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Saving $$: Do Editions of Textbooks Matter?

do editions of textbooks matter

“There’s a new edition of the book for my spring media studies class out. It costs almost $150! The 2017 version only costs $12!! How much do editions of textbooks matter? There’s a lot I could do with the $138 I’d save.”

You’re probably feeling cheated–by your college, the instructor, the book publisher, and a lot of other entities with roles in this rather heavy financial request of students.

Knowing whether or not you should go with the option of buying older editions of textbooks is challenging, though. We’ll walk you through the various factors to consider and ways to get information.

First, Speak with Your Instructor

College instructors were students once. More than that, they’ve seen a lot of students struggle to pay for their expensive textbooks. Instructors understand but also need to weigh that understanding against the quality of what they teach.

It’s tricky, especially in a field like media studies–which is why we’ve used that as an example. With the frequent changes to the digital environment these days, we almost think there should be new textbook editions every day.

Do Editions of Textbooks Matter: Accommodating Students with Financial Challenges

Many instructors try to accommodate at least one earlier textbook edition, maybe two. But they usually have special instructions for those who want to use this option. And the more special instructions, the more extra work for them.

For example, you might be told to use a particular website in place of content that was added to the latest edition of the text. Of course, this updated content is probably the main reason for the newer edition in the first place.

That’s one reason why some instructors are reluctant to assign substitute readings. Another is that they would need to be sure all assignments and tests accommodate the substitute assignments. In other words, this too creates more work.

Wanting to Offer Quality Teaching

College instructors definitely understand the disappointment and frustration of students who can’t afford their textbooks–which have increased in cost dramatically over the past two decades.

But they want students to be successful. Imagine someone graduating with a degree in Internet marketing who studied the Internet only as it was in 2017?

There will be catch-up needed in the workplace. But foundational knowledge should be as current as possible when starting the position.

So, should the instructor say older editions of textbooks are fine, knowing that this could put her students at a disadvantage in a highly competitive job market? This is her choice, of course. And you need to be prepared for whatever it is.

Other Options

Your instructor can only make recommendations and explain any extra work for you–or any other consequences that might arise from your efforts to save money. You need to decide for yourself what to do, though.

Other Ways to Purchase the New Textbook

For most textbooks today, publishers offer more than one way to purchase. These alternatives could save you some serious money.


Have you considered renting the textbook? If you shop around, renting could save at least half the cost of the new book. The downside, of course, is that you have to return it when the term is over.


This version is typically cheaper to buy (and keep) and cheaper still to rent. It also has benefits that paper textbooks don’t, like links to supplemental resources and interactive media. You don’t have to lug around the entire book either!

Remember that whatever version of the new textbook you might buy, you should take meticulous care of it (and any accompanying materials) so you can get the highest price for it when you sell it back.

What If You Still Can’t Afford the New Edition?

Maybe do one last check for any financial aid that’s specifically for textbook purchases. This doesn’t necessarily have to be at your college.

But, if all else fails and you’re determined to get by using old edition textbooks, we have some advice to make it work out as well as possible.

Try to Get Some Time with the Current-Edition Textbook

Old edition textbooks will cover a lot of the course content, so if you see these as your only option, try to borrow the current edition from a classmate (or something similar) so that you can take notes about what you’ll need to make up for.

Some instructors will also put copies of textbooks on reserve in the library. Check on this. If it’s not on reserve, you might try asking your instructor if he has an extra copy to put there. Publishers sometimes send extras.

Another option is to see if you can order it from another college library through interlibrary loan. This would be a long shot, but worth a try.

Figure Out Your Game Plan

You have to take this one seriously! College is an investment on your part as well as that of others. Thus, we encourage you to think of this as an opportunity to learn the course material even better than you would if you had the actual textbook.

In other words, think of it as a research project (which it really is). Begin with the core concepts. These often are identified in the syllabus, but ask your instructor if they aren’t.

After you’ve gained temporary access to the new text, make a detailed learning plan. There’s a good chance that everything you need to know is on the Internet, but you should note as much information about it as possible so you can locate it.

Ya know… this might turn out not to be the worst thing after all!

Tying Up Loose Ends

We have one final recommendation:

Whatever plan you choose for dealing with the textbook issue, stay in touch with your course instructor. After all, she’s not the one responsible for textbook prices and, most likely, would like to help you as much as possible.

Besides, instructors appreciate engaged students, no matter what.

Do editions of textbooks matter? Yes, of course. As they say, “time marches on.” Information and ways of thinking about it change constantly and we need to remain current with it.

There are alternatives to traditional paper textbooks now, with more to come in the near future. We’re excited about the possibilities and eager to see what role discount textbook sellers like us will play in that process.

So, keep reading all the news in our terrific blog!

About the Author

Christopher Manns

I was born in the UK, grew up in Canada and have lived in the USA since the 90s. I love my family, water sports, ice hockey, skiing and soccer. When I'm not helping people save money on textbooks, I'm travelling with my wonderful family and playing sports.