by Keya Shirali

It’s that time of the year when professors of every new class you’re taking are uploading their syllabi. You’ve got all this learnin’ to do, which means readings, which means… textbooks! You proceed to look up a required textbook, and it’s there alright – but then you see the price… and ouch. Well fear not, because I have a few ways to help you save money on the textbooks you need!

Consider Renting

Did you know that you can actually rent your textbooks from the on-campus university bookstore? You’d have to return them at the end of the year of course, but guess what – on average, you’ll be paying less than half of the new purchase price.

Frame capture from Textbook Rental Explained video. The image is an illustartion of textbooks with marquee sign reading "Rent" overtop. Links to video.

Image Source: “Textbook Rental Explained” video on Follett Communications YouTube channel

You might be thinking, this sounds great, but I like to write/highlight in my textbooks – am I able to do that? You certainly are! In a rented textbook, normal highlighting and note-taking are fine – and potentially even helpful for the next renter.

Keep in mind: during checkout, you’ll be required to provide rental collateral (i.e. a credit card), as well as sign a rental agreement, which represents your commitment to returning your rental textbook back by the due date.

Hunt for the Lowest Price

Websites like help you find the lowest price for your textbooks. Simply enter the ISBN (that’s International Standard Book Number) for your textbook and it will show you a huge list of retailers and their pricing.

A screenshot of search's results page.

A few caveats when using such sites:

  • They generally search major online retailers, but not smaller local bookstores like Octopus Books, Haven, or even the Carleton Bookstore, so it’s worth contacting them directly to do a price comparison.
  • A lot of the companies listed may not be in North America, so be sure to check where the book will be shipping from before you order or you may risk delays or import fees.
  • Each variation of a textbook has a unique ISBN. For example, a hardcover and a softcover of the exact same textbook will have different ISBNs, and there can be major price differences between each format. Make sure you’re searching for the right format.


OK, so you’ve found a decent price on your textbook – but it’s from some company in BC and it’s going to take a while to arrive. You can wait… or you can price-match it!

The Carleton Bookstore (others may do it too, but I couldn’t find any) price matches first party online retailers and physical stores. There are conditions of course, but so long as the book is in stock and the same ISBN, you’re generally good to go. Show them the lower price and you’ll get the difference back on a gift card!

For more details on how price matching works at the Carleton Bookstore, visit the website

Consider eTextbooks

ETextbooks combine convenience and cost-effectiveness. Not only are e-books often cheaper than physical books, you also don’t have the additional burden of carrying, maintaining, and finding shelf space for a hard copy.

In my case, when I had the option of renting a digital version of a textbook required for my Qualitative Research in Communication class, I leapt at the opportunity! Especially with all my courses being delivered remotely this Summer and Fall, it was quicker, and I didn’t have to think about redelivering my book manually once the term was over.

The process is simple. As soon as the order is placed, you’ll receive an email with the receipt of the purchase (or rental) and the digital access information. How does that work?

To access your digital selection, you simply have to click on the Access URL, use the Access code provided, and follow the instructions accordingly. Once you have it all set up – which takes only a few seconds – voila, there’s your textbook on your screen right there! It will typically also let you know the duration of days you can access it for, after which it won’t be available anymore.

Image of digital receipt for an electronic textbook.

So, there you have it. A number of ideas to help you get the most bang for your buck on textbooks – from rentals and digital versions to price-matching and more. Hopefully with these tips you can get the textbooks you need without breaking the bank.


Keya Shirali is a third year communications and film studies major at Carleton University.

Portions of the news post “Saving Money on Textbooks” were adapted from a 2017 news item by Carleton University student blogger Noshin Rahman which also appeared on this website.