Shop around and buy local for the best textbook deals

Thursday, July 30, 2009 | 12:00 p.m. CDT; updated 12:40 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 30, 2009
University Bookstore textbook employees, Kristen Smith, left, and Heath Harris take a pre-inventory of Biology Sciences books on Feb. 27, 2007.

There is no disputing the fact that textbooks are expensive and might even be a surprise expense for new freshmen. The best advice is to be prepared for the cost, do your research and apply a few smart strategies.

Buying textbooks

One option is purchasing course materials from the official University Bookstore at Rollins Avenue and Hitt Street, perhaps the primary source of textbooks and supplies in the MU college community.

Many MU freshmen initially use, and appear to continue using, the bookstore’s Early Bird service, because it takes one hassle out of a very stressful period of time — preparing for college.

Alex Ruppenthal, a junior majoring in journalism from Chicago, said he uses the program for its “all-in-one-box convenience.”

The Early Bird Textbook reservation program is a free service where the bookstore accesses your class schedule, chooses the books you need, charges them to your student account and has them boxed and ready for the first day of semester. This system also allows you to choose used textbooks if requests are submitted early enough.

Junior Sudie McCaslin said she still uses the Early Bird reservation service because she believes it is easy and less overwhelming.

"In freshman year especially, I already had a lot of adjusting to do,” McCaslin said.

It also can be a time-saving strategy at the start of a term when the bookstore is likely to be quite busy.

MU sophomore Megan Rians said the Early Bird service means you “miss the crowds and don’t have to deal with people, as you pick up all your books at once in a handy box.”

Another option is buying from textbook re-sellers. In a matter of days, their tents will begin popping up around the campus.

You can buy secondhand books at underground ventures such as Brad’s Books near Domino's on Broadway or 1UP books, run by the Knoblauch brothers near The Flying Cow.

The enterprises claim to offer cheaper textbooks before college starts in the fall.

It is also possible to buy from a more established enterprise, such as The Textbook Game, 904 Elm St., where spokesman Eric Pherigo said, “Our prices reflect the actual market price for every book, which is always cheaper than the bookstore.” 

According to the University Bookstore, its books are sold at a permanent 75 percent of the original purchase price regardless of market demand.

The Textbook Game is initiating a service this fall where students can rent textbooks on a need basis for a $1 a week for each book.

The Internet is another good place to source textbooks, if you have the time and patience to search. It could be as simple as joining a Facebook group or befriending a sophomore and asking to purchase his or her old textbooks.

Otherwise, comparing bookstore and online prices might pay off. is a reputable Web site that lists millions of textbook resellers with reviews and ratings, so you can evaluate their legitimacy before you commit to buying. Amazon offers both new and used books, but shipping costs are a factor.

Before you buy any secondhand textbooks, check the ISBN to ensure you are buying the correct textbook and edition required by a professor.

Selling textbooks

The University Bookstore sometimes offers 50 percent of the book’s new price, but there are a number of resale opportunities beyond the campus bookstore.

Consider where you can enter the ISBN of your textbook and find a list of buyers currently seeking books, how much they are willing to pay and the terms of the sale. Using network sites such as Facebook or Craigslist may be time consuming, but it eliminates the middle man and bypasses packing and shipping costs.

As of July 10, the University Bookstore had received 95 percent of faculty book orders in an effort to provide a greater selection of used books for students. Both underground sellers and the bookstore say they encourage professors to retain their textbooks of choice; the longer a professor uses the same text, the more students can benefit.

Finally, keep textbooks in good condition for better resale value. Don’t use them as seats on wet grass or to kill pesky bugs in a dorm room, and don’t write your crush’s name in 10 different fonts to see how your married name would look.

Regard your textbook as cash and an opportunity to help the next freshmen struggling to make ends meet.

School supplies

Closer to the beginning of school in the fall, keep an eye out for Walmart, Office Depot and other widespread stores' back-to-school sales.

Students can also look through local newspapers or advertising brochures for coupons and discounts. With good timing, they can pick up great deals on loose-leaf paper, backpacks, pens, pencils, scissors and more expensive tech items such as laptops, iPods and printers.


University Bookstore

Rollins Avenue at Hitt Streeet

Columbia MO 65211


The Textbook Game

904 Elm St, Suite 212

Columbia, MO  65201


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Student S August 5, 2009 | 9:59 p.m.

Good article!

Thing is most of the time I find the used textbooks cheaper online. But when Prof. asks for the latest edition book which is like from recent 1-2 years, then it is hard to get the bargains or low price on the books!

Anyway I used online price comparison website to find the lowest price (amazon/ebay/half) and that is

Here is also a blog from this same website which has very helpful tips on getting cheaper textbooks:

(Report Comment)
John Charlse August 24, 2009 | 5:40 a.m.

I would like to recommend buying international textbooks: They offered a great deal for me and the international textbooks are the same as the corresponding USA edition with the cover to be a different design. But, hey, with up to 75% off, it worth it. I have been trying to tell all my friends about it and you can find out yourself.

(Report Comment)
loma guerra July 14, 2010 | 9:30 a.m.

I use Cheapest Textbooks to buy and sell my used textbooks online. I've been using them for two years now i really like that they pay for the shipping and they have coupons that dont expire. I havent had any problems yet and they have every books ive looked for so far.

check them out at

(Report Comment)
Diane Saldana February 25, 2011 | 12:22 a.m.

I have been using price comparison sites like for my buying my textbooks. It is better than going for standalone stores. As you can save on lot of money using them.

(Report Comment)

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