For the past 18 months, I've been paying for my 20 year old granddaughter's community college tuition and books. I quickly learned that I would save a lot of money if I took the buying of textbooks out of her cute, young hands and did it myself.
As one example this term:
My granddaughter is enrolled in Accounting 101. The text for this particular class retails for $94.80. Her college bookstore sells it new for $81.00 or used for $60.75. Amazon Textbooks lists it used for prices ranging from $53 to $75 and in various conditions. Half.Com has it listed (also in various conditions) new for $65.00 down to very used for $35.00. I settled on a Half.com text in "very good" condition for $45 plus $3.99 in shipping.
Now that I've ordered textbooks over the course of four terms, here's what I've learned:
Don't trust the student to tell you what book is needed. If you're the student, don't trust yourself. Almost all college bookstores are online and list their books by class and teacher. Go there!
The ISBN number is crucial. Just having the title and author does not make it clear what edition is needed. The first time I ordered a math text, I wound up buying the teacher's edition! My granddaughter didn't mind, since it had all the answers in it, but I suspect that's not what the teacher had in mind when he told the kids what book to use.
Stick with booksellers who've had a lot of sales. While this is probably unfair to students who are reselling their used books on Half.com and don't have much of a seller history, these same students are not always qualified to evaluate the condition of their books. One English text that purported to be in "good" condition came to my student with extensive highlighting on every single page. It was usable, but the experience has made me leery.
Remember to count in shipping costs when evaluating an online deal. I've seen sellers charge $10 for shipping and handling. Personally, I consider $3.99 fair, and that's the maximum I will pay.
All in all, I saved $174.22 buying three books online. It would have been more but one class had materials assembled by the teacher that was available only at the college bookstore and only at their price.