If you’ve done any searching for cheap textbooks, you’ve probably come across international editions as an option. A lot of people are confused as to what international editions are, or even if they are legal to buy, so here are some answers to the biggest questions about the international editions of your textbooks.

Are international editions legal?

First, buying international editions from overseas is entirely legal. In a Times article titled Outsourcing the Textbook, Claire Suddath said that “it’s legal for students to buy them for personal use, but illegal for anyone to resell them outside of their intended country.” This means that while the individual selling the book is breaking copyright law, the buyer is not. So far, there has been no crackdown on these sellers, and online retailers like Ebay and Amazon are placing the responsibility on their sellers to adhere to any applicable laws. Long story short, if the seller will sell it, then you’re free to buy it.

 Why are international editions cheaper?

 Is something wrong with them? The answer is no, they are simply made more cheaply to be sold at prices international buyers can afford. Suddath said these books are”printed frequently in India, although sometimes in other Asian nations — under copyright agreements with Western publishers that allow the books to be sold for a discounted price.” If you think about it, publishers are simply charging what the market will bear, and it bears a lot less internationally so prices are lower.

I think this analogy from an articleon Free Online sums it up nicely. “The textbook publishing industry can be likened to the healthcare industry in the sense that both of these industry’s products are often much cheaper overseas than they are the United States.”

Are international editions different?

Typically the international editions will differ only slightly from their much more expensive American versions. They are almost always paperback instead of hardcover and printed in black and white. They may also be missing supplementary materials such as workbooks or companion CDs, but these can often be purchased separately. When it comes to content, they are usually identical, right down to example problems and page numbers.

 How much can I save?

The blog says that while some students save as much as 75%, “international edition textbooks save students an average of 50% over the prices offered at their college bookstores.” So how can you start saving? You just have to know where to look. Most online retailers sell international editions, although finding them can be difficult as they often have different ISBN numbers than their American counterparts. Again, recommends that you search by title and author in addition the ISBN. It’s also a good idea to fully read the description of each listing to make sure it matches the U.S. version you were assigned.

Have you ever purchased an international edition textbook? Was it a good buy, or were there issues with the international version? Let me know in your comments!

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19 Responses to International Textbook Editions: A cheaper alternative?

  1. John Kelm says:

    As an off-campus college store owner a few years back, I began sourcing international editions which were identical to their “domestic” counterparts. In fact on the versos it was revealed they were “Printed in the USA”. I could purchase these editions from vendors in countries around the world for nearly half what their publishers would charge me domestically. In addition, they provided shipping that delivered the book faster than a pub warehouse here in the US. I wrote an email to one publisher claiming they owed me a refund for the difference between what I managed to get off shore and what they had charged me for the same title the prior term.Their response was the company line – that those books were not to be sold in the US and that they were intended for sale in “third world countries” to assist students in those countries financially. I found that extremely interesting because one country was Great Britain and I wondered why a publisher would continue to increase prices to American students (outstripping overall inflation), forcing them to then perhaps subsidize the studies of their international counterparts. Even after web commerce created a viable means to sell and channel those editions to this country, publishers have done nothing (to my knowledge) to stem the flow. It’s one of those mysteries of American collegiate publishing that ranks right up there with why Congress and state legislatures have never effectively questioned mega publisher pricing practices – instead they have chosen to put the blame and onus on American college bookstores to cut margins and bear the expense and loss of business to adhere to HEOA regulations.

  2. Jeff Cohen says:

    Thanks for the comment, John. Part of the reason I’m writing this blog is to get discussions like this started. There’s so much behind-the-scenes goings-on that the average college consumer isn’t aware of.

  3. [...] many resellers have been hiding behind to import international editions of textbooks. In the past, we have covered international/overseas editions and I won’t rehash that here. What you need to know is that the Friday’s ruling paves the [...]

