How to Research Your Textbooks Before You Buy

To get the best deals on textbooks you need to begin shopping before your class begins. Follow these steps to learn ahead of time what books you need; also learn what you need to know about your books to make better decisions when you comparison shop.


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    Pre-register and have a firm schedule for the upcoming term.
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    Search your schools website for the professor's Web page regarding the class.
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    Attempt to find answers to the following questions about each book listed for the class: Has the professor labeled it as required or optional? What is the ISBN number of the Text? (The ISBN number is a unique 13 digit number assigned to a textbook and listed above the bar code, or on the copyright page inside the front cover.) What is the last name of the first author listed? What is the edition and copyright year of the text? What is the name of the publisher?
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    Search for the school sponsored bookstore's website and attempt to verify that they have the same books listed for the class.
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    E-mail your professor explaining you're attempting to get a jump on your studies and ask any of the questions you haven't found answers to yet. Then ask the following additional questions about each book: Has the publisher bundled any additional materials with the book, and can the course work be completed without them? Has the publisher created a custom edition, if so can you use the standard edition? Will the publisher be releasing a new edition of the text during the semester? Can you use the old edition of the text? Will a copy of the text be on reserve at the library?
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    If your professor does not respond you can attempt to e-mail the department secretary, sometimes they know as much about the books as the professor.
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    If you're near your campus make a trip to the school sponsored bookstore to visually confirm the information you've gathered about the books. If the books aren't available, check the shelf tags or ask an employee for help. Also ask an employee the same questions about the books and attempt to clarify any discrepancies you uncover.


  • Postpone buying "optional" books until you're sure you need them.
  • Many times the "additional materials" packaged with a new book are not needed and you can save money by buying a used book instead.
  • The custom edition will only have residual value at your school, and may not have any residual value at all once you are through with it. The standard edition may have a lower net cost after you factor a higher potential residual value, consider buying the standard edition instead.
  • If the book is due for a revision it will have a lower residual value and may not be worth anything once you are through with it. You might consider borrowing from a friend or using the library reserve copy if available.
  • If you can use the old edition you can save a substantial amount of money as old edition texts are available on the Internet for pennies on the dollar. Old edition texts will have a different ISBN number so search by author, title and edition.
  • While doing research at the bookstore, don't forget to note prices and availability of new and used textbooks so you can get a jump on your comparison shopping.
  • Before doing your comparison shopping don't forget to search the Internet for free electronic versions of textbooks. (Mostly just trade books and novels are available this way.) Try, or
  • Consider renting as an alternative to purchasing. Several services exist, such as and that will rent you textbooks for a fraction of the purchase cost.
  • Check with your peer group as well, a friend might be willing to loan you their copy of the text from a previous semester.


  • Fearing competition from the Internet the staff at the college bookstore may be sensitive about your attempt to collect book information. You might consider appearing to be intent on shopping locally. Try asking questions about the stores prices and offerings compared to the local competitor. If they believe they're competing for your business locally they may be more receptive to answering your questions.
  • Because professors are often authors of textbooks they may be inclined to encourage you to purchase new books so the royalties will be collected by the author. Be sensitive to this fact while collecting your data and be willing to postpone the purchase of a new package until you're certain you need the additional materials included when a used book is an option.

Things You'll Need

  • Your firm class schedule.
  • A Pencil and Paper, or consider using the convenient "Book Information Research Form" located as a free printable pdf file at:

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Categories: Budgeting and Financial Aid for College