For Immediate Release - August 21, 2013

As New School Year Starts, OCABR Releases Results of College Textbook Survey

Finds Purchasing Online or Renting Can Save Nearly 50 Percent

BOSTON – As college students across Massachusetts prepare to start the new school year, the Office of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation (OCABR) today released the results of its college textbook survey, which found that students that rent textbooks or purchase them online can save nearly 50 percent over students that buy new textbooks from school bookstores.

The survey, which was conducted between August 5 and August 9, 2013, looked at six hardcover textbooks, each of which was used by at least two Boston area colleges. The office conducted a price comparison of each textbook across twelve categories, including those purchased from school bookstores, Amazon.com, independent sellers on Amazon.com, the Google Play store, and the Kindle store. Price information for books sold on Amazon.com was gathered on August 8.

“Parents and students may not realize the wealth of options they have when it comes to buying college textbooks,” said Barbara Anthony, Undersecretary of Consumer Affairs and Business Regulation. “Textbooks are a large part of the college investment, and consumers should carefully consider these options and not simply rely on the school bookstore. There is a real opportunity to save some money here.”

According to the survey, the most expensive option was purchasing new textbooks from the school bookstore.  The lowest price options were: renting used from the school, renting an eBook from the school, or buying used on Amazon.com. A new ninth edition Social Psychology book at bookstores costs $250, while prices for a new copy of the same book started at $175 on Amazon.com – a 30 percent savings.  Students also see a significant price reduction when renting the book whether new, used or as an eBook, with 25.5 percent, 35.5 percent, and 49.6 percent savings respectively.

In many cases, buying new on Amazon.com from individual third-party sellers cost $100 less than buying new from the school bookstore. Prices of eBooks purchased through the Google Play or Kindle stores ranged from 20 percent to 44 percent lower than the full price for new books purchased through the school bookstore.

OCABR advises consumers to consider the following options when shopping for textbooks:

  • Consider study habits when deciding what investment to make in each book. Personal habits and preferences should carry the most weight when deciding whether to purchase, rent, borrow or share a book. For students who highlight or make notes in books, buying new or used is the best option, as rental books must be returned in good condition.  Decide whether you plan to keep or will sell the book back at the end of the semester.
  • Check the syllabus. Ask the professor if all books listed are required. Some supplemental readings, like short stories or famous speeches, can be found online for free.
  • Share a book. By splitting the cost of textbooks with classmates, each student can save a significant amount of money.
  • Meet the professor during office hours. He or she may have an extra textbook on hand that you can read during that time.
  • Use the library. Most college and university libraries keep at least one copy of each textbook. These are typically not available to borrow, but can be used inside the library. If the book is not available, ask the professor to request the library keep a copy on reserve.
  • Buy softcover. Softcover textbooks tend to cost up to 15 percent less, and are lighter and easier to carry than their hardcover counterparts.

OCABR Consumer Tips for School Bookstore Shopping:

  • Keep receipts. Many bookstores require receipts for returns to ensure that the book was actually purchased at the bookstore and not from another retailer. Textbook receipts are especially helpful during tax season because books and other course materials may be claimed when filing for the American Opportunity Tax Credit.
  • Know the refund policy. Before purchasing textbooks, make note of return and refund policies, especially deadlines. Students may not be able to return a book to the school bookstore after a short and specific window at the beginning of each semester. Most sellers will not offer full credit for books that have been marked or bundles that have been opened, even slightly.
  • Don’t use your credit card. Try to pay with cash or by debit card to avoid credit card fees and interest on these high-dollar purchases.

OCABR Consumer Tips for Online Textbook Shopping:

  • Buy local. Choosing textbooks from a bookseller in your area can lower shipping costs.
  • Ensure proper delivery time. Some online retailers may offer to ship a book overnight, while others require a week or more for delivery.
  • Review comments. Spend a few moments reading comments from customers about their satisfaction with a particular bookseller. This may be helpful when choosing a bookseller, their price, the condition of the book, and shipping and delivery time.

OCABR is committed to protecting consumers through consumer advocacy and education, and also works to ensure that the businesses its agencies regulate treat all Massachusetts consumers fairly. Follow OCABR at its blog, on Facebook and Twitter, @Mass_Consumer.

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