  4. I just received my international textbook from Thailand today. Everything is the same except the price. I don’t feel bad about receiving my textbook from overseas for less because it is simple economics. Just as the publishers will sell to the poorer countries at a price they can stand, I will outsource my books at a price I can stand. No book should ever cost $200 unless it is a first edition, signed by the author! Especially when the “new” editions we are forced to buy only move the problem sets around.

    • TextbookGuru says:

      I am very happy that you had a positive experience. I have never advocated that students shouldn’t buy them, they just need to be aware of the pitfalls. The two biggest ones are 1) the book may be slightly different. it can be as small as the odd questions in one book are the even questions in the international edition. and 2) the book will be much harder to sell at the end of the semester. The bookstore will not buy it back and selling it online will be more challenging as many marketplaces will not allow US sellers to post international editions for sale. When you hit it right you can save big money.

  5. Book user says:

    I just bought an International edition. It cost me $20, plus $10 for shipping and it came in 3 days (from India). It is word for word identical with the $130 US edition. It is paperback, and is not likely to hold up as well to multiple years of hard use – but for the price, it is what I need (and can afford) right now.

  6. [...] gadgets or even the music-piracy threat that record labels so complained of, rather because of textbooks, international editions to be exact (which I think shows just how expensive and valuable these things have [...]

  7. Kirsten says:

    I’m a computer science major, and every semester I’m required to buy new textbooks. If I buy from a local bookstore, new or used, I loose a lot of money when I resell the book at the end of the semester. When I buy international editions, I save more money even though I can’t sell the book after the semester ends. I lose more money by buying and reselling the US editions than buying internationally and keeping the book! It’s a no-brainer!

    • TextbookGuru says:

      Thanks Kristen
      Always good to get a students perspective. Internatinal books are scary to many students as they are not 100% the same but you have proved that you can save money and still do well in school with an international copy of the book.

  8. I bought a math book online and didn’t realize it was the international version until I received it in the mail. It’s a better deal than I realized since I thought it would be a used book. The paperback is lighter to carry and everything inside the cover is identical. Plus, the “not for US sale” warning is hilarious.

  9. Diana says:

    What are the websites for international edition textbooks?

  10. wishmeluck says:

    I am looking for international edition of the book
    operations management in supply chain 6th with ISBN 9780073525242
    edition by schoreder
    any luck?

  11. Kofi says:

    I just bought an international edition for 3 classes. My Linear algebra book is identical save for the cover, but a book I need for computer organization and assembly language uses a different computer programming language than I need for class so that was a bummer. I havn’t checked the third book yet but there is a pdf of it online anyways so I’m not too concerned.

  12. Shayna says:

    I wish more students knew more about this. I was in school two years ago and had NO idea. I am back for round two and was frantic when I got an “International Edition” version of a book I needed. I was bummed thinking I had to send it back and spend $170 more to get the “right one.” Good thing I Googled it! Asked my professor and my book only differs with the soft cover, and the picture on the front. And as a single mom working full time and paying my OWN way through school, I am happy that people are finding ways to make school more affordable. And a big FU to the corporations intentionally inflating the costs for Americans.

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  14. TARUN says:

    Hi all,

    Yes i have bought about 2 international edition books from overseas ( India ) and there were no issues. All was well. In fact , in both instances they arrived earlier than expected and in neat conditon .
    Saved a lot of money buying them from here. :) So all thanks to abe books !


  15. Reena says:

    Ever since I discovered international version that all I use. I don’t even bother to get the other one. Everything is the same and I only use it for one semester. I am an Indian and I did half of my studies in India My god books in America and tuitions are way over the board. Now I understand why people think going to College is a big deal. Its either surviving or going to college. At least we get help from our parents :)

  16. Leah says:

    This is my first year of college and I accidentally bought an international version of a Business textbook. It’s called Understanding Business in the eleventh edition, by William G. Nickels. Has anyone ever used this textbook in place of the U.S edition? WIll this be okay for class?

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