The Cheapest Textbooks you’ll be Willing to Find

Why yes, I did just finishing buying my books for next quarter!  How did you know?

Among the building of a disjunctive, exploratory bibliography, a thesis proposal draft, working on post-graduation job leads, and trying to catch a few moments of down time with friends and family over the holiday break, I also find myself again trying to wrangle the required texts for next quarter for as little coin as possible.  University of Chicago is kind enough to provide the ISBN numbers for their required texts just as soon as the professor for a given class submits their finalized list, which is a great boon to the cash-strapped student.  With a list of ten books in hand–the required reading for one of my courses next quarter–allow me to present the available options.

Option One: Buying from the campus book store is incredibly convenient–so long as they actually have the books in stock–and it is for the sake of convenience alone that there continue to be university book stores.  University of Chicago’s bookstore is actually a Co-op such that if you are willing to buy three shares of stock for ten dollars each you will magically become a shareholder and receive ten percent off the bookstore’s price.  If I were willing to buy my books at the co-op–as many students do–I would pay $184.32 plus tax for the books they have in stock and an additional $84.85 at buying new copies of the books they don’t for a total of $269.17!

Option Two: Buying new copies from the cheapest booksellers online is a great option if you only want brand-new books from reputable bookshops.  I used to actually search as many of the online seller’s listings individually as I could handle in search of the best prices on new copies.  However, doing so is incredibly time-consuming and almost invariably subject to the law of diminishing returns–or at least until showed up and made in incredibly easy to search ISBN numbers and compare pretty much every major book supplier on the net.  If I availed myself of the lowest price new books from online for my book list in this class, I would pay Super Book Deals $18.92 for one book, Barnes and Noble $67.55 for two, The Book Depository $101.17 for five, and Abebooks $32.86 for the final two for a grand total of $220.50.  (All prices include shipping and clicking the BookFinder link for a particular book takes you directly to that particular seller’s checkout process).

Option Three: Because I scan my books into .pdf files for my iPad anyway, all I really need is a clean copy–that is, no highlighting margin notes, or crayon drawings of paleolithic horses and hearts.  Therefore, a used copy will serve my needs perfectly so long as it is free from distracting evidences of other readers.  Yes, I will have to pay an additional dollar per book to have the binding cut off and go through the process of scanning the individual books, but the savings is pretty extreme.  By buyng the cheapest books available–either the cheapest non-marked copy or the lowest priced new one from the sellers identified by, I would find myself ordering four books from Amazon for 53.31, four from The Book Depository for 84.86, one from Barnes and Noble for $39.65, and one from Abebooks for $16.08. for a grand total of $193.90.  Again, all prices include shipping and ordering is quite simple.

Option Four: Now, let’s say that one has just written a massive check for say sixteen thousand dollars for their second quarter at the U of C and has very little left–but doesn’t want to skip required books or try to borrow them from other grad students the night before the final exam.  Since I am scanning books for reproduction as .pdf files, I don’t actually have to own the books.  If I can locate them at the University library, the Regenstein, then I can scan the book on a flatbed scanner for free.  Now, this process is incredible time-consuming and each book will require an average of eight hours of diligent scanning and formatting so the natural question would be, if it is possible to check books out, then why scan them at all?  The simple answer is, because I’d rather carry around one iPad 2 rather than ten books, but the longer answer is that any and all books checked out from the Regenstein are checked out for the entire quarter, but those books can also be recalled at any time by another student.  Option four would see me order two books from Amazon for $33.80, two books from The Book Depository $35.07, one from Abebooks for 16.08, borrowing five from the Reg for free or spending $84.95 and about a forty hour work week at ye olde flat bed scanner.

I haven’t bought all of my books at the campus bookstore since the first semester of my freshmen year for good reason: college or university book stores are a fantastic way to spend far, far too much for many books that you will never use for anything–other than propping up your air conditioner on the ledge outside your window next summer.  I think almost $270 worth of books for just one class isn’t really an option for anyone–unless they are having their education underwritten by their parents or haven’t yet caught onto the fact that student loans will have to be paid back–so option one isn’t going to happen.  The advantage of option two is that you can be assured that you are paying the least money possible for brand new copies of your texts and therefore not having to worry about inaccurate used book descriptions or some other person’s squished Skittles in chapter three.  The down side is that you are only saving about fifty dollars (plus whatever tax you would have to have paid at the campus bookstore) and will have to hassle with watching as each of those separate orders make their way to your doorstep.  Option four is incredibly attractive as the price for one classes reading list falls to the almost reasonable rate of well under one hundred dollars, but balancing that savings with the cost of labor to scan and assemble those five .pdf books through the laborious process of flatbed scanning makes option four far less of a bargain.

For that reason, I will probably wind up using option three for most books and scanning only the Heidegger, Contributions of Philosophy text in order to save the forty dollars putting my bill at around $150 total.  Now, there is even a cheaper way to find digital books.  Depending on your discipline and the texts involved there are search engines like this one that will allow you to find already scanned books if you are comfortable with the grey legal area that such a download would represent.  Personally, I’ve also found that all too often scans from online sources are either of lower quality than I would be happy using or are formatted such that they are no longer useful for academic reference.  These “warez” copies are almost always illegally made available–although some copyrighted books are made available on some academic websites by special arrangement by the author or publisher–and are, therefore, not the sort of thing worth risking in my opinion.  So, there you have it!

The books in question (just in case you want to do some comparisons of your own):

Augustine, The Confessions ISBN (1565480848) Seminary Co-op Bookstore $24.99 – Maria Bouldings translation. New from Super Book Deals $18.92. Used, but with no marks from Amazon $8.99.

Bennington and Derrida, Jacques Derrida ISBN (0226042626) Co-op Bookstore $32.50 New from Barnes & Noble $27.90. Used, but with no marks from Amazon (hardcover) $14.48. Free at Regenstein Library.

Derrida, Monolingualism of the Other: or, The Prosthesis of Origin (0804732892) Co-op $21.95 New from The Book Depository  $15.09.

Heidegger, Being and Time ISBN (0061575593) Co-op $19.95 – Paperback edition of Macquarrie and Robinson’s “definitive” translation New from The Book Depository $12.90. Free at Regenstein Library.

Heidegger, Contributions of Philosophy ISBN (0253336066) Amazon $44.95 – Only available in hardcover New from Barnes & Noble $39.65. Free at Regenstein Library.

Heidegger, Ontology: The Hermeneutics of Facticity ISBN (0253220211) Amazon $19.95 New from Abebooks $16.78. Used, but with no marks from Amazon $14.88.

Heidegger, Pathmarks ISBN (052143968X) Co-op $39.99 New from The Book Depository $36.49. Free at Regenstein Library.

Heidegger, Phenomenological Interpretations of Aristotle (0253221153) Amazon $19.95 New from Abebooks $16.08.

Heidegger, Phenomenology of Religious Life ISBN (0253221897) Co-op $24.95 New from The Book Depository $19.98.

Heidegger, Towards a Definiton of Philosophy ISBN (1847063047) Co-op $19.99 New from The Book Depository $16.71. Used, but with no marks from Amazon $14.96. Free at the Regenstein Library.


3 comments on “The Cheapest Textbooks you’ll be Willing to Find

  1. For which class are the Derrida and Bennington books? H & Christianity?

  2. maphman says:

    All ten books are for Heidegger and Christianity!

  3. Mike says:

    I would not have been able to complete my undergraduate studies without the ability to steal every required book from the campus book store. Aside from this this being a metaphor for how broken the academic system in America is, I would greatly encourage others to do the same.

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