Photo courtesy of wohnai, via Flickr
Earlier in the week, JSTOR, the company that acts as a gatekeeper for
just about every journal article published in academia in the last
million years, generously announced that it would no longer charge fees
to download works that are in the public domain
. Put another way, stuff
that is by law free for anyone will now be free for anyone. So we should all be very, very grateful.
This news comes a week after George Monbiot of The Guardian called academic publishers "the most ruthless capitalists in the Western world
." Monbiot primarily cites the astronomical costs of journal articles, but the average college student has more experience with expensive college textbooks. These books can sometimes cost hundreds of dollars, with new editions that come out yearly rendering the older, cheaper books obsolete.
But it does not have to be this way. If you're a college student, or you know someone who is, read on to discover some tips to save on college textbooks and journal articles.Use Your College Library
This might seem like an obvious one, but you'd be surprised how many students don't take advantage of their college libraries. That $80 physics textbook you're required to buy might be available for free. That is, if you're smart about it.
If you want to borrow textbooks from your library, keep in mind that lots of other students will have the same idea, and your school will have only so many copies available. Try to register for your classes at the earliest opportunity, then reserve the books with the library immediately after that.
This works best if you're taking a Summer class, as those tend to have fewer students and shorter terms, so you could in theory borrow the book for almost the entire length of the course. If the semester has already started, you're likely out of luck. If you're further down the reserve list, it's likely that the students with the books will not return them on time; paying late fees is still cheaper than buying the book, in most cases.Use Other College Libraries
If your book isn't available, you can still find it at another school. Many students aren't aware that their lending privileges extend to other schools. I attended a small, private school and I was surprised how few students were aware that we could borrow from countless state schools in neighboring towns. It's worth looking into.
For best results, consult online course listings for these other schools. If your class isn't on offer that semester, there's less likely to be a demand for the books you need.Check with Your Department
If the main college library doesn't have what you're looking for, don't lose hope. As a graduate student, the best kept secret of my department was the small, private library that was full of back issues of journals. These weren't cataloged by the school's main library, so many students didn't know this resource was available.
Similarly, you can sometimes borrow books from professors. If you find a professor who's cool enough to do this for you, be sure to return the book in a timely manner and give a glowing course evaluation next time you have the chance.Don't Pay for Online Articles
If you're doing your research at home, never pay for online journal articles. You just need to set up a proxy, so that these journal databases know you're a student. Your college will absorb the cost for you in just about every case.
Your library probably has instructions for how to do this on their website. If you're lost, your librarian will be happy to help. You can even bring your laptop to the library and have them set up the proxy for you, in some cases.Talk to Your Professors
As with many things in life, it never hurts to just ask. Don't make the mistake of signing up for a class, then marching right into your college bookstore and buying everything that has your class number associated with it. Instead, e-mail your professors and ask what books are essential.
Often, your professor will assign one book that is absolutely necessary for the class, and then a few other books that are supplementary. Whoever manages your bookstore might not see the distinction. Without guidance, you might buy stuff you don't need or want.
Similarly, ask if it's okay to use old editions or international editions of textbooks. If your professor gives permission, this could save hundreds of dollars a semester. Once you have the go ahead, you can use book seller search engine like Addall.com
to find the cheapest copy.
While you're at it, ask if the textbooks are necessary at all. Once in a great while you'll find a class where notes and online materials will be enough to get you by.Tailor Your Classes to the Textbooks
Of course it won't always be possible to take only the classes with the cheapest textbooks. However, sometimes you can decide what to take based on how much the books will cost.
For example, if you need to take just any old math course to fulfill a General Education requirement, you might as well shop around to find the class with the cheapest books, all other things being equal.
Similarly, with very popular courses that are required for a given major, your school might have several professors teaching the same course concurrently. If you e-mail around to ask about required texts and older editions, you can decide which class to take based on the responses you get. As a bonus, a professor who is flexible about textbooks and sympathetic to poor college students will likely be easier to get along with, anyway.Befriend Upperclassmen
If you're a freshman or sophomore, it's a good idea to buddy up to those who have been there longer than you. For one thing, they can offer advice about where to eat around campus. For another, they might still have the textbooks from all those GE classes you signed up for.
It's uncommon to find people who don't want to sell back their textbooks as soon as humanly possible, but it does happen.Share Textbooks
If you have a friend who is taking the very same class as you, you might consider splitting the cost of the book and then sharing. At the end the semester, you can sell the book and split whatever money you were able to recover.
In order for this approach to work, you should first make sure that it isn't the kind of class where you'll need the book for constant reference during a lecture, or where you'll need the book for open-book exams.
You'll also want to make sure you and your friend can work out a system of who will have the book on what days. Finding a friend you can work with and trust is imperative. Rent Textbooks Instead of Buying
As you've probably learned the hard way, the system of buying then "selling back" your textbooks is kind of a scam. Even if your old books are in pristine condition, the new-edition-every-year system means there won't be much demand for your copy. Also, the school is paying you much less than what they're charging for used books.
This is why "renting" books is taking off. With a college textbook rental service like BookRenter
, you pay for your books with the understanding that you will have to return them within a certain time period, and in a certain condition. While it may not always be the cheapest option, for books that aren't available used it's sure to be cheaper than paying full price at the bookstore.Don't Forget the Public Domain
If your major falls into the "humanities" category, you're in luck: some of your required books will be novels and classics that are available in many editions, and that don't change from year to year. These will already be cheaper than your standard textbook.
And, sometimes if you're extra lucky, these books will fall in the public domain. This means you can get them for free without having to pay a copyright holder. Next time you need a copy of something by Jane Austen, check out repositories of free e-books like Project Gutenberg
. If you don't have an e-reader or smartphone, you might have to read it on your computer, which can be kind of a drag. But it's a small price to pay for getting fee books without having to wait or go anywhere.
Have your own tips for saving on college textbooks and journal articles? Please let us know in the comments.