Get best bargains before school begins

By Andrew Mason

While colleges across the nation are playing up technology’s increasing role in higher education, at the end of the day, the average college student is still firmly dependent on old-fashioned textbooks.

While technology hasn’t allowed us to move past the ink and paper era, it has been able to make it cheaper.

According to the College Board, an average student attending a four-year public university in the Midwest spent $828 on textbooks last school year.

While that’s $100 less than the national average, it is little comfort after that fateful trip to the bookstore where your bags get heavy and your wallet gets lighter.

But thanks to the Internet, students are no longer so dependent on the local campus bookstore. Many Web sites have popped up to not only help with the initial sale where we traditionally incur the most costs, but also how to get the best deal when it’s time to sell the book back.

Illini Union Bookstore, T.I.S. and Follett’s

Your search should start here. You can visit each to see the prices for yourself or you can use their Web sites to find the exact books you’re looking for. All have the latest information from instructors so you can be guaranteed to get the correct book (and edition) for each class. Be sure to get the 10-digit ISBN code from each book so you can go online to compare prices. Chances are good that you will have to come back to get official course packets.

Started by the Technology and Management Club in 2002 and currently sponsored by the Illinois Student Senate, it is a local pioneer in the student-to-student textbook market. You can search by departments, classes, individual instructors, authors and ISBNs.

Students list their books and a brief description along with a negotiable price. If you want to buy a book, the Web site will allow you to send a message to the seller and you can meet at your convenience in a public place where you can complete the transaction without having to pay sales tax or give out your address or credit card number.

You can also find great bargains on course packets and note collections.

Online aggregators

While Amazon, and eBay pop to mind when we think of places to get used textbooks, they are at dozens of others as well. And in some cases, they may be able to beat the giants’ prices.

But who has time to scour the Internet to save a few extra pennies?

To make the process simpler, faster and cheaper, several sites have streamlined searches of textbook listings. and both allow shoppers to enter an ISBN or title into their meta-search engines that purport to comb hundreds of online stores and thousands of individual sellers. With up-to-date pricing and shipping information, you see at a glance where your best deal is.

So as fall rolls around, don’t assume you can wait until the last minute to get your books.

Many of the best bargains are found before the semester deadline to add a course deadline when schedules are finalized. If you shop smart, you’ll have more cash to go bar-hopping or pay your rising electric bill.