Purchasing textbooks each semester is often a major expense and source of stress for students. However, there are major savings on textbooks available to students who know where and when to look. Just like buying a cell phone plan or car, customers who research find better deals.

To assist you, a research team working with the Office of Campus Sustainability (https://sustainability.msu.edu/), who have studied textbook shopping habits of students, prepared this guide. The term ‘textbook’ refers to all books used by students in MSU classes (from Accounting Fundamentals to ZZ Top: Fearless Boogie) and includes “Course Packs”, “Laboratory Instruction Materials” and any other printed materials required for your courses.

As you use this guide, if you have any comments or feedback, please send to MSUTextbookGuideFeedback@gmail.com.

How to Be a Smart Textbook Shopper
1.    Before your first class, determine which books you need and where you are going to buy them. This will allow you time to find good deals while books are still in stock, and will allow more time for materials to be shipped if necessary.

Many students don’t begin their textbook shopping until after their first class.  An argument in support of this habit may be:

“I don’t want to spend money on books I don’t need and the professor may make last minute changes to the text list.  I may drop the class.  I therefore won’t buy any books until the second week of classes when I am sure I like the course syllabus and am sure of the exact books I need.”

This strategy is poor for three reasons.  First, by week two of the semester you will likely find that all the good deals on textbooks are gone.  Second, you may become stressed because you have an urgent need to obtain your books.  Third, the MSU Spartan bookstore (https://www.bkstr.com/spartanbookstore) and other East Lansing bookstores will be very crowded in early September, and if you order from elsewhere, suppliers may be out of stock or shipping may take weeks.

To beat this no-win scenario, recognize the following three facts, which should allow you to shop with confidence before class begins.

a)    First, not knowing which course texts will be needed until the first day of class should not be an issue. Via the Schedule of Courses, the office of the Registrar provides shoppers a big advantage by providing the MSU Teaching Faculty with online tools to post required textbook lists well in advance of the first day of class. Cost estimates are included. Search the MSU Spartan bookstore website or the websites of other East Lansing booksellers and you should find your books listed.

b)    Second, don’t hold back on buying required textbooks. They are required for a reason.  As used copies or stock will be available from last year, you should be able to find most of these books on sale well before the beginning of semester.

c)    Third, if you pay attention to book return policies, you can return your books if you ultimately decide to drop a course. Many textbook supplies have a time-sensitive return policy that gives you a full refund if your books or other materials are returned in purchase condition before the policy expires. And keep your receipts!

You hopefully now realize that shopping prior to your first class is a very feasible and sensible suggestion. You’re now set to investigate the options for getting the best deal.

2.    There are many options for buying course texts. Determine which option suits you best both in terms of your price range and in terms of how you study.

Traditional Print Textbooks

You can be sure you will find the traditional textbooks for your courses at the MSU Spartan bookstore, in a bookstore in East Lansing, or via the Resource Center for People with Disabilities (RCPD) (http://www.rcpd.msu.edu/programs/signature-programs/accessible-textbooksmedia). You may have to go to more atypical locations in East Lansing for “Course Packs” or other collections of printed material. However, if you’re savvy, your options are not limited simply to buying a new book.

Used books at the bookstores cost about 25% less than new books.  This is a good deal but it also means used books sell out very quickly. You may also buy your textbooks from last year’s students, although finding a course alumnus is problematic because the text may no longer be the same one used for your section.

If you maintain your books in good condition, the MSU Spartan bookstore and other East Lansing bookstores may buy back your books at the end of a semester, but this option is not guaranteed. If the bookstore option is not available, you may be able to sell your books to another student who will take the class next year.

Rental Textbooks

One of the newer services offered by the MSU Spartan bookstore is rental textbooks.  If you rent your textbooks it costs significantly less money than a full purchase, but read the terms and conditions of your agreement carefully – financial savings could disappear if you don’t return your book on time and in good condition at the end of the semester.

Online Booksellers

Online booksellers offer plenty of books, including rental textbooks – just search for ‘textbook’ or ‘rental textbook’ and you’ll see lots of options. However, when purchasing, remember to get the right version of your textbook (using the ISBN when searching is best) and remember that shipping involves time and money. Also, for many reasons, buy only from online sellers located in the USA.

If renting textbooks from an online seller, be sure you understand exactly what you are getting and what your terms and conditions are. At the beginning of the semester, rented textbooks will take time to ship to you, although some may provide a downloadable first chapter of a text to read while you wait. Like MSU Spartan bookstore rental textbooks, books from online renters must be returned to the seller by a particular date, and return shipping takes time. Some online renters offer the ability to purchase the textbook outright at the end of the semester if you decide you want to keep it.

