The bi-annual pains of buying textbooks and returning them

The most egregious crime perpetrated towards the student body is not one of a violent nature but a financial one. I speak of the textbook dilemma, a miserable wallet taxing ordeal that invariably ends in crushing frustration.

It is a routine familiar to most: email the teacher, ask for the ISBN number of the required textbook, and order the textbook, used, off Amazon. But what happens when you do that and the cheapest textbook you can find is $73?

I applaud the teachers who are sensitive to the monetary situation of most students, and hand-pick the most inexpensive required readings.The conventional route taken to buying books is going to the bookstore, preceded by a meeting with an accountant, then paying through the nose for a seventh edition textbook, hardcover, with a CD, which never sees use, that publishers attribute the high cost to.

The real salt-in-the-wound moment comes when you realize that you don’t even have to use the book in the course which it is called for. No worries. Just return the book back for a full refund of the original cost. Surely the school will understand.

Of course, the window of time for returns is so small that by the time you left the bookstore from purchasing your “required reading,” it is probably closed.

Good deals are rarely found through other options. Heralding the end of the semester are the various vans that pepper the surrounding campus, offering great deals on buybacks, converting that $73 net loss into a $60 net loss.

The only reason a conscious human being would return a $73 textbook for $13 is because it’s the only option, and offers a slight soothing of the sting since you suddenly have cash in your pocket that was not there before.

The same goes for reselling the books on Amazon or some other online store. You get a return much lower than what you paid for.

Call to action: teachers please pick cheaper textbooks. Some make the effort and you know who you are. As for the rest, it would just be nice to know if the books are going to be used or not.  It is wonderful when teachers photocopy the chapters to put on Blackboard.

Until then, getting a book through a loan is probably one of the better ways to save money. I just ordered a book on loan for 60 days which only cost me $22 instead of the $70 it would have cost if bought used.

There are a slew of clever entrepreneurs out there who are creating clever ways to pay less for textbooks, some of them probably recent college grads who know all too well the pain of overpaying for books.


Ben Horowitz can be contacted at

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