Textbook Question: Purchase? Rent? New? Used?

I’m having a hard time figuring out the most economical way to approach the math/science textbook situation. My strategy, thus far, has been to wince slightly as I hand over my credit card. I figured I’d approach the oracle to see if anyone else has a better idea.

Here’s the deal: Textbook purchases, as a rule, have been investments that I don’t mind making. I’ve also been assuming, perhaps erroneously, that a specific science/math sequence would use the same textbook all year long. However, I just registered for my second quarter of calculus, and the required textbook has changed despite the fact that we only used the first third of the book I bought last quarter. Also, the chemistry book I’ve been assigned for winter quarter will have a new edition out by the start of spring quarter which makes me hesitant to purchase the soon-to-be ‘older’ version.

Is it normal for a textbook to change mid-sequence in math/science classes? In the event that textbooks update mid-sequence, is it necessary to purchase the new edition or do older editions suffice? Do most of you find that renting textbooks works better as a means to avoid the above issues?

Alternatively, is all of this merely the price of admission? Is the above mentioned ‘wince and pay’ strategy really the best option?

Thanks for any input!

I’ll address a few of those questions.

If the textbook changes mid-sequence generally the older edition will suffice. Often if an new edition comes out shortly before the course starts, the prof will give page numbers for the old and the new edition.

My personal preference is not to rent textbooks for core references. However for calculus, I think that would be fine. I write and highlight in other texts and wouldn’t get as much out of them if they were rented and I couldn’t mark them up, but that’s just me.

For med school, I buy many core texts. Some supplemental texts I’ll use in the med school library. A few of those I end up buying (Schaecter’s “Mechanisms of Disease” was one I felt I wanted a reference copy of as it was very clear and a good go-to ref. for microbiology).


Got to go for the older version. Or even two older. You will see a drastic price drop on Amazon, etc. For the latest problem set, you can go to the library and get it on reserve. Make the copies and then proceed.

At our (premed) level, there are no serious differences between editions. Structural biology is changing but the Krebs cycle is not, you know? You may even BENEFIT from another explanation in another book. Calculus is one prime example of this for me.

and of course, as always, wait a lecture or two before buying the book! sometimes it isn’t needed if all the information that is tested comes from the prof’s lecture slides, etc

I forked over $400 for a chemistry bundle only to find out that I could have bought the text for $0.01 on Amazon (no joke). Today, the text is setting under my husbands server rack as a riser.

As for older editions, they’ll normally suffice unless you’re required to do problem sets from the book. In that case you can just photocopy/get the problems from someone else.

Personally, I never pay retail for a book if there is a used version available on Amazon (some are in great condition even though they are used). Also, I have sold all of my premed books on Amazon for close to what I paid. The only books I will consider paying full price for are digital editions – otherwise I try to save every penny possible (the medical school track is expensive enough as it is). The trick is to get the books after the semester ends (more supply, cheaper prices) and sell your texts at the beginning of the semester (less supply, higher prices).

As for renting, it’s a scam. You can buy a used textbook for less than the rental fee most of them time.

Best wishes!

I agree with you in that it is an investment, but there comes a point when one gets tired of being gouged. Go for previous editions, ebooks, and international editions. Renting can be advantageous, but only in the instance that you net money at the end as opposed to buying used, etc.

Lurkation has great advice. I have found that the biggest difference in many newest edtions is that content and problem sets are moved around. A quick trip to the library will reveal how far off the problem/chapter numbers are (for gen chem, I found that problem numbers were all off by 20, so 1 was actually 21). Better yet, sometimes you can strike out lucky on google books and find the information you need.

To wince and pay is to take the easy road - patience and ebay auctions can save your wallet, which for a lot of us here means we can now have gas money to even get to school in the first place.

What I am doing and will continue to do is purchase the e-book and print up the pages. I’m one who writes on my books, notes, etc so when I print the pages up, I can write my notes whereever I need to on the textbook page without messing up an actual book.

It’s also 2/3rds the cost for some of those e-books. Genetics, my future course (Fall '13), costs $300 for the hard copy but only $125 for the e-book, access code, etc. I’d never rent anything because if you spill coffee on it, accidentially or by a loving cat, you’ll owe them.

BTW: Wow, what happened to a $30.00 book back in the day?? I wish I still had my Gregg Shorthand book I bought for $25.00 and used my first year of college. Oh, it’s probably in a museum