Textbooks: How do you get around the issue of cost?

Reading lists come and go, but the books you buy are likely to stay with you for a while.

Some of the books I bought in my first year are still mine and I’m glad I was told to buy them.  Other books seemed a waste of time and money.  Another set of books served a purpose, but didn’t need to be kept after their initial use.

photo by marzbars

photo by marzbars

Academic books often cost a lot more than a brand new work of fiction in hardback.  Worse, they are almost never discounted like the fiction books.  But we still need them to get through our studies.

One alternative option is to grab a downloaded version of the textbook you need.  A lot of these publications cost almost as much as the physical product anyway, so what’s the point in saving a pint’s worth of month when you were hoping for enough to afford a bottle of fine malt whisky?  Perhaps electronic book publishing needs a new approach.

There is a growing culture of downloading electronic versions of textbooks illegally for free, but even that doesn’t impress many students to the point of satisfaction.  It isn’t great working from a computer screen and electronic books aren’t easy to browse in the same way a hard copy is.

Given the choice, many students still want a physical book in their hands.  No matter how much reading material I find online, the greatest satisfaction is through a product I can actually flick through.  @seawolf and @amy_runner agreed when I asked on Twitter how students prefer to work…from traditional textbooks and face-to-face lectures, or from electronic resources and virtual seminars:

seawolf – “Real always.  Paper and face-to-face.”

amy_runner – “I prefer traditional textbooks and face-face lectures, easier to read and more interaction makes it more engaging.”

Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute of Education also discovered that teenagers prefer traditional teaching methods, which includes using physical textbooks, rather than electronic alternatives.  It seems that while we love making use of technology, there is a tendency to go back to basics when studying.  Technology complements traditional methods of learning, it doesn’t replace it.

So what can you do to get the actual textbook without having to spend big time?

  1. Buy secondhand – You don’t have to buy new.  There is a lot of choice on sites like Amazon and abebooks.  There are others, but these two sites have generally found me what I need.
  2. Use other students – Speak to people in the year above who may have finished with certain textbooks and offer to buy them cheaply.  If you don’t need to own the book, ask to borrow it until the end of the module or academic year…you never know!
  3. Ask for a discount – As a student, your NUS Extra card can help you find discounts at some bookshops.  Even when you’ve got a definite discount like this, there’s no harm in asking for an extra discount.  Some shops are able to offer more money off when you ask, and you haven’t lost anything if they say ‘no’.  Worth a go.  Remember to smile sweetly…
  4. To the library – When you don’t need to keep your own copy of a book, see if the library holds a copy.  Best do this early on, before all copies of the book get taken out.  If it’s a very popular title, see how long you can keep the book.  If it’s only going to be in your hands for a week, but your module lasts a term, you clearly need a different plan!
  5. Try local libraries –  It might be a long shot in some cases, but you never know what a local library can do if you don’t try.  Most local libraries have stock searches on the web, so you can see if they have a copy without even leaving your seat.
  6. Consider an old edition of the textbook – If you don’t need the most up to date edition (unfortunately, sometimes you do), then you can save money by opting for the previous edition.  There’s more chance that book will be available secondhand too (see No. 1).

Other than this, how do we get around the issue of cost?  Not easily, is the unfortunate answer.  I don’t dare think how much money I had to spend on books at uni.  Too much is all I know.  And I didn’t even have it bad. None of my books were more than about £40.  I know people who had to spend more than £100 on a single tome!

If you’ve managed to get a physical textbook at a great discount (or even free), help us out with your tips in the comments.  You could make some skint students happy!

photo by Wesley Fryer

photo by Wesley Fryer