Used Textbooks Buyback: Don’t get ripped off

Used Textbooks

By Irene Starygina

Second semester of freshman year had just started, and I was about to get a lump sum of weekend spending money. At least that’s what I thought as I eagerly waited in the book buyback line in the campus store, fingers red from holding a stack of 6 used textbooks. When my turn came to cash in, I wasn’t so lucky. Shocked, I watched the lethargic man behind the counter shake his head at most of my wares.

“We have too many of these,” he mumbled. “The publisher came out with a new edition for next semester.” I received a mere $30 for my used music textbook which I had barely opened and bought for $90, and $5 for my psychology workbook. Since my commute home was an hour and a half and the unwanted used textbooks were just too heavy, I dumped them on the bookstore’s windowsill and stormed off to class. Looking back, I realize I could’ve sold them online, littered campus hallways with colorful ads, or donated them to the less fortunate, but I was just too frustrated to consider all the options. To avoid being disappointed like I was, consider the following:

Avoid the campus bookstore. Since the store is right there, it’s tempting to make it your first (and only) stop when you're trying to get rid of used textbook baggage. However, it’s definitely not the most profitable choice. “If you go to the campus bookstore, you’ll seriously get like, a dollar!” says a University of California, Irvine alum. He suggests that getting the word out and posting your used textbooks online should be your first step. “Post them on your campus forums, Craigslist, put up fliers on various campus bulletins, especially in academic departments, and use websites like” Unless you’re using eBay, listing used textbooks online is generally free.  You can also rent your textbooks online at

Timing is everything. “Buyback value is determined by two factors: if the book is nationally used next semester, and if it is used again on campus, “says Jeff Cohen of So when everyone else is unloading their used textbooks at the end of the semester to net some extra spending cash for break, you should hold off. “The best time to sell back your books is right before classes begin, because that’s when most students are looking for books, and you may be able to find someone to buy your books for almost what you paid for them,” says a Columbia University alum.

Buying new doesn’t mean you can sell for more. I didn’t even bother to shop around when the used version of the textbooks I needed were sold out at the campus bookstore. I thought I would get more for my new copies during buyback, so I paid $130 for a business textbook I could’ve found for half the price online. Of course, when I went to sell it back, so did all my classmates, increasing supply and lowering prices dramatically. What’s more, the publisher had released a new edition, so the bookstore didn't even want my copy anymore. When you have the option of buying used textbooks, take advantage of it. If you're able to buy a book online for 40-60% less than the list price, you can even try to sell it back for a little more when you're done with it.

Save all your supplements. You might’ve tossed those music history CDs deep into your closet, hoping never to see them again. But when it’s time to sell back your music textbook, start digging, as the buyback value of your materials takes a big hit if you don't have everything that came with the book. It’s also important to keep your textbooks relatively pristine if you plan to sell them later. While some book buyers appreciate highlighted text, it annoys others, so if you're certain that you want to sell back the book after the semester is over, you'll probably want to put the highlighter down. If you must write notes in the margins, use a pencil, or better yet, Post-it notes.

Photo courtesy of adotjdotsmith