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How to save a surprising amount on textbooks

I'm home from another exciting first day of classes. While Yet Another Stats Course looks to be useful, if not especially titillating, I am enthused after the first meeting of Undisciplined Media Theories (this raffish title reveals that the course is not from my home department). I had met instructor Trebor Scholz briefly last fall after he organized Axel Bruns' visit to Buffalo, and I'm looking forward to working with him. The course looks like a lot of fun -- I'll finally be forced to pick up several books that have been languishing for years on my "to read" list, as well as several books which are completely new to me.

A student always looks at a substantial reading list, especially one that contains recent textbooks, with some trepidation. I probably could have found some of the thirteen books on the Undisciplined reading list at the library, but most of these are books I want to own anyway. List price for all the books is $370.55 -- a hefty chunk of my meager teaching assistant salary. Even considering the discounts provided by online retailers such as Amazon, the total cost for these books would be well over $300 before taxes and shipping were figured in. I managed to pick up these books for $176 and 20 minutes' work. Here are my tips:

  1. Mooch them, if possible: if you can't mooch from your friends, try BookMooch. BookMooch is a book trading site -- you list books you are willing to give away, and are then able to browse others' inventories and "mooch" their books. They'll send them to you for free (it sounds improbable, but thus far has a functional little economy). Unfortunately for me, none of the thousands of free books listed here were on my reading list.
  2. Compare prices: If you have to pay for a book, you probably want to spend as little as possible. But maybe you're willing to spend a little more to get a book without beer stains and moronic highlighting. The major second-had dealers, such as Amazon and Half, will generally have your book in a variety of conditions at a variety of prices. My used book search engine of choice is the lovably typo-ridden Bookfinder4u. With a single ISBN search, Bookfinder4u will return several pages of results from hundreds of online booksellers, neatly sortable by total price including shipping. When there are ten stores selling the book for the same price, it pays to pick out the one that's in the best condition.
  3. Look at different editions: of course, it's wise to check with your instructor before ordering the 2nd edition of a textbook that's currently in its 23rd revision, but buying slightly older editions can save a lot of money. Also, be sure to compare hardcover and softcover editions -- several of the books I purchased were significantly cheaper in hardcover.

These are my results. I could have gotten these books even cheaper, but I wanted books with unmarked pages, and I got hardcovers where the price difference wasn't significant. Note that my prices include shipping and any taxes.

Title List Price My Price
Brown, J. S., Duguid, P. (2002) The Social Life of Information. $25.95 $8.70
Castells, M. (2000) The Rise of the Network Society. $29.95 $21.48
Gillmor, D. (2004) We the Media. $24.95 $6.15
Ellul, J. (1964) The Technological Society $12.00 $8.82
Feenberg, A. (2002) Transforming Technology. $24.95 $9.15
Hardin, R. (1982) Collective Action. $25.95 $8.85
Keeble, L., Loader, B. eds. (2001) Community Informatics. $48.95 $28.75
Standage, T. (1998) The Victorian Internet. $22.00 $7.20
Sterling, B. (2005) Shaping Things. $17.95 $13.00
Warschauer, M. (2003) Technology and Social Inclusion. $35.00 $16.47
Wenger, E., et al. (2002) Cultivating Communities of Practice. $32.95 $18.70
Willinsky, J. (2006) The Access Principle. $34.95 $18.65
Winner, L. (1977) Autonomous Technology. $35.00 $10.44
TOTAL: $370.55 $176.36

Feel free to leave your cheap book tips in the comments!

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