How to Win the College Textbook Game

College students have to play the textbook game several times a year, facing off against professors, bookstores, and textbook manufacturers.

Back in my Freshman year of college I was hit with the horrible realization that I’d need to spend around $700 for textbooks and license keys.

The idea that the school and textbook companies were working hand-in-hand to profit off of students annoyed me. I actually considered dropping out because I started to see college as a scam.

I stuck with my education, but managed to play the textbook game and win. I never paid for textbooks out of pocket after my freshman year and I actually profited off this broken system.

How to lose the game

My brother made it through engineering school, spending thousands on textbooks in the process. He offered me commission to sell his textbooks, thinking that it would be easy money.

Researching prices for textbooks blew my mind. A $200 textbook might sell for only $15 in a year if a new edition was released.

My brother’s once valuable textbooks were now worthless.

It’s no secret that book publishers consistently charge higher prices for textbooks by releasing new editions.

They rarely add new, useful content. Instead, they usually just rearrange content so students can’t utilize an old edition if a class teaches from the newest edition.

At the end of each semester, sell all of your textbooks because they’ll be next to worthless next year. If you really like a textbook and want to keep it for reference, buy an older edition for a few bucks.

If you could have retained $500 each semester, wouldn’t you have done it?

Profiting off of the textbook game

Several times a year, there are certain books that are highly demanded by students. It’s possible to purchase your own used textbooks at a much cheaper price (even compared to online prices), then resell it to students who are willing to pay a higher price for the same book.

The university bookstore sells a certain textbook for $200 and some students are willing to buy it at that price. The bookstore always has the worst deals.

This same textbook might consistently sell online for $150. If you wanted to sell this $150 book to another student, they might be willing to split the difference between the bookstore price and the online price. You might barely recover the cost of your original purchase. However, the likely scenario is that you’d have to sell your book for less than you purchased it online originally.

You can actually source the books at a much cheaper price and strategically time when you buy and sell to capture the highest possible profit potential.

While in college, I started out just reselling my own textbooks. My method worked so well that I started buying textbooks just for the purpose of resale.

Finding the cheapest textbooks

At the end of a semester, I would buy popular textbooks from other students. Many students sold their books at the end of a semester, not the beginning of the next semester. Students sold their books to other students at a lower price at the end of a semester because of graduation and supply/demand, so this was the best time to buy.

However, at the end of a semester you had to seek out sellers because many students weren’t looking to sell textbooks. I would use Facebook groups and Craigslist to post wanted ads with a basic offer instead of waiting for a seller to post an ad.

Student sales were the cheapest and easiest — they were usually just looking to reduce how much they needed to move back home and earn a little extra beer money.

The best time to sell

Some students would return for the next semester, but wouldn’t return with their book inventory from the last semester. Conveniently, there were also more students buying textbooks directly from other students. This was the best time to sell because there were fewer student sellers and more student buyers, meaning you could charge a higher price.

Finding customers

At the start of the semester, I was stocked with books that were highly in demand. I would utilize Facebook, Craigslist, and Twitter to find and sell to students who were requesting a certain book.

Most students would simply compare your price to the price in the bookstore or they would split the difference between the online price and bookstore price, just so that they could get the book quicker. Luckily, other student sellers actually helped set the market prices on social groups. Since I sourced my books at a cheaper rate than other students, my profit potential was typically higher than my competitors.

If I failed to sell any books in person, I would simply list them on eBay.

Using this sourcing and selling method, I actually profited off of this annoying aspect of college.

Why wouldn’t a student just buy online?

There’s been a massive shift in buying habits, with many students buying textbooks directly online to save money. However, many students still buy directly from the bookstore. Also, it’s still more expensive to buy online compared to buying directly from a student.

If a student procrastinates or switches classes, buying the book online might not be an option due to shipping and handling time.

In this case, they look for more expensive online options with a shorter shipping time, buy from the campus bookstore, or purchase directly from another student.

Electronic textbooks are a terrible idea

Textbook companies make you think you’re getting a great deal by offering a digital version of the textbook.

But you can’t resell it and the license typically expires after a year. You might save $40 on the electronic textbook, but now you’ve lost the ability to sell an asset at what you originally paid for it and you usually don’t even get to keep the book! You’re not actually saving $40 because you’ve given up the opportunity to recoup the entire cost of the textbook by reselling it.

An easier way to find the cheapest textbooks online

This experience led me to partner with my brother, who I now run a Digital Agency with, to build a textbook finder.

Here’s how it works: enter the book name or ISBN number, then a list of results filtered by price, seller rating, shipping & handling time, and additional costs are returned. The biggest selling point is the ability to monitor social media for students selling the book you’re attempting to buy.

If you’d like access to the book finder, contact me on Twitter.

It’s worth the effort

Students get in the habit of expecting to pay excessive prices due to the expensive nature of college. Housing, dining, textbook, and tuition prices are astronomical — resulting in excessive profit at the expense of students.

Student loans and financial support from parents give students the illusion of cash availability, giving companies (especially textbook manufacturers) a way to charge students, who personally lack any real wealth, much higher prices.

I implore you to consider the future cost of current decisions. Put in the extra effort to save and make money while in college.

At a bare minimum, you should put in the effort to save hundreds of dollars on textbooks each semester.

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