Going to college can be an expensive ordeal. Affording tuition is challenging enough, but other costs such as textbook purchases are usually on top of tuition, room, and board. The College Board survey estimated the cost of college textbooks and supplies at $1,240 for 2021-2022.
As a college professor and a parent of a child going to college this fall, I am interested in keeping school textbook costs down without impacting their education. Thankfully, there are legitimate ways to get free textbooks online or at lower prices to help your budget. Having your textbooks online is also easy on your back. Some students forego buying textbooks altogether, which breaks my heart. Hopefully, there is a way to get a decent textbook so you can do your homework and study.
Table of Contents
How We Chose Our Sources
We researched these websites, avoiding those that we felt may not be properly obtaining books or articles from authors with permission or may be prone to viruses. College students should always check their university bookstore websites as they may have beneficial arrangements for you. You should consider getting used textbooks, digital textbooks, or renting textbooks.
We found open library formats or open education resources (OER) that may receive funding from philanthropic and public entities. These resources make open textbooks available online through various digital files that can be freely used because of obtaining permission for copyright or the copyright has expired.
Library Genesis and Z-Library
Two sites, Library Genesis and Z-Library, are popular among college students for finding free e-textbooks. Z-Library is a mirror of Library Genesis, a shadow library for file-sharing access to academic texts and scholarly journal articles.
Some libraries like Liberty Genesis have been accused of pirating books or articles. Pirating a book means that the book was made available without the publisher or author’s permission while it was still under copyright protection. However, we couldn’t get comfortable that these libraries were entirely legitimate as they (Liberty Genesis) had lost a legal battle on copyright infringement. Still, they claim their sites have helped people download millions of free ebooks. You may want to check them out for yourselves.
It is essential to remind you that whenever you download something like an ebook, music, or video, it is for your personal use and not to copy it for others. Rather than risk doing something wrong unintentionally, it is better to tell your friend or colleague where you found the material so they can get it for themselves.
Besides finding free textbooks online, there are several ways you can find cheaper books which you can find down below. Saving money in college is a meaningful experience for college students on a tight budget.
14 Ways To Get Free Textbooks Online
1. Project Gutenberg
The respected Project Gutenberg is the oldest digital library with over 60,000 eBooks. Founded by Michael Hart in 1971, Project Gutenberg is an online library of free eBooks that thousands of volunteers digitize and proofread books. Its mission encourages the creation and distribution of eBooks. They focus on older works that are in the public domain.
While they may not have your textbook, they have an extensive collection of classic fiction works and many reference books. This site is an excellent place to find books you can enjoy reading.
OpenStax is a non-profit initiative of Rice University and has an impressive list of founding funders, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They publish high-quality, peer-reviewed, openly licensed college textbooks free online and low-cost in print. Its mission is to reduce inequality in education by providing cost-effective books that cover the curriculum of most subjects.
OpenStax partners with OER (i.e., open educational resources) Commons to provide community hubs. Instructors can freely share and modify syllabi, study guides, and other open copyright materials. According to OpenStax, over 2.2 million students at 48% of the colleges saved an estimated $177 million using free textbooks.
3. Open Textbook Library
Open Textbook Library has textbooks on extensive college subjects with free licenses with Creative Commons, making it free for anyone to use and change. Besides the available licenses, Open Textbook Library wants original textbooks used at multiple educational institutions or affiliated with a higher education institution.
They will accept books published by OpenStax, Lyryx, or other colleges.
Freeditorial is an online publishing house and library. All books are free and easy to download. Their collection is not academically-oriented but predominantly classics, including memoirs, fiction, and short stories. Additionally, as a publisher, they offer free books by current writers after acquiring their publication rights.
UC Davis leads LibreTexts in a higher education institutional cooperative effort to provide an easy-to-use online platform for open educational resources (OER) to help students save money on textbooks in key academic subjects.
“Boon” means beneficial, and it is for finding free eBooks on Bookboon. Professors from the world’s top universities write the content covering topics from engineering, IT, economics, business, and personal development.
Bookboon has an easy-to-use library with hundreds of practical ebooks, including higher income skills like soft skills. They provide two options: free ebooks showing a small percentage of ads or a monthly premium option ad-free.
Bookshare offers free ebooks to qualified students and non-students (for a $50 fee). Free ebooks are available to individuals with a qualifying reