, or How I Avoided the Ouch List when Paying for Textbooks

There I stood at the entrance to the Bemidji State University Bookstore, ready to buy my first college textbooks in twenty years. I walked in past the student workers behind the counter hungrily eyeing the wallet in my hand. I had worked as a nuclear reactor operator, been involved in more than one very dicey military situation, and spent years hitchhiking around the country - I was convinced that there was nothing left to surprise me. Few things have ever hit me as hard as my first glance at the sticker price of my first book. Good God. Add it to the list of ouches.

Four hundred fifty dollars?


For the books for five stinking classes?


I had to throw a dollar into the corner of the bookstore - as the student workers scrambled for it (they had no more money than I did) I managed to slip by them out of the door, no books with me and all but that dollar of the little that had been in my wallet still with me. I stood in the hall listening to the student workers fighting and howling and watching the blood fly, and I pondered what my next move could be. There has to be a better way.

Pondering didn't take long - in this, the Digital Age, I always have the option to JFGI, which I did. And then I did again, and finally I did one more time before I came across a website that would keep me off the list of ouches.

Yes, there is a better way.


Alibris is an online new and used bookseller with a stockpile of over one hundred million books and fifteen thousand booksellers in sixty five countries. If they don't have it, it ain't out there, and if they don't have it for *much* less than the university bookstore charges, the sky isn't blue and Columbus sailed off the edge of the earth into the mouth of a dragon. It is an easy to use site which has, over the course of the two years I have spent at this school, saved me nearly a thousand dollars.

Here's how you can begin to keep some of your hard earned dollars in your wallet: Type A-L-I-B-R-I-S-.-C-O-M into any web browser, and this is what you will see:


As a site design, this isn't great - at least not if all you are looking for are the textbooks for your classes. But if you turn your BS filter on in your brain and focus on all that is important on the screen before you, the site becomes very simple to use. You don't need anything that brings you WOW. You don't need to enjoy the new and used books, music, and movies bestsellers. You don't need to find them on Facebook. You really only need the search box in the top right corner and the shopping cart image above it. Those two things will get you all of the books your classes require and will save you much of the money you've been handing to the University Bookstore Mafia since you enrolled here. Let's look at an example.

I am an English major. (Don't laugh - I know how to use a semicolon and you don't.) I am also a senior. This might be a typical class load for an English major in her senior year:
  1. Shakespeare and His Age
  2. American Romantics
  3. Writing Fiction II
  4. Seminar on Ernest Hemingway
  5. Web Content Writing

The books for those classes, and the prices for them at the bookstore, are:
  1. *Companion to Shakespeare* (ISBN:9780631218784): $49.95
  2. *The Complete Pelican Shakespeare* (ISBN:9780141000589): $70.00
  3. *The Scarlet Letter & Other Writings* (ISBN:9780393979534): $18.00
  4. *Incidents in Life of Slave Girl* (ISBN:9780486419312): $3.50
  5. *Moby-Dick* (ISBN:9780393972832): $20.75
  6. *Walden or Life in Woods* (ISBN:9780486284958): $3.50
  7. *Family Terrorists* (ISBN:9780684802244): $26.75
  8. *Method & Madness* (ISBN:9780393928174): $59.00
  9. *The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway* (ISBN:9780684843322): $22.00
  10. *A Farewell to Arms* (ISBN:9780684801469) : $16.00
  11. *A Moveable Feast* (ISBN:9780684833637): $25.00
  12. *The Sun Also Rises* (ISBN:9780684830513): $26.00
  13. *Hot Text: Web Writing That Works* (ISBN:9780735711518): $40.00

That comes to a total of $380.45. Ouch. Imagine the ouch if these were all $200 chemistry and calculus textbooks. Talk about a kick in the...

How can you use Alibris to save money?

Simply use that search function at the top of the page...


and enter the ISBN (the international standard book number) for each book, searching for each one at a time. You can get the ISBN for each book from the university website where you found out what the required books are for each class, or off of the syllabi. Again, let's look at an example - *The Complete Pelican Shakespeare*, Required for Shakespeare and His Age. Enter 9780141000589 (its ISBN) into the search box:


Clicking on *Go* will take you to a page with this in the upper right hand corner:


Want the book new? Click on that option, and you've just saved yourself nearly $30. Want it used? You've just saved yourself $36. Want it collectible? You have too much money to bother reading this review.

The rest of the site works like any other: you'll find the book in your shopping cart, you'll register an account and check out, you'll enter your credit card information, and you'll conclude the purchase. To buy the books listed for the above hypothetical English major, the total price will be:


You save $242.03. And that's including shipping costs!

Of course, no good deal is entirely good and no bad deal is entirely bad: while the bookstore might be expensive, the books are immediately in your hands, and while Alibris is much cheaper, shipping takes time (you have several options here, with next day delivery being the most expensive). So if you want to use Alibris, and if you want to save $242.03, then you need to plan ahead - don't expect to place your order in the morning and have the book in your hands by that afternoon. But if you do plan ahead and order the books early, you will find that you've saved yourself a lot of money, and you'll keep yourself off the ouch list.
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