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Textbooks can be pretty pricey. However, there are ways to circumvent the standard spending by reselling, renting, or borrowing. Weigh up the pros and cons as Spectrum's editors dish out how they get ready for academic classes.


Anna: Buy, b*tch, and re-sell

I like things straightforward. I got no time to waste. Shopping around for textbook deals can get way too complicated way too quickly. But, there is an easier way! Buying textbooks straight from bookstores doesn't have to be expensive if you're smart.

If you're savvy, impatient, and want results, buying textbooks is for you.


  • No fuss:
  • It’s as easy and stress-free as textbook shopping can be. Walk into Book Culture, Barnes and Noble in Lerner, Barnes and Noble on the Upper West Side, or hit up Amazon. Buy books. Walk/log out. Try not to cry the whole time when you see the receipts. You'll make that money back up...or at least most of it. (If you get Amazon Student Prime, which is free for the first six months, you can take advantage of free two-day shipping when you need to buy your textbooks quick.)
  • A sensual experience: You get to have real books. Smell them, feel them, touch them sensually, touch them platonically, they’re yours! Cherish the possession. Cherish the knowledge.
  • Making back the $$$: Since you can sell used textbooks online, to bookstores like Book Culture, or to the Columbia Barnes and Noble at the end of the semester, you actually end up saving about as much money as someone who bought used or rented. Even if you’ve written in or highlighted your books, you can still get some money back.


  • The weight of knowledge: Carrying physical textbooks is heavier than carrying bytes from a PDF dancing around on your iPad.
  • Learning's Labors Lost: If your book gets misplaced or stolen, you won’t be getting any cash back, you won’t be getting any book back, and the library version will probably already have been borrowed. (Ugh Thanks, Sophia, you library thief. (← See Sophia's section for that to make sense.)
  • "I never thought we'd fall in love, but...": You might get sentimentally attached to your books. You’ll spend more time weighing up the pros and cons of selling your beloved book-buddy back to the bookstore, than studying when finals come along. When you do sell them off, you may sink into a depressive funk for months. Hubbard and O’Brien’s fifth edition of Economics (The Pearsons Series in Economics) and you could have had a life together...

Carolina: Internet addict

Whether I'm tapping on my phone or typing away on my laptop, my face is always lit up by a screen's soft glow. It's only fitting then that my iPad is home to all my textbooks. And how do I have all my textbooks on my iPad? The ~magic~ of rented PDFs.

Downloading a free PDF of a professor or author's life's work is like...incredibly illegal, and even if we did do that (which we don't,) we wouldn't promote it (cuz we don't.) Your next best option are cheap rentals from Chegg or Amazon. Sites like these let you download PDFs or eBooks of most textbooks for a small fee. If you don't like PDFs, you can also rent hard copy books from those sites. They'll ship to you in the mail, and give you free return postage.

If you're techy, on a budget, and can abstain from writing in textbooks, Amazon Rent is for you.


  • Pay less: Renting is often half the price of buying, and less money spent on textbooks means more money spent on ~treatin' yo'self~.
  • Command F: With eBook and PDF rentals, you can use the Command+F search function to go looking for keywords. This saves you major time that you could have wasted flipping through physical pages.
  • Weight of the world off your shoulders: Preserve your impeccable posture by carrying one cute lil iPad (or laptop or whatever you might own) instead of heaps of big, ol’ books in your bag. Although you will still slouch when reading the PDF on your device, you can pretend to have no backaches.


    • Procrastination: Since this is the most techy option, there’s always the risk you’ll end up getting distracted, surfing the internets, and not working at all. Beware of PDFs and eBooks if you have zero discipline. Focus, Karen!
    • Annotations: It’s a little harder to annotate or highlight PDFs and eBooks, than it is with hardcopy books. Even if you do rent physical textbooks, you’re expected to keep them in unscribbled, mint condish. This problem is easily solved if you're a Post-It person though.
    • Postal returns: Postal returns: If you rent a hardcopy text, you’re responsible for getting it back to the rental distributor. This isn’t that hard, but during finals, returning your rentals may slip your mind. Postage is usually free if you print out the labels, but you’ll need to be organized to print labels, package your books, and head over to UPS or the post office on time without incurring extra costs.


    Sophia: Clio-patra, Queen of the Stacks

    As we established in last week's Budget-Off, I'm a penny-pinching pinhead, and that translates nicely into borrowing books every semester. As soon as reading lists come out (which you can normally find on Courseworks or on the textbook tab of Courses@CU before you receive syllabi,) I hit up my bae, CLIO.

    CLIO stores the catalogue for Barnard and Columbia's libraries and will get you pretty much 80% of your books for the semester for free. (80% because sometimes the books you need are only in Reserved Reading. You can only take Reserved Reading texts out for a couple of hours, not the whole semester. (I know this because I once got charged $90 for taking a Reserved Reading book home like a doofus. Luckily my scant charm managed to wrangle my way out of the fine if I promised never to do it again.)

    The trick to crowning yourself CLIO-patra is to get borrowing early. You wanna be that scheming nerd who takes the books before anyone else can. Before hitting up Butler (my go-to lib,) I'll search ISBNs or titles in CLIO, then use my phone to snap my screen for each book's location.

    Let's say I want to grab Dostoyevsky's 'Crime and Punishment' for LitHum.

    1. I'll search for it…

    2. When the results come up, I'll find a record that is a.) a book, b.) onsite, and c.) green-ticked (i.e.available.)

    3. That gets a cheeky screenshot; I'll make a folder on my phone of all these screenshots; then I'll hit up Butt Stax, or Burke, or Milstein, or wherever to borrow that shit before anyone else does.

    If you're intimidated by the classification system the libraries use, don't be. It's easy to understand once you check out library maps like these or you disturb ask a librarian.

    If you're stingy, like classy hard-covered books, and enjoy reading other people's margin notes, borrowing from the libraries is for you.


    • Saving all my $$$ 4 u: Fine, people may think you’re gooofy as heck for “wasting” a whole day on a textbook scavenger hunt, but hey, they’re stupid for spending $386 on a damn textbook. At the end of the day, you’re the one whose budget isn’t totally fried by Week 2.
    • Not sure if this is plagiarism, but…: It’s pretty obvious that you won’t be the first or last person to use a borrowed book. Some of the books you’ll get will often have notes in the margins. These can be translations of the arbitrary French word that the author decides to throw in willy-nilly, or a comment someone wrote down back in 1972 from their professor. Obviously, don’t go claiming that comment as your own and double-check translations and things if you’re going to use them, but it is helpful to have a few scribbles to gently assist you on your academic journey.
    • Study discoveries: Borrowing books gets you pretty familiar with libraries on campus, and that’s heaps helpful when exam seasons come around. While everyone’s being unoriginal and crowding into Butler 202, you know that the Stacks have empty desk space 24/7, or that Burke is a great Hogwartsian escape.


    • It's work: Yes, you do save time by clicking one button and getting all your Lit Hum or Contemporary Civilizations books in one go (which you can do. Hit up those links.) Yes, it’s a lot of effort to wander libraries all day, carting books around in a massive backpack. It all depends on how you value time over money, or money over time.
    • Hit rate: Sometimes books aren’t where they’re supposed to be. You’ll go all the way to Burke on 121st Street only to find that the book isn’t there despite the fact that CLIO clearly said it was. I’ve never had a semester where I was able to get 100% of my books from the library due to things like this, so be ready for a few dead ends.

    How do you get your textbooks every semester? Y'all do something different? We'd love to know! Tell us on our Facebook, Twitter, or Snapchat @CUSpectrum.

    Updated August 11, 2017 at 5:55 p.m.

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