Shopping around can keep textbook costs down

Popular alternatives to the MU Bookstore include the Textbook Game and Amazon.com.
Students shuffle through shelves in the MU Bookstore to find textbooks during the first week of classes. The bookstore offers 650 new titles to rent, and used, new and digital copies are available for purchase.

Purchasing textbooks is an essential but stressful process that lands on the beginning of semester to-do list of every college student.

While many freshmen choose to use the bookstore's Early Bird program, older students often turn to online booksellers to try to cut costs. Here's a look at some of the major options to consider when shopping around:

MU Bookstore

The university-sponsored bookstore, housed in the MU Student Center at 911 E. Rollins St., is the first stop for many students.

Students can buy books on an individual basis, but many choose the convenient Early Bird program, which allows the bookstore staff to compile a student's books before the semester begins. MU Student and Auxiliary Services spokeswoman Michelle Froese said about 8,000 students use the service each fall semester, including many freshmen who sign up during Summer Welcome.

Other convenient features include proximity to the Student Center and the ability to student charge books.

The store offers new, used and electronic options. Froese said MU is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. in terms of the number of used books sold to students.

"We use about nine different used book, wholesale companies to keep costs down," Froese said.

Froese said rentals, which are often cheaper than used books, have become a popular option for students.

The bookstore's website also allows students to compare prices with alternative booksellers.

"You can go on the website and compare prices with Amazon and Barnes & Noble," Froese said. "About 88 percent of people who use that function continue their purchase."

Students can receive up to 50 percent back for their books at the end of the semester if the books are being used again next semester at any of the campuses of the UM System.

The Textbook Game

Located in downtown Columbia at 904 Elm St., the Textbook Game specializes in renting and selling used textbooks.

Manager Eric Pherigo said his store saves students money through its pricing strategies.

“Our prices are lower than the bookstore and internet-competitive,” he said. “We don’t make as much money because our markups aren’t as high.”

Pherigo said other advantages include shorter lines and knowledgeable employees.

“We have better customer service, guaranteed,” he said.

The Textbook Game also buys back textbooks year-round.

Unlike the MU Bookstore, the Textbook Game does not offer new or custom editions of textbooks.

The store is a local option for students shopping around for deals.

“We’ve been here long enough to know what we’re doing,” Pherigo said. “I think it’s good for people to know there’s an alternative in the Columbia area.”

Chegg.com

Chegg.com aims to go a step further than other online booksellers by creating a “social education platform” that will connect college students with various tools to help them in their coursework.

"We're not just a textbook rental company," Chegg.com spokeswoman Tina Warner said. "We also offer students course selection, homework help, notes, and Q & A."

Although the website sells new and used books, it is ranked as the top website for renting books. Warner said students can save 65 to 85 percent on books by renting.

"Think of it as a bookstore where you don't pay retail," she said. "You're going to pay a substantially lower price."

Drawbacks of the website include shipping costs, which can add up when multiple books are ordered, and time lost while books are shipping.

Amazon.com

Amazon.com sells new and used books from across the nation, making this site an appealing option for those looking to bargain shop. The website claims that it will save users up to 90 percent on used textbooks and 30 percent on new textbooks.

Students can sell back to Amazon and receive up to 70 percent back.

Textbooks on Amazon are sorted by subject, and Kindle users can rent textbooks for the mobile device.

Buyers should beware of private sellers and be sure to check their approval rating and reviews, which will help assure the correct books will arrive on the doorstep in time for the semester.

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