I'm quite surprised that I've never posted about the topic of used books, given my experiences in the area. It's too late for this semester/quarter, but it's a good time to consider what to do with books for the next one. An article in the LA Times got me thinking.

I'd like to preface this post with a warning about copyright infringement. Yes, it's tempting and it's cheaper to make copies of books, but you can get into a lot of trouble if you get caught. "Fair use" is not a defense in this case. Just so you know, that's all. Besides, it's really labor intensive. Personally, I'm too lazy to go through with it.

Unless the publisher is coming out with a new edition, every thrifty college student knows to buy used books for their classes. It's a no-brainer. Beyond that, how can we save even more money? Better yet, how do we recoup the costs when the book is no longer needed?

Before you consider buying books, ask around to see if you have friends who can let you borrow their book for free. Even if they won't, at least they'd be more willing to sell it to you for cheaper than the bookstore. Another way to score free books is through the school itself. My college had a special program that allows low-income students to have certain titles for free or a much-reduced price. If your school has something like this, it's worth looking into.

The Big U Bookstore used to have a monopoly on certain textbooks, but nowadays there's quite a bit of competitions from online stores specializing in new and used college textbooks. I'm not going to name or endorse any particular bookstore since I never dealt with them before, but lots of people I know have and recommend doing it. The prices are sometimes better than what the Big U sells them for, but remember to factor in shipping. Another place to look is Half.com or eBay; no need to worry about knock-offs when it comes to titles such as Alcock's Animal Behavior. Yet another oft-overlooked way to find cheaper books is through fellow students, who either post on bulletin boards (real or virtual) or in student newspaper ads. It's a win-win situation--the seller can get more than he/she would have through the bookstore's textbook buy-back program, and the buyer can get a book for potentially cheaper than what's available at the bookstore.

New editions sometimes means you have to buy a new book, but before you do that, see what the major differences are. You can usually find out by reading the preface, and you can check with the professor. If the changes are not substantial, you might be able to get away with using a free or cheap older edition, then go to the library or your classmates to borrow the new edition and read the relevant new parts. This method usually works fine because tests are typically lecture-based; I managed to do that for both of my Constitutional Law classes and did fairly well. However, make sure the edition you're using is the last edition, not 2 or more editions before the newest edition.

Another thing you might have to buy is a supplement that accompanies the textbook, which is especially common in law schools. The supplements include the latest developments in that particular area of study, and since not knowing the new law can lead to malpractice, it's probably a good idea to know what's new. Whether to buy the supplement depends on what type of classes you're taking:

-If your class involves case law, just buy the dang supplement. You'll save yourself a lot of time down the road because most of the cases have been edited from, say, 50 pages down to about 5. It's not worth it to read the cases in their entirety just to save $20.

-If you're taking a statutory class, a statutory supplement is often necessary. However, if you've already taken a class in the same field, and you've been given or have bought a volume with selections of major statutes in that field, you can probably get away with not buying a new statutory supplement provided that the law hasn't changed in that area. For example, I already have a statutory supplement from first-year Contracts, which contains selections of the CISG and U.C.C. Articles 1, 2, 7, and 9 in it. This semester I'm taking a class that focuses solely on the UCC and CISG. I decided not to buy another statutory supplement because the U.C.C. hasn't changed for a while, and the revised Article 2 is probably not going to be adopted anytime soon. I'll be using the Westlaw or Lexis to fill in the gaps, of which there aren't many.

If you're forced to buy a new book, think outside the box. Believe it or not, some college textbooks are actually sold through regular bookstores. Take the Norton Anthology of English Literature, Vol. 1 and 2, for example. I saw them in Barnes and Noble once upon a time. If you can get a coupon code, you can save money. I doubt the Big U Bookstore ever offers any discounts. Check Amazon, because it has worked for some people.

When it comes time to get rid of your books, try selling it on your own first. I've only sold 1 book back to the bookstore because 1) I wanted to build a reference library, and 2) I would have only gotten back 25% of what I paid, even though I kept my books really clean. Even if you sell yours for slightly less than what the bookstore charges for used books (typically half the price of new books), you'd be making a significant chunk of money back. If you keep your book in a good condition, you'll probably have more bargaining power.

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