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College Textbook Costs Remain High, But Cheaper Options Exist [AUDIO]

In addition to college costs, students are facing high prices for textbooks, even as cheaper options continue to be offered.

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A study from OnCampus Research finds students estimate they spent $662 on required course materials each year. That number is up from last year, but still below the $702 spent by students five years ago, though not by much.

Charlie Schmidt, spokesman from the National Association of College Stores, says there are a plethora of options for students to take advantage of, far beyond buying used books or selling back texts at the end of the semester.

Electronic versions of textbooks are becoming more common and can save students up to 40 percent compared to their printed counterparts. However, Schmidt notes their studies show even in the digital age, 77 percent of college student prefer physical paper textbooks.

Schmidt notes rentals of physical textbooks are becoming very popular with many college stores and private companies offering the service, especially in New Jersey, where Schmidt says pretty much every college store offers rentals.

“You can rent a print version for approximately 33-65 percent off the cost of buying that book,” Schmidt said.

In addition to renting options, Schmidt says they have been working with publishers and universities to allow professors to create custom content packages, which prevents the age old gripe of students being required to buy a certain textbook, but only using it for a few chapters.

Though all of these methods will work to stave off high costs of textbooks, Schmidt notes textbook publishing is an intrinsically expensive process, and it often requires numerous technical writers and researchers – all the while selling to a very limited audience.

” It’s not like a Stephen King novel which will sell millions of copies. The most popular text book will sell in the tens of thousands of copies.”

The National Association of College stores also released a tip sheet for saving on required materials:

  • Become a fan of your campus store’s Facebook page and follow them on Twitter. Stores often give advance notice of money-saving specials to followers or fans.
  • Be cautious of hackers, spammers, and phishers when purchasing course materials online from outside/unknown sources. Items might not arrive on time, be incorrect, or not include required access codes. Don’t forget to consider shipping expenses in the total cost of the textbook, and check refund policies. Your local campus store guarantees the correct title and edition chosen by your instructor.
  • Consider renting print or electronic textbooks. Almost all of NACS’ nearly 3,000 college store members offer such options, giving cost-conscious students access to course materials for about one-third to half the price of buying a new text.
  • If multiple books are listed on a syllabus, check with the store to see if there are customized options that the professor, store, and publisher have created that is less-expensive and contains only the content the professor requires.
  • Look into buying used textbooks. College stores strive to provide as many used textbooks as possible, but they can sell out quickly. Shop the store early or buy directly from your college store’s web site to take advantage of used-book sales.
  • Know your store’s refund policy, especially deadlines. This way, you won’t be disappointed if you drop a class.
  • Keep receipts. Most stores require them for returns. Also, textbook receipts are helpful during tax season when filing for the American Opportunity Tax Credit. For details on what to do and how to apply for the credit, go to this website.
  • Don’t write in or unwrap books until you’re certain you’ll be keeping them. Most sellers won’t offer full credit for books that have been marked or bundles that have been opened.
  • When buying locally, consider paying cash or by debit card to avoid credit card fees and interest. But use a credit card when buying from online sellers in case disputes arise.
  • If you have questions, ask! Your college store professional is the course material expert on campus, dedicated to helping you obtain all of the educational tools you need for academic success in the format you desire.

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