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3 Ways to Reduce Textbook Costs for Students

Submitted by on April 10, 2013 – 2:13 pm4 Comments

Computer and stack of booksTextbooks earn publishers about $8 billion because students can spend over $1,000 for one semester’s required readings (source: Forbes). As a faculty member, you have the power to influence student costs by merely considering your teaching materials. With so much credible information available for less—or even for free—you can help students save money while enriching your teacher presence and building your learning network. Here are three textbook alternatives we suggest:

1. Choose books readily available in a low cost (or free) e-book format

Your selected books should be available to students in electronic format. Some companies have developed e-books well beyond the downloadable PDF—students can study content through interactive media and effective graphics. Companies like Kno and Inkling have redeveloped books to include interaction, assessments, social sharing, and for use on common portable devices like the iPad.

You can also let students buy one chapter— sells single book chapters (some under $5).

2. Choose books and materials available on popular consumer sites

Select learning materials that your students can find on popular sites like Amazon, iBooks,,

Google Play, and—these sites offer competitive prices, various payment methods like redeeming points or giftcards, and often benefit account holders with other money-saving incentives.

When assigning a book, check that it’s available through textbook rental sites, for example Chegg, BookRenter,,, CampusBookRentals, or College Book Renter. Students can also rent the book digitally. Coursemart offers online and downloadable digital textbooks at 40-50% of the purchase price.

Tip: You (and your students) can compare textbook prices at Alibris Textbooks, Textbook Rentals, or RentScouter.

3. Use OERs and primary sources

In just two quarters, Tacoma Community College has saved its students $128,000 by adopting free, Open Education Resources (OER) to replace pricey textbooks (read more about this project in ‘Liberate 250K’ – Tacoma Community College’s OER Project).

OER groups such as Connexions and the Open Educational Resources Consortium are made up of college officials and professors who post free textbooks and lessons online. You can browse these sites to explore materials developed by others, or find a work that is no longer copyrighted (such as classic literature and history). These sites provide this material for free, and many offer downloads to various devices:

Another money-saving option over textbooks is primary sources, which are documents like personal records, local government files, photographs, and artifacts. Primary resources promote student awareness of history through an author’s interpretation of past events, and analytical skills by inspecting such sources. Go to OER Use of Primary Sources (Connexions) for more on primary sources resources and for helpful links.

Bookmark This Link: This CUNY fact sheet lists more OER sites. It was made to help students save money when purchasing textbooks and lists textbook resources under various savings categories.

The Benefit to You

These cost-cutting efforts will encourage you to seek a variety of credible, scholarly content. But consider developing and contributing your own content. You’ll establish your expertise and your own credible network.

You can increase your teacher presence by developing course content into videos or presentations and publishing on sites like YouTube, Vimeo, and SlideShare. By sharing your content and ideas on these sites, you’ll grow your learning network to include experts and university leadership, and connect with fellow instructors to get access to their valuable, shareable content.

And we all benefit when our trusted, credible experts leverage the social sites to share their great content—Brigham Young University Professor and Open Education Advocate David Wiley has, among many others, a YouTube profile, Slideshare profile, Twitter profile, LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile, and Google+ profile (get the full profile list on Dr. Wiley’s site).

Share Your Experiences

What textbook alternatives have you found most useful? Have OER benefited your classroom? Let us know your story by posting in the comments sections below.



  • Dear Ms. Kilgore,
    College stores have been concerned about the rising cost of course materials for years…and doing something about it! Nearly 3,000 college stores offer textbook rental programs, which can save a student between 45-66% off the price of a new print textbook.

    In addition, college stores continue to work hard to increase their stock of used textbooks, a 25% savings for students, and digital, which can save students 40% off the new-text price. A large group of college stores also offer the price comparison software you mention.

    All of these money-saving options come with the certainty, security, and benefit of buying locally. That’s right, the money you do pay to your local college store goes to pay local worker salaries, their taxes, and a portion funds scholarships — something that doesn’t happen when students spend their hard-earned dollars with a large corporation based half a continent away.

    Just some food for thought. — Sincerely, Charles Schmidt,
    National Association of College Stores (NACS).

  • Jeff Lorton says:

    Why should college students care about a books store that has done little to change a broken market?

    Textbook costs have increased 812% in the last 3 decades. Electronic textbooks are used by a low percentage of students, and in many cases, cost more than the physical textbook. Renting a textbook may not be the cheapest option as you have nothing to sell at the end of the rental period and if you miss the deadline to return it or not return it the condition they require, you may be charged for the book.

    Campus Shift is a new online service launched this year that is a great resource for professors and students. We aim to help them eliminate most textbook costs with the most informative “Kayak” style textbook search engine and with the first national student-to-student safe “Craigslist” style textbook marketplace.

    Students buy and sell textbooks in the first local and national student–to-student textbook marketplace or use our textbook search engine. Students can use the textbook search engine and find the best options at that moment for each textbook needed. If there is a student on their campus or at another campus with the textbook for sale, they are required to login and create a free membership with a valid student email address to access the textbook marketplace. If the seller and buyer agree on the transaction, the students may meet on their campus at a safe meet-up location and even use credit/debit cards to safely transfer the money after the textbook has been delivered. If the students are on different campuses, they can agree, enter credit/debit information, and ship the textbook through Campus Shift. The money is held in escrow while the book ships and transfers when the buyer receives the book.

    State governments, universities, professors, students, and student governments are all looking for ways to lower textbook costs. Campus Shift can immediately impact the problem and help concerned educators, university officials and student governments by simply suggesting students use the Campus Shift marketplace.

    I wrote a column last fall that your readers may find interesting:

    Thank you, Jeff Lorton, Campus Shift

  • Whitney Kilgore says:

    It is good to hear from you regarding the work that is being done to make education more affordable for students. I appreciate your point that the bookstore workers are local, in my experience they are also students at the institution as well.
    Thank you for your comments Charles.

  • Whitney Kilgore says:

    Jeff –

    Thank you for pointing out CampusShift

    I did a quick search for a couple of books that I purchased this semester for my PhD program and found them on this site at a significant discount. CampusShift is an excellent aggregator of all the discount book sites online in one convenient location.

    Thank you for your commitment to driving down costs for students. I’ll be sure to recommend this site to others.