Bargain hunting for secondhand textbooks

University of Leeds
5 min readJan 31, 2023

Struggling to access that important textbook for an assignment through the library? Online platforms charging you sky-high fees for books? Not to worry! With the help of Jo Townend, Assistant Professor at LUBS, and Holly Phillips, Law LLB student, we gathered top tips on finding textbooks online without splashing too much cash.

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Places to get second-hand textbooks

University of Leeds Libraries

It may be an obvious one, but if you need a textbook, this should be the first resource you check. The University Libraries provide thousands of textbooks, all for free! Many resources are available in an online format, so you don’t even have to leave your bedroom to access them. If the textbook you need isn’t on the shelf, you may be able to request it.

Jo said: ‘Our University is fabulous at putting as many module recommended books online as possible. But if, like me, you find reading online difficult you are a bit stuck, having to fight for the few copies in the library, which always seem to be on short term loan or worse still, not being available in the library at all. This leaves us having to dig deep into our pockets or trying to buy it second hand, which is my much-preferred way of getting hold of a book. ‘

To make the most out of library resources learn how to use Library Search efficiently.

Unidbooks

Unidbooks is a Leeds-based website where you can buy books from other Leeds University students. They work on a ‘buy online, collect in person’ basis, where you will arrange to meet up with the seller to collect your items.

Holly’s tip: ‘You can also sell your previous books to gain some extra income. It’s definitely worth a try and it helps out other students who are in your position by offering them textbooks at a lower price!’

World of Books

One of the largest sellers of used books where you can find a variety of textbooks as well as other books for a discounted price.

Holly adds: ‘They also buy directly from charities, so as well as shopping sustainably, buyers are helping support good causes.’

Amazon and eBay

The most popular online retail services offer a good selection of new and used textbooks, often at a good price.

From Jo’s experience you may want to use Amazon or eBay ‘as they seemed to have more available, but beware, eBay tended not to identify what edition the book was so unknowingly you could be buying a very old version.’ Additionally, ‘it’s always worth looking at Amazon directly as they often do not charge for delivery which makes them cheaper, and they often have shorter delivery times.’

AbeBooks

AbeBooks ‘offers new, used, rare & out-of-print books from sellers around the world.’

They have a good selection of books and are a trustworthy seller, but Jo found that you need to be careful when buying from them: ‘AbeBooks also had one of my recommended books available at £1.57 — a bargain right? Well, no, the postage was £237! It wasn’t a typing error either there were others listed the same way on AbeBooks is just waiting to catch you out. You have been warned!’

Ask other students

If you know any students in the years above, it’s worth asking them if they are passing down/ selling their textbooks. Alternatively, you can keep an eye out on student Facebook groups, like Leeds Student Group (LSG) to see if anyone is selling their old books, or you can do a post yourself asking if anyone is selling any!

Check with your department

Make sure you check Minerva module pages and your emails for discounts on textbooks.

Holly said: ‘These offers may be slightly rarer, but I know that the Law School occasionally offers discounts for required textbooks. It is worth emailing your module leader to ask!’

Tips and considerations when shopping secondhand

Use JustBooks

JustBooks compares prices on secondhand books for sale. From Jo’s experience ‘the website is slightly slow, but it searches through lots of websites for your book and then gives you a list of where you can buy it.’

Check the edition of your book

When buying second-hand the newest edition of the textbook you need is likely to not be available, so you may have to ask your module leader if there are any disadvantages to buying and older copy.

Jo said: ‘I teach management. In my subject, the underlying theory doesn’t change much. So, buying an older edition is fine as long as you accept that the examples used in older books are, well, older. This is not a problem as with a bit of research you will be able to find the up-to-date examples you may need.‘

She also noted that ‘eBay tended not to identify what edition the book was so unknowingly you could be buying a very old version. ‘

Check the delivery time

Some sellers like Amazon, Abe and eBay can have long delivery times and if you are about to start a new module you might end up not getting your secondhand book before you have finished the module.

Paperback vs hard cover

Jo notices: ‘academic textbook publishers sometimes bring out soft cover or paperback versions of academic textbooks which can be cheaper than second hand hard cover versions so keep your eyes open for these as well.’

Sell your own

Selling your own textbooks can be a great way to earn some money and help other students. You can also donate your books to the library so others can use them for free. Holly encourages: ‘Financially it can be a tough time at the minute, so selling your textbooks is great if you can save even a little bit of money or help others out too!’

About the contributors:

Jo Townend’s first career was hotel management where she worked for Holiday Inn, opening new hotels. She is now an academic at the University of Leeds Business School focused on bringing the world of work into the classroom.

Holly Phillips is a third year Law LLB student. She is also head of digital at Lippy Magazine.

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