendors to search for the best prices to buy, sell or rent books. The site allows you to compare physical vs. digital copies of textbooks, and also shows potential sell back prices to see if buying is your best option. You can search by title, author or ISBN, and when you sell back books, you get free shipping to vendors.

Why it’s cool:

  • Compares physical vs. digital and buy vs. rent (many rental periods to choose from).
  • Also shows potential sell-back price to see if buying is your best option.
  • You can search by title, author or ISBN. 
  • You can scan the barcode with your phone using the free mobile app for iOS and Android.
  • Bonus: They offer a Pro subscription with additional tools if you want to get serious about flipping books.

Textbook Buying Tips

Before you invest, consider this advice about buying textbooks online:

  • Check the syllabus – Some professors will indicate if a book is required for an entire semester (and is a foundational text) or if it’s optional or even just utilized for a portion of the semester. This can help you decide not only renting vs. buying, but also in setting your textbook rental periods
  • Don’t highlight until you’re sure! – While some sites are fine with you marking up rental books, others may not allow it and may have penalties or fines for getting too wild with the highlighter
  • Check the seller’s/renter’s history – For sites like Abebooks or even Amazon, always make sure the seller or renter has a solid history of delivering exactly what they say they will. 
  • Whenever possible, get ISBNs – Some  textbooks are frequently updated and have new editions constantly, so make sure you know exactly which book, by which author or group, and which edition you need before you go searching to ensure you don’t end up behind the class from day one. 

The post The Best Places to Get Cheap Textbooks Online appeared first on The Real Deal by RetailMeNot.

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