How to find cheap textbooks

Andrew Fingerett

CSUN students are coping with the skyrocketing cost of textbooks, and many have found a wide variety of solutions to maximize their budget. If you haven’t already figured it out, here are some tips that will lead you to financial success. Well, maybe not, but at least you’ll have a few extra bucks in your pocket.

Tip No. 1: buy online

“I went to the bookstore, found the books, wrote down the ISBN numbers and then went shopping online,” said Gabriel Hallak, a junior political science major. “I saved $200.”

When asked if he would ever buy from the bookstore, Hallak replied with a four-letter word and said “Absolutely not,” noting that the bookstore price tag for his four classes was just under $500.

Hallak’s website-of-choice is Other popular websites among students include, and, all of which offer significant savings on used textbooks. The best and easiest way to shop online is to do what Hallak did and search for the ISBN number, the number found just above or below the bar code. By searching for the ISBN number instead of the book title or author, you don’t have to worry about accidentally purchasing an outdated edition.

However, there are some drawbacks to shopping online.

Henry Vargas, a junior manufacturing systems engineering major, was unsuccessful in his attempts to save money by buying his textbooks online.

“For some of them, brand new, they cost the same,” said Vargas. “That’s the most shocking part. I was thinking that I would get it cheaper, but it was last year’s edition, so I couldn’t use it.”

This is one of many problems students run into – expensive new editions to textbooks that have no used copies available because they were just published. The solution?

Tip No. 2: Always ask your professors whether or not an older edition would suffice. In many cases, it will.

Tip No. 3: buy early Vargas ended up spending $170 on a single textbook his freshman year because he did not learn this lesson soon enough.

“It was a computer engineering course. I had to buy it new because everyone took all the used books. The second year, that’s when you get smart,” Vargas said.

Students should be aware of the bookstore’s buyback program, which provides students the opportunity to earn back up to 50 percent of the original purchase price. The buyback program only buys a student’s textbook if they can resell it, meaning they have a cap on the number of books they can purchase.

Another way to save money is to utilize the textbook rental program. The program, which is being tested this fall, will be available for MATH 092 and 093, ART 114, RTM 278 and 278OL and SPED 504 MM. This will provide students with a 65 percent discount, said Matador Bookstore Director Amy Berger.

But where does all that money go? The National Association of College Stores’ Student Watch report states the gross margin, or the difference between what a college store pays for a textbook and the amount it charges, is 22.7 percent for new books and 35.9 percent for used. This gross margin is then used to pay store expenses, leaving 4.5 cents for every dollar earned for the bookstore.

Amidst all this madness, some students are lucky to simply receive a cheap book list. Erika Lucan, a junior psychology major said that her textbook bill wasn’t bad for her four classes. “I was planning on spending $600 or $700. A few of them were only $20 or $30, and I got them used so they were cheaper.”