Buying books

This page was originally written long long ago when buying things on the Internet was new. For those now used to such activities, this page probably has no new information.

Your alternatives
Used books
Internet. Includes general information, price check services, and the publishers.
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The main purpose of this page is to help students buy textbooks. Much of the content reflects questions and comments from students. However, some of the information is about buying books in general, and may be more widely useful. In particular, the Internet section offers some general ideas about finding books on the Internet.

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Your alternatives

Most colleges either have a bookstore or make arrangements with a bookstore to carry required books. Many now have an option for buying books online.

It is important to remember that you do not need to buy textbooks from your college bookstore, or indeed from any particular store.

You may find that your college and/or its bookstore actually makes it difficult for you to find out what the textbooks are -- in an obvious effort to force you to use their store. This behavior should make you suspicious. Look around; be a good consumer.

Your alternatives include using other local bookstores, including those at other colleges, or other online sources of your own choosing. Considerations include convenience and price. Sometimes it may include availability; it is common enough to find that the college source lacks the book you want. Most bookstores will place a special order for you; be sure to check the price and delivery time.

In the light of those issues, I encourage you to do some shopping. The price services listed below, in the Internet section, allow you to find out how much a range of online bookstores are charging for the books, and to check the availability of used books. Remember that science textbooks are a somewhat limited market, and you may find that online offerings are neither as broad nor as inexpensive as you might have expected (or wished). Nevertheless, it is often worth a check. Doing such a check does not commit you to buying online; it is intended first to give you a frame of reference for what is available. However, ordering online may be the easy way to get the book, especially in advance or in the event of a local shortage.

Caution... Not only do book prices vary from one store to another, but for online stores prices may vary with time. That is, prices change!

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Used books

Used books may be available through the college bookstore. If so, they are usually in quite good condition, and sold at a quite small discount from the price for the new book. If you buy in person, you get to see the condition of the used book you buy. The supply of used books is usually very limited.

There is quite a market for used books developing on the Internet. This may involve transactions with private sellers. Major online retailers may have used books, and/or may have a section for private sellers of used books. Some students have told me that they have gotten tremendous bargains this way. Some books are not up to the described quality; it is up to you to consider this risk, and to decide whether the item is still a good value. Delivery time may be slow, especially with private sellers. In any case, you may want to at least check to see if used books are available and at what price. See Internet section, below.

Some textbooks are published in a loose-leaf form. Because of the form, such books are usually not available "used" through regular bookstores (and, frankly, I would be reluctant to buy a used copy of a loose-leaf book without being able to examine it). However, alternative forms of the book may be available.

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Looking at what is available on the Internet is, first, a source of information that gives you a frame of reference for what you might expect. This may be worth doing, just for information, regardless of your intention to buy online. You can then decide whether to order a book on the Internet. That is, looking at books online allows you to do comparison price shopping; to get books early, before they are in the regular bookstore; and to deal with book shortages. Shopping on the Internet may yield some good values on Used books.

Buying things on the Internet may be new to you. Be a good consumer -- as in a regular store. For example...

Be sure that you order the correct book -- title, edition. It is good to check the ISBN. In fact, I encourage you to search using the ISBN; it is the best way to be sure you are searching for the correct book, and is probably easier in the long run. (For the Intro Chem textbook, some variations of the listed book may be ok; see the Textbook; supplies section of the Introductory Chemistry syllabus, and more linked there, for information.)

Check that the book you order is available. I would be suspicious of stores that won't tell you if the book is available until after you have completed your order.

Check the actual price you are paying, including tax (if any) and shipping. Beware of discounts that are based on inflated prices.

A variety of shipping choices may be available; rush orders will typically have a high shipping charge.

Check the return policy.

I am not responsible in any way for your experience with any of these bookstores or services. I receive no compensation or recognition of any kind for your use of these links or stores. The links are provided simply for your information. There is no effort here to be comprehensive, and I do not endorse any site.

Price check services. There are various web services that scan many Internet bookstores, and return information on book prices. Listings may include quotes for "used" books, as well as new. My experience with such services is that they are useful, but sometimes return incomplete information. If a store you like to deal with is not listed in the output from one of these services, check that store anyway.

Some of these services will also check for products other than books. For example, some will checks for CDs and DVDs.

Here is one such service that I have used a lot, especially in the early days.

Now I am more likely to look for books at major online retailers, whose sites often include used books, including those offered by private sellers. Price check services seem less important now, though they may be useful for hard-to-find materials.

Publishers. In some cases you may be able to buy direct from the publisher. Whether this is a good deal varies -- so, again, be a good consumer. You can find the publisher's site through a regular Internet search engine. The publisher's home page usually has a search engine, so you can search their site for the book.

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Last update: July 23, 2020