International Textbook Editions: A cheaper alternative?


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!

Comments (41)

  1. John Kelm

    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.

    1. shelley

      thank you!!!

  2. Jeff Cohen

    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. Pingback: The Death of International Editions and Follet Sues BookRenter «

  4. Kristin Humphries

    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.

    1. TextbookGuru (Post author)

      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

    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. Pingback: International Textbook Editions: It’s all legal until it isn’t. «

  7. Kirsten

    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!

    1. TextbookGuru (Post author)

      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. felicitousmisfortune

    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

    What are the websites for international edition textbooks?

  10. wishmeluck

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

    1. thetextbookguru (Post author)

      this is a brand new book so it may take 3-6 months before you start seeing alternative editions of it.

  11. Kofi

    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

    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.

  13. BonitaNut

    Jeff (and fellow posters),
    I had NO idea about the International version until yesterday (12.20.14) when I received my textbook:
    Here is the book that I ordered:
    Introducing Communication Theory: Analysis and Application 5th Edition
    By Richard West and Lynn Turner
    Copyright: 2014 Publication Date: Sep 17 2013
    ISBN 10: 0073534285
    ISBN 13: 9780073534282
    Yet, I received the International Version:

    From what I can gather, The Table of Contents/page numbers are EXACTLY the same?
    Do you think I would be ok with using the International edition vs. US edition?

    Please advice?
    Thank you so much.

  14. Ed

    This all great! Folks have bought textbooks at significant savings form India, the UK, the Far East etc. But No One Posts the URL for these places so that I can find them. I Google to search for International Textbook sales and all I get are articles on what a great deal it is. Can someone PLEASE post some URLs of these places or at least the search parameters used to get the URLs on search engines. It would be greatly appreciated.

  15. Buddy

    I just got my Sedra/Smith Microelectronic Circuits Intl. Ed. and it appears to be the same content, but the chapters within the sections are rearranged. The end of chapter problems are the same, which is the important part. It does come with the CD that I haven’t tried yet.

  16. Cara S

    I just received an international copy of a social science textbook. It is exactly the same, but instead of $213.64 + shipping, I paid $47.83 including shipping.
    The best part…because it is paperback, it fits in my purse.

  17. TARUN

    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 !


    1. kamal

      How can you buy these books? Can you tell me which website did you go to buy these books from India.

      thank you,

  18. Reena

    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 🙂

  19. Leah

    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?

    1. Isaac H.

      Hi Leah,
      Was the international edition of the book useful for your class? I recently bought an international edition of a book too and I am supposed to start class this week. I don’t know if this version is going to the same for the class. Thanks for your time and response.

  20. cs

    Just bought a used international version of a $200+ Physiology book in Like New condition for less than $20 on Fall semester for the win! This will be my 2nd experience with an international book. The last time the book was also identical to its US counterpart other than the cover art.

  21. Nad

    I am confused about international edition. I am a business student. I was looking for corporate finance book 5th Canadian edition and 4th is is the latest but when i looked up the global edition of the same book, it had till 11th edition. I don’t know which global edition to buy. Any suggestion?

  22. Jessica

    I studied Accounting and had to buy new books every semester….some of my books new were up to $475 dollars. I bought the international version for $17!!! The contents was the exact same. However, the problems at the end of each chapter were sometimes numbered differently or had slightly different problems. This wasn’t a problem in classes where homework wasn’t assigned. But for the classes that it was, I just borrowed a classmates book for a few minutes and took it to the library to scan only the problems pages at the end of the chapters. It was a little extra work, BUT I saved myself well over $1000 in the process.

  23. Dan

    Multiple uses of international versions for both of my masters degrees…no difference, save the price. Great blog.


  24. Diane

    I’m looking for a book for a students whose copy was stolen. It’s amazing how much cheaper the international edition is. Your blog says isbn’s don’t usually match but that’s how I found the copy. Do they sometimes use the same isbn? Since it’s for a student and not my personal use I’m still a little nervous about purchasing it. I’d feel guilty if he didn’t do well in the class. 🙂

  25. Pingback: The Textbook Guru | International Textbook Editions: It’s all legal until it isn’t.

  26. Pingback: The Textbook Guru | The Death of International Editions and Follet Sues BookRenter

  27. DeAnn

    I have never had a good experience with international edition books. I am not selling them so I will be completely candid about my experience. Not only are they of poor quality, they are very different than American versions. International editions have NO COLOR at all, they are printed on very poor quality paper that is difficult to read because the printing is also poor quality. I had read reviews prior to making these purchases but the reviews were not accurate. I will never again fall victim to buying an international edition, especially for use in a college class I pay generously for, and need to perform well in.
    Hope this helps.

  28. Steven

    I just bought an International copy of Fundamentals of Selling. The “U.S.” version sells for $295.00 at the PCC bookstore in Portland Oregon. I paid a bit over $40.00 which included very fast shipping. the book is exactly the same. If their story is about helping students overseas, well, why aren’t they helping students in our own country first? It’s because they are liars. It’s the same scam as insurance, healthcare, and medications. And our prostituting elected officials help them to take advantage of us. That’s why they aren’t making a big deal. They don’t want to expose their greed and shame.

  29. Steph Rodriguez

    Hi! After researching and then stumbling across this website and reading everyone’s comments about the international versions of textbooks, I decided to try my luck. I just placed an order for The Media of Mass Communication (11th Edition) by John Vivian. I purchased the soft, international cover version for $12.97. I’ll comment back on here once I receive it and compare it to a classmate’s $140 American version. Supposedly, according to (the website I purchased my book from) the versions are exactly the same and the only difference is the cover. We’ll see! I’m excited to see if it works out in my favor. I’m pinching pennies over here and this is my first semester back to college in a few years.

  30. Veronica

    This is my second year in college and my books are just getting more and more expensive. As a college student I am trying to avoid being part of the 300 trillion student loan debt that sweeps the nation. Sometimes we can barely cover tuition and afford living on $.50 cent ramen and despite all that colleges expect us to pay extremely high prices for new edition books. Which do not differ much from their previous editions (I have ace classes in the past using older edition text books, which basically have the same content as their newer versions just some small changes) This year I was a bit hesitant on purchasing an international edition but now I just regret not discovering them sooner. My NEW & FULL COLOR books took 3 days to be delivered to the US and they look exactly the same as the editions that were printed here. It is a page per page match, the only difference is the cover which does not matter at all in my opinion.

  31. Ruby

    Wow so yes I have found info that was shocking but I am still confused as to what to do. I have Strategies for Successful Writing a Rhetoric reasearch guide, reader, and handbook edition 10 that I got Spring semester and now for the fall it is saying I have to order the same book??? Edition 11. I compared to the pdf view inside samples online and the only difference I noticed was that chapter 17 in mine was 18 on the new one and mine goes up to chapter 23 and the new one does not. Im new to the whole school thing so I dont want to fall short by not having right book. POINTERS and ADVICE PLEASE!!

  32. John

    I’ve been buying international editions as an engineering student for a few years new. Even in grad school, they work fine. I do double-check with the professors beforehand, but they’ve never said it wouldn’t work. A $300+ US edition of a book from the bookstore that only costs me $45 for an international edition online makes way too much sense not to. I never resell the books anyway, since the content is very useful to have for reference in the form I learn it in. Buying an old edition can also cut costs, but that tends to be a little more difficult to work with.

  33. Pingback: Textbooks: How To Shop Smartly – College Survival 101:

  34. Roxy

    the problem with intl books is that you can resell them. Once you buy them, at such a cheap price, it is hard to get rid of them. I just don’t understand.

    1. Roxy



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *