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Ready to sell back your books? Skip the campus bookstore

By Jenna Moede

Okay, I know you might not love me after this, but I have to give you the skinny. At some point, you will lose money on your college textbooks.

But, before you throw tomatoes at me, I have some good news too. You can search out the most competitive price on your books.

If you haven't experienced your freshman year yet, you might not know this, but if you have, especially on campus, you have probably figured out that most freshman choose to buy their books at their college bookstore.

I did the same thing. I walked up to the counter, picked up my pre-ordered books and signed a nice slip authorizing some 800 dollars charged to my student account.

I didn't really give it another thought until I went to sell those very same books 16 weeks later. I thought I'd make enough to buy some groceries, gas to drive home for winter break, and maybe a few extra dollars for Christmas presents.

I had a rude awakening when they offered me about $100 for all of the books. I think my jaw may have hit their counter. $100? Several books, they told me, they didn't even want to buy back so I thought I would receive nothing for them.

I learned over the next few years that I didn't have to take what the bookstore offered. I had options on how to squeak out the money on the books I had to buy. I never got back what I paid when selling to a buyback program, but I did find some that paid better than others.

I did a little legwork to figure out just how college bookstores determine their buyback prices and whether or not they try to set the students up for zero extra Christmas money. I feel confident now - they don't do it on purpose.

I talked to a few bookstores and the consensus for book buyback seems simple: supply and demand.

One call helped the most, and the woman on the line told me that first they consider the book edition. She informed me that if a new edition of the book I had used came out before the next semester, the professors would likely switch to that edition and no longer use the one I had purchased.

That's a quick way to lose a lot of money. Second, she told me that if the bookstore already had a lot of copies of the book I needed to sell, they wouldn't offer very much for it.

Last, she let me know that the bookstore typically sets one price for the book. It doesn't matter if the books have writing in them or highlighter or torn pages, they still sell back for the same price.

The bookstores would, however, not buy books that had water damage or so much damage they considered them unreadable.

So by the time I hung up with that bookstore, I knew that I had done it right by finding other places to sell my books during my latter years of college.

First, understand you probably won't make top dollar, but you can eek some value back out.

To sell your books, first do a little research. Search the ISBN online and see what the book sells for currently.

Of course it never hurts to check the college bookstore, but don't pack up shop after that.

I recommend typing the ISBN into a book comparison website. Think of them as the Travelocity of college textbooks.

I found two sites that I liked to do this.

First I tried www.bookscouter.com. I thought it made searching the books and seeing the best offers really easy. It cut out a ton of the legwork.

A similar website, www.bookfinder.com, seemed a lot like the first. I didn't like the landing page as much as the first, but the site offered the same exact prices which I took as a good sign.

While I found the comparison sites more effective and efficient, if you'd rather search individual websites, I have included four that I received consistently high offers from in my research.

I had never seen the first two sites, TextbookRecycling and Buyback101 before, but I discovered them in my search.

They seemed similar. Both clearly laid out the terms and conditions on the website and explained the process for selling textbooks. TextbookRecycling's website referred to payments with checks, and Buyback101 mentioned payments to PayPal.

You can also check out Amazon as another credible buyer. Amazon offers a gift card for the value of the books, but the terms make it seem like a fairly straightforward process. .

Lastly, you can use Chegg as an option. The buyback program seems similar to the first two listed. Again, the website explains the shipping policies and payment terms.  

It seems that most buyback programs provide a free shipping label that you just need to print, and each site typically explains how to package the books.

Overall I found tons, and I do mean tons and tons and tons, of buyback programs out there, but comparing prices on a book comparing website seemed like the best use of my time. 

Remember to check the payout method so you won't run into any surprises no matter what buyback program you use.

Don't just settle for what the bookstore will offer you, and remember, you can always list your books online or sell them to classmates.

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