Ask the Guru – A Letter From Mom on Buying Textbooks for Her Son

I recently received this inquiry from a parent looking to help her son.

“I’m looking to purchase, lease, or rent books for my son who is in New Jersey but I live in Georgia. My husband and I will put the books on our credit card but how much confusion is this going to cause when we want them sent to him? How long will it take for him to get his books and can he get a discount for good grades? He just graduated from with a degree in Addiction Counseling, now he is re-enrolled in another major so as to increase his employment options. What if he keeps the books longer than it says, will he be penalized? What if he finds a cheaper price, will you match it? What if we can send you more books we have or come across? What if he doesn’t know what books he needs until the last minute, can he get them in time for the start of school?” And so on from a very well-intentioned mom overwhelmed by changes in her son’s life and a process about which she knows little and one that is very different from her time in school.

So many times when blogging as a long-time industry insider, one can forget to write about the basics as it seems old hat or redundant. Writers can forget that they are the experts and that basic is relative and not everyone shares the writer’s interests or experience. That said, I want to take a step back, get back to basics, and break this inquiry down to provide answers. Sure, I could reply to the mom who wrote me with questions, but chances are that she’s not the only one who would benefit from the answers. So let’s put it out there for everyone.

Issue: “I’m looking to purchase, lease, or rent books for my son who is in New Jersey but I live in Georgia. My husband and I will put the books on our credit card but how much confusion is this going to cause when we want them sent to our son?”
Guru response: Since most online merchants can handle a situation where the billing address and the shipping address are different, you shouldn’t run into any snags. It is possible, if you order several of your books from a single merchant, that they may contact you to verify the purchase.

Issue: “How long will it take for my son to get his books and can he get a discount for good grades?”
Guru response: When purchasing books online, delivery can take as few as 3-5 days or as many as 7-21. Since this is a big difference, let me explain. First, you have to determine if you are buying from a retailer or a marketplace. Sites such as Amazon (for used books) and Half.com are marketplace sites. This means that they are listing product that is being sold by others and shipping is out of their hands. In some of these cases, the seller can ship the book via Media Mail, which can take 7-21 day (from shipping) to be received. Other cases such as buying a book from Chegg or Textbooks.com direct indicates you are getting the book directly from the merchant and the delivery time can take 4-6 days. Read the details, note the source (including geographic location), choose delivery method wisely. As for the second question: No online merchants offer discounts for good grades but many offer coupons. Use a site like CampusBooks.com (full disclosure: I work for CampusBooks.com) and you can see active coupons for all merchants.

Issue: “What if my son keeps the books longer than it says, will he be penalized?”
Guru response: If you are not sure how long books are needed (or your son is perhaps prone to procrastination or losing things), you may consider buying instead of renting. Most rental programs have a process by which you can extend the rental term or purchase the book, but there is of course a fee. Each process is different and costs vary. Check the renter’s website for details.

Issue: “What if he finds a cheaper price, will you match it?”
Guru response: I am not a bookseller, rather an advisor. The site that I recommend, CampusBooks.com, is not a bookseller but a price-comparison search tool. Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen any bookseller sites that match prices unless you are buying new books. My suggestion is that you do your research and pay attention. Sometimes books get more expensive as you get closer to school start dates, not cheaper though because as good used books are sold, they can’t be replaced and supply becomes limited.

Issue: “What if we can send you more books we have or come across?”
Guru response: Any book you have may have what is called buyback value. I suggest you use a buyback price-comparison engine (again, CampusBooks.com can help) or contact a local bookstore to determine if the books have any value.

Issue: “What if he doesn’t know what books he needs until the last minute, can he get them in time for the start of school?”
Guru response: This is a very common question. If the book is needed quickly, purchase from a source that offers expedited shipping. Another option is to purchase from a source that instantly delivers a digital copy (or the first chapter) when you rent a book and are waiting for it to arrive. If you are buying books the first week of school, time is of the essence.

I know that many of my readers are also industry insiders so I encourage you to share your thoughts on any of the questions posted.

Have another question for the Textbook Guru?  Just ask!

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