Due to monopoly pricing, textbooks can be expensive.
Strategies for avoiding textbook price-gouging
Don't buy the book
Determine if you really need the book. Unless the professor is assigning problems directly from the textbook, it is usually possible to do without.
Borrow the book
Sometimes the CU library system has the book you need in its regular collection. If not, you can usually check out a reserve copy from the library and photocopy what you need... or the entire book with our high-tech book scanners. Another fruitful library strategy is to use Borrow Direct, which allows you to check out materials from a number of University libraries for a standard term of one month. You can also check if any of the three public library systems in the city has the book (unlikely, but possible).
Buy used textbooks
The CU bookstore sells used textbooks, but also offers them frightfully expensive prices (usually about 10% off new.) For online shopping Powell's, Amazon, or eBay, generally offer better discounts. The Morningside Bookstore carries some used books as does The Strand downtown. Often the book tables on Broadway stock books from large lecture classes or Core classes.
Buy textbooks in a third-world country
Publisher's often create special editions of textbooks for sale outside the United States. Usually, the foreign editions are stripped down somewhat; softcover instead of hardcover and black & white instead of 4-color, but these editions contain the same content. Other countries have more liberal interpretations of copyright law and will 'make' you a copy. The easiest way to get these editions is to know someone from one of the countries in question to purchase it for you. Even if you travel to the source, there is no guarantee they will sell you the book.
Download the textbook
In this digital age, publishers are often making their textbooks available for download (at least to professors.) I am told by other students that can download these for (ahem) free using file sharing.
Many texts can be downloaded legitimately for free. Many Core Curriculum texts were written by people who have been dead so long they're out of copyright. Some are so old they were never copyrighted to begin with. Crazy.
Local textbook marketplaces
- BooksOnCampus, where you can log in using your Facebook account
- Intrabid a startup venture by some Columbia B-School students who have been desperately spamming every student group on campus trying to get it off the ground.