A Note on Keeping your Textbooks instead of Selling Them or Renting Them

Some students planning textbook purchases are unsure as to whether they should keep or part with their textbooks at the end of a semester. This guide cannot advise you on this dilemma – you have to make your own decision. However, if you regret parting with a textbook at some point in the future, we suggest that before re-purchasing the book you visit the MSU Library. Librarians will be happy to help you rediscover a subject, including helping you find the older textbooks they have available on the bookshelves.

Computerized Textbooks

The college campus has been an integral part of the digital information revolution. If you search the MSU library website you’ll find that downloadable information is as common as printed material. Textbooks have not been an exception in this revolution – computerized textbooks are now available as downloadable file purchases that you can read on your desktop, laptop, iPad, Kindle, Nook or touch-screen cell phone, with more devices and options on the way. Some of these devices will read a textbook aloud so you don’t even have to read – just listen.

A key mission of the MSU research team that made this guide is to gauge the future of the computerized textbook industry. Our conclusions so far are that use of current digital textbooks provides many benefits, but also drawbacks, when compared to traditional books. We’re still studying the issues, so our current recommendation is that the average student should continue to use printed material when intensive, analytical reading and note-taking is required. In any course that you take at MSU, printed books and other materials will be available via the bookstores or RCPD for anyone who wants them.

If you are considering digital textbook options, you should be aware of the following:

a)    Downloadable textbooks or course packs usually include software security measures that prevent mass file copying. However, these measures may also prevent both printing the file and saving any changes made to the file, including the attachment of comments or highlighting.

b)    Find out if any document you download has an expiration date when the file will no longer be available to you.

c)    The cost of a downloadable textbook may be the same or very similar to a traditional textbook. Do some research before investing in an electronic device used just for reading a textbook. It’s not safe to assume the textbook savings will be significant enough to offset the cost of the electronic device.

d)    Just because your professor uses a book in a course does not mean that it has been made into a digital version. In our experience, even though the biggest sellers of book downloads have hundreds of thousands of titles available, you still may not find a specific textbook online.

e)    Be careful with downloadable textbook return policies. They probably don’t exist. You’ll get your book, but all downloads and payments will be final.

f)    It may be possible to sell your digital textbook to another student, but it probably will have an expiration date and software that prevents this type of file transfer (see b above).

If you do decide to go the digital route, the following hardware options present themselves (in no order of preference or recommendation):

a)    Desktops, Laptops: This is likely the standard viewing platform for downloaded textbooks for the average student. Apart from being an integral part of student life, these devices offer the biggest viewing screens for downloaded textbooks. Tablet laptops may allow you to make ‘handwritten’ notes on your computerized textbook pages.

b)    E-readers: Amazon’s Kindle and the Barnes and Noble Nook are currently the most popular devices. They are less versatile than the other types of hardware, but have an easy-read screen, save power, and are less expensive than a laptop or an Apple iPad.

c)    Apple iPads and other ‘app’-driven devices: Lots of new ‘apps’ are being created for the iPad that allow for easier reading and note-taking with electronic files, including textbooks. And yes, if you really need your textbook at all times, there are apps that allow you to have your textbooks displayed on your iPhone, Android phone or other mobile device.

d)    New Devices: New devices that display digital books will undoubtedly enter the market while you are a student at MSU. This research team will be evaluating these devices as they develop and will let you know what we find, but we encourage you to investigate these technologies a little on your own and determine those that best fit your needs and budget.

If you’ve decided on hardware, the next step will be to determine which online textbook source you want to use. This guide is not designed to recommend any particular source – we expect you to figure out what is best for you. If you’re stuck about where to begin, search online for the website of the publisher who makes your book – it probably will have a link to a site that provides the downloadable version.

3.    Save all your receipts for tax accounting purposes.

In 2009 the Federal government provided tax credits for qualified college students, including the American Opportunity Credit, the Hope Credit and the Lifetime Learning Credit (http://www.irs.gov/publications/p970/index.html). Credits were given if students could prove they had paid college expenses, which included textbook expenses. We are not tax professionals and thus cannot help you determine what you can claim on next year’s taxes. However, if a tax professional determines you are qualified to claim college expenses on your taxes next year, you will need proof of payment, so keep all receipts when you buy your textbooks.

4.    Don’t throw away or destroy your textbooks at the end of the semester. Instead, keep them, sell them, or, at the very least, recycle them.

While the occasional student at the end of the semester may express their frustration with a course by lashing out at their textbook, they are wasting both money and paper. Textbooks are valuable and may be sold to bookstores or other students. If you decide that defacing your textbook is an experience worth more than its sale price, make sure that afterwards you put your textbook in one of the mixed paper recycling bins on the MSU campus. That way, fewer resources will be used to create a new textbook and you’ll feel better not only for venting your anger, but for doing your part for the environment.

We wish you the best in your textbook and course material purchases at MSU and trust these guidelines will help you to make better decisions. We also wish you a successful semester at MSU and a successful career after you graduate.