college

Web shopping for textbooks

Over the course of their college years, countless students have spent thousands of dollars and seemingly thousands of hours in line in the campus bookstore buying books for their classes. Thanks to the Internet, you can save both money and time by purchasing your books online.

"You can almost certainly find better deals online than you can at your local bookstore," says Steve Loyola, president of Best Book Buys, an online textbook price comparison site for college students.

One reason you can get a better deal is because online stores, by nature, don't have to pay the overhead costs that a brick-and-mortar bookstore does. College bookstores need about 21.4 cents to cover store operations and staff salaries from every dollar spent on new textbooks, according to the National Association of College Stores.

"Compared to a college bookstore, an online store's costs are so much lower because all the store needs is a Web site and a warehouse," says Loyola. "They don't have all the other costs associated with running a retail outlet, so those savings get passed on to the consumer."

Such savings should not be taken lightly. According to a national survey of textbook prices released in February 2005, by the State Public Interest Research Groups, the average student will spend $900 per year on textbooks. Subtract the roughly 20 percent that typically goes to the college store and you can see hundreds of dollars in savings over the course of four years.

When it comes to online shopping for textbooks, it's important to note that all shopping sites are not the same. Don't assume that every Web site will give you a better deal than the campus store. "Not every online bookstore is going to be cheaper," says Loyola. "There are ones out there that will sell textbooks at list price."

Some Web sites such as Bookbyte.com and eCampus.com collect new and used textbooks from publishers and other users and sell them to you for a discounted price. Other Web sites such as CampusBookSwap and Half.com serve as online marketplaces where buyers and sellers of used textbooks can meet virtually and come up with terms for a sale. Other sites such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble sell books directly. What's more you also can sell your used textbooks at Barnes & Noble and at Amazon.

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To help students make sense of so many choices, another type of Web site has sprung up: sites such as BestBookBuys.com and CampusBooks.com that allow you to compare prices and textbook delivery terms.

While some of these sites can save you money, it's important to understand exactly what you're getting or you may end up on the losing end of the deal. Take shipping costs. You might find a great deal on a textbook you need, but when you add in the shipping costs you might end up paying more than you would have paid in the campus store.

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