Ask a Science Professor: I feel terrible about overpriced textbooks and think there is a conspiracy, is it true and what are my options?

By Ben Alonzo 0 Comments

Amanda from Texas wants to know if there is a textbook conspiracy to purposely “rip-off” students. She also is desperate for suggestions because science textbooks are becoming prohibitively expensive. It’s true that college is extremely expensive, but a meaningful degree is always worth it. Obviously, we would like reasonable tuition and materials costs, but we are far from it. Therefore, we have to be smart about college, and consider cutting costs wherever/whenever we can (as students). Take a look at the following perspective as well as cheaper options for obtaining required textbooks.

Expensive Textbooks

“In my sophomore year… I’m getting depressed because my science textbooks are costing hundreds of dollars each semester. I started searching online for honest people to give me better options. Our bookstore has overpriced new and used books. What can I do? Thank you for your time!” – Amanda, TX

Amanda, thank you for writing to ULTRA TechLife. I will do my best to answer your questions. It might make you feel better to know that you have some great options. Things are expensive these days, which means we have to be constantly looking for ways to continue our education without breaking the bank.

It’s true that textbooks, especially science, are very expensive. Please do not be necessarily mad at your professor. Often, departments will choose the exact textbook to use and it becomes a standard for your course to use. Not every instructor gets to pick the textbook you use. Additionally, the bookstores often have an arrangement with specific publishers, which is an entirely different issue.

Yes, questionable things have happened with college textbook publishers. We hope our government will continue to monitor these practices and protect students. A great education is an investment for our country. It’s in our best interest to deliver a quality education without eternally damaging a student, financially speaking.

There are times when a department upgrades to a newer version of the textbook. Out of nearly 15 colleges and universities – across the U.S. — I’ve communicated with, most will switch textbooks about once every few semesters. I know this can be frustrating, but major publishers set prices, materials are constantly updated, and we often can’t just keep using the same used textbook forever. It also gets difficult for every student to use a different textbook in a single class (chaos and hard for tests/referencing exact material in the book).

Yes, page numbers and figures often change with newer textbooks. Regardless of whether we are happy as students or faculty with changing books, there must be a standard, and a single course (all students) should use the exact textbook listed in the syllabus.

College bookstores have a limited supply of textbooks, which may also frustrate people. I know most students go for the used textbook because it’s cheaper, but not by much (sometimes).

As of 2008, it is now a federal law for every college to list the ISBN and retail price of a textbook. The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) forces colleges to give students more options. Now you know the ISBN of the required textbook and you may purchase it from anywhere. The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a 10 or 13 digit number that identifies the exact textbook you need. Use this ISBN code on Google to find a cheaper book.

Always be sure that the exact ISBN matches what you see in your syllabus!

Rent Textbooks

You have many options. I’ve actually had hundreds of students ask me for cheaper routes of getting textbooks. One thing I’ve started to recommend is renting. You heard me right. You can rent textbooks from various legitimate places online. They are no tax, free shipping, and even provide the paid return label. The catch is — you must return the book within a certain time and without damages (no BBQ sauce). Renting is probably the cheapest thing. In fact, some of my current graduate study books are so expensive that I had to rent. I found a $175 used text for $14 for 90 days rental. I’ve found even cheaper basic (general studies) books for under $10 per semester, including the paid return label. Renting is a great option that many overlook.

Buy Third-Party Used

You can also buy a used textbook from many sources. I’ve used Valore, Chegg,, and many others. You would be surprised just how cheap used textbooks can get. My technique is to find the most damaged textbook that is dirt cheap. That’s right, the worse the condition, the cheaper. The only drawback to this is you might have a hard time reselling a damaged textbook.

Buying New & Access Codes

Buying new is an option, but probably the most expensive. Here’s where some trouble happens! Some special courses have attached e-codes that have the student use the textbook and a special website where you have to buy the new book that comes with the prepaid access code. These codes may only come with a sealed, new textbook. This is a gray area and must be worked out between the student and your course instructor.

Stress & Depression

We live in a fast-paced advanced technological society. Nearly everything has become stressful, especially college, especially college science stuff. College is expensive and this becomes a heavy burden on nearly all students. You really feel the pain when you see just how expensive textbooks alone are. Professors are not out to get you. We often agree with students and are your voice when communicating between publishers and departments. A good professor will also discuss some options with you. Just be honest and respectful about it all.

Times are tough, but always try to stay positive. There may be other things going on in our lives as we tackle college. Take things one step at a time. Hard work pays off, regardless of what random people on the internet tell you. Diversify your skills and education. You want as many options as possible. Things may seem depressing now, but it’s not cliché to say that with hard work and time – it gets better. You learn how to deal with things, open options, etc.

I agree that college expenses and loans are out of control, even inhumane at times. I hope that you understand that there are cheaper options for textbooks. If textbooks are the only thing stopping you in your degree path, just start renting. I can almost guarantee you that nearly any exact textbook you need is available for renting. I rent from online sources. My technique was to always Google “rent textbook” and pick one of the first few results. These are legitimate companies with great rental prices and policies. I think you will be very happy.

Good luck with your degree and career. Please be sure to like and share the website to your friends.

Study hard,


Disclosure: I don’t work for any of the sources mentioned in this post and I’m certainly not being paid to mention them.

About Author: Ben Alonzo is a scientist, tech expert, professor, and director of He’s currently CEO of the media and tech firm Storm Sector. Ben holds an M.S. in Geoscience, M.S. in Nutrition and Health Sciences, and a B.S. in Geoscience. He’s a highly-rated professor that teaches several courses at multiple colleges, including earth science, environmental science, oceanography, meteorology, and public health. His diverse background spans numerous science fields, enterprise network and computer systems, healthcare, telecommunications, weather forecasting, consumer electronics, computer programming, and web development. Ben holds numerous professional licenses and certifications, ranging from information technology to healthcare and emergency medical technician. He’s been writing about science and technology for over 10 years. You can also see some of his past articles on the Houston Chronicle, eHow, Sciencing, Hearst, and other news networks. In his free time, he loves to scuba dive, travel, and write guitar music. More about the author.
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