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Aug 03 2016
by Nancy Canevari

Textbook Shopping: Amazon vs. eBay

By Nancy Canevari - Aug 03 2016

With the school year starting in a month, the time for purchasing college textbooks is right around the corner. Between online sources, campus bookstores and renting services, the process can get overwhelming, but the most popular and reliable outside-of-campus sources are Amazon and eBay. The two offer similar rental and purchasing services, but there are key differences between the two, which are outlined here. Keep this guide with you as you navigate the textbook-purchasing process!



1. Amazon offers renting services for their textbooks, and renting is considerably cheaper than buying. A semester rental is, at the very least, a tenth of the cost of buying a book new, and even cheaper than buying it used. As a college student, saving money is obviously a priority, and often Amazon offers the same textbook as a college bookstore — for a fraction of the cost.

2. If buying used, you can choose the condition of the book: like new, good, fair, etc.

3. Used copies of books must be in like-new condition, meaning no stains, water damage, tears, notes or highlights, meaning that even used books will be in excellent condition.

4. Shipping is free. Amazon offers free standard shipping (2-5 business days) for orders over $35, and let’s be real here, no one’s textbook orders are going to be less than that. (Cue intense sobbing.) Amazon also has Amazon Student, which offers free two-day shipping for college students. The same is true for return shipping — at the end of the rental period, if you attach the original mailing slip to the package, the book ships back to Amazon for free.

5. If you need an extension on a book, you can extend your deadline by either 15 days or a full additional semester. It’s an extra fee, but not very expensive.

6. Two words: gift cards. Amazon gift cards are the most generic, go-to gift given to college students, and if you happen to receive one (or several), it’s easy to apply them to your textbook orders. Now you have more money for ramen and Insomnia Cookies.

7. Because of the Amazon Kindle, many textbooks are available for ebook download. While still pricy, they’re often cheaper than buying a physical book, which is great if you’re looking to buy a new copy of your textbook and still save some money.


1. International shipping is available for purchases, but not for rentals, so if you’re going to college outside of the US, or are an international student who wants your books shipped to your home, you may want to reconsider.

2. Because rental books are returned, you can’t write or highlight in them. This means no note-taking directly in the textbook — either invest in Post-Its, find a new note-taking method or pick a different rental service.

3. Prices can vary on certain rental items. Some vendors don’t ship to certain states, so while the cheapest option for a book may be $16 in New York, the cheapest option in Colorado could be $20, because the $16 retailer doesn’t ship their book to Colorado.

4. If you need to rent a book for shorter than a semester (for a summer or winter class), you're out of luck — you'll need to pay the cost of a full semester rental anyway, as there aren't any shorter rental periods.



1. If you register through, you can also rent your textbooks, for a period of either 30, 60, 90 or 125 days (a semester). Rental books cannot have water damage or stains. 

2. If you realize that you need to keep a book for longer than anticipated, you can pay for an extension of an additional fifteen days or an additional semester.

3. If you want to buy a textbook instead of renting one, you can buy it new or used, and the price of used books are almost always cheaper than that of new ones. If buying used, you can request the condition of the book — like new, good, fair, etc.

4. You’re allowed to write and highlight in the rental books as long as it doesn’t prevent further renters from reading.

5. Gift cards are also available. While they might not be as popular as Amazon cards, they’re still an option for discounted prices.


1. Because rental books can be written in, the condition of the book you receive may be questionable — there may be significant writing or highlighting.

2. Free shipping isn’t guaranteed. eBay vendors can set their shipping prices, and many of them don’t offer free shipping, which means an additional fee.

3. Unfortunately there’s no ebook version available, so if you want to buy the book you have to buy the physical copy.

4. eBay only ships within the US, so like Amazon, if you live or are attending school outside abroad, you're out of luck.

As you purchase your textbooks for the upcoming semester, keep the following bits of advice in mind. College can be stressful, but by doing adequate amounts of research, buying textbooks doesn’t have to be part of that stress.

Lead Image Credit: Aleksi Tappura via Unsplash

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Nancy Canevari - Smith College

Nancy is a junior editor for Fresh U. She is a sophomore at Smith College and plans on double majoring in secondary education and English, with a concentration in creative writing. She's originally from New Jersey, a place she views with one part love and one part exasperated disgust. She loves dogs and young adult high fantasy novels a bit too much and spends most of her time drinking tea and yelling about politics. Follow her on Instagram @fearlesslynancelot for some solidly mediocre content.

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