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College Books: Get 'em cheap or even FREE!

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Goodness knows buying books for college takes a big bite out of any student or parent's wallet. Luckily, there are a ton of options these days to get books at a substantially discounted price or even free. Here's the LOZO on how to get the best deals!

Let’s start with the free options since—let’s face it—those are our favorite ones. All of the options below offer free books (and they are totally legit!). Of course, these are great for college students, but they are also great for high school students, academics and any lover of literature.

You can access thousands of books for free because they are considered "public domain". These books include everything from fiction to non-fiction, poetry to reference. Shakespeare? No problem. Albert Einstein? You got it. Teddy Roosevelt? Ready and waiting. And the list goes on and on and on. With the internet and e-readers, it's easier than ever to take advantage of this vast, free library.
  • E-Readers: Whether it's a stand-alone e-reader (eg. Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.) or an app for your smartphone (we go for the free ones: Aldiko for Droids and Lexcycle Stanza for iPhones), books are easy to find, easy to download and the readers themselves are really convenient since you can carry them around (just like an 'old fashioned' book!)
  • If you don't have an e-reader or a phone capable of viewing books, Bartleby is a great option. Their website is straight-forward and they make it easy to find what you're looking for.
  • Very similar to Bartleby. It's not quite as easy to search, but once you find what you're looking for you often have the option to read it online or, as a nice bonus, to download it to your computer. You can also access Gutenberg's library from various mobile apps.
  • The Library: Ok, ok, we know this one is obvious, but we'd be remiss if we didn't include it, right?
  • Textbook Media: This company offers free and substantially discounted text books online. You can search by ISBN number or by course. The free selection isn't huge, but it's worth a look since it may save you the cost of an expensive textbook. All the books are officially licensed and use advertisements to offset the cost of buying the books (so you may have some ads in your e-book).

Not everyone knows this, but you can actually rent college textbooks. This can be great for books that are useful during the course, but that you won't need as a reference in future years. We recommend Chegg. They're a leading service that offers a 30-day refund and free return shipping. They have a great selection and the prices are generally very low compared to the cost of purchase (for example, it's not uncommon to find a $150 book being rented for $50). In addition to Chegg, another good option is which sells, rents and buys textbooks.

If you can't find the book you need for free and you prefer to own it rather than rent it, try one of the following options to make sure you get the best possible price.
  • Cheap Digital Books: Buying digital copies of books allows you to purchase them at a much lower cost than buying the actual, physical book…sometimes by as much as 50% less. Check out CafeScribe from Follett, which is the leading operator of college bookstores. and Textbook Media (both of which we mentioned above) also offer substantially discounted electronic books. Other publishers offer electronic options as well, so check their website if they publish a book you need.
  • Used Books: If you want or need the physical copy of a book, be sure to buy it used rather than new. Shop online or in local book stores for used books. Make your first stop They scan the internet for the best possible deal on the books you're looking for and they even take coupons, deals, promotions, etc. into consideration so you get the best "bottom line" price out there. If you still want to shop around on your own, check out AbeBooks,, Amazon, eBay, and for a large selection. If you can only find last year's edition, ask the professor if that will work (it often will).
  • International Editions: International editions of American books are usually identical to their U.S. counterparts, but the cost is cheaper. Just be sure to read the site disclaimers to learn which versions are restricted by copyright. Search or

Following are a few more tips that may also help you cut down the cost of books or even cut out the need to buy them entirely.
  • Ask the professor if all of the books on the reading list are truly required. If only one or two chapters of a book are necessary, you may be able to make copies of those chapters or study them in the library instead of buying the entire book. 
  • Ask the professor if last year's edition will suffice. They're usually cheaper and--unless there's been a major update in the past year--they're just as good as the new ones.
  • Wait until the first day of class to make sure you won't be dropping the class. No need to buy the book if you don't end up taking the class! 
  • Ask professors to put the required books on reserve at the library, or see if you can borrow the loaner copy directly from the professor. 
  • Share textbooks with a friend/classmate–split the cost of the purchase and share custody of the book for the semester. Agree to sell it after the semester is over and split the profit. Check with the professor to make sure there are no "open book" tests. If there are, this tip will only work if you and your friend are taking the same class at different times. You'll just need some guidelines for how to share during exam time. 
So, that's the LOZO on how to get the best deals on books for college! Did we miss anything? If so, let us know!

p.s. Be sure to get some of your money back at the end of the semester, too. Read our tip about re-selling books to find out how to make the best profit!

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