Saving on Textbooks

By Jessica Etemadi

Horizon Reporter

As each new quarter begins, students are faced with the same daunting task they face every quarter: buying textbooks. 

Every student knows firsthand that bulky textbooks damage more than just backs; wallets are hit pretty hard, too.  According to a recent New York Times article, students spend between $700 and $1,100 a year on textbooks. 

Over the years, a handful of options have sprung up across campuses and beyond, giving students more freedom and choice when it comes to purchasing their required texts. 

The most obvious option would seem to be the local campus bookstore.  For some students, this is the first place they head; for others, it’s the last. 

“I like getting the book right then and there,” said Taylor Meyer, an 18-year-old Running Start student earning his degree this quarter.  However, he noticed recently that his books cost more than usual. 

“Usually I can get by under $200,” he said.  He ended up spending almost $300 this quarter, on two textbooks and supplies such as lab goggles.  He already owned the textbook needed for U.S. history.  Meyer is definitely satisfied with his texts, but said he was “a little frustrated” with how much he had to spend. 

Other students use the bookstore as a last resort.  Daniel Klein, a 17-year-old Running Start student, first checks with friends to see if they have a copy he can borrow, and then searches for used books on the Internet.  If he can’t find the book he needs, he’ll visit the campus bookstore.  This quarter, he only had to buy one textbook, actually an e-book required for Economics 100, which cost $80.

“It’s pretty back and forth about how much you spend,” Klein said, noting that fall quarter he spent around $200.  For winter quarter, Klein borrowed the one book he needed from a friend, so he didn’t have to spend any money. 

A second choice for students is the Internet, which is becoming an increasingly convenient option for everything, it seems, as the years pass.  Popular Web sites include Amazon, eBay, and craigslist.  Along with selling brand new books from the publisher, Amazon also features a ‘marketplace’ where shoppers can sell their used books at deeply discounted prices.  eBay has an extremely wide and varied selection, but craigslist attracts buyers by allowing them to purchase locally. 

Jon Spores, manager of the bookstore at Whatcom, said books can range from $5 to almost $200.  Each professor sends in their own list of required texts before the year begins, and the bookstore orders them on time for students.  However, if a particular book not on the list is needed, the bookstore also frequently makes special orders. 

Most students choose to sell their books back at the end of the quarter, whether online or to the bookstore.  The campus bookstore conducts three buybacks a quarter, at the beginning, middle, and end.  How much is paid back depends on whether there are any new editions or if the class is taught next quarter.  Alyssa Beyerlin, an 18-year-old medical assisting student, said she generally receives less than half of what she paid. 

Another option for students is renting.  Websites such as and lend textbooks to students for a base fee granted the book is returned in good condition at the end of the rental periods, which is generally 30, 60 or 90 days.  Whatcom rented out books to students 20 years ago but had to change the system when they weren’t being returned. 

“In my 20 years of experience, there have been probably three cycles of rental popularity,” Spores said.  He explains that renting textbooks often comes out to be more expensive, per use cost, than buying and re-selling the book.

Even though most students agree that textbooks are vastly overpriced, they are usually necessary.  Some students can get by without buying the book, by sharing with friends or using a library copy, while others say that’s just not workable.    

“If I need it, I’ll buy it no matter what price it is,” said Beyerlin.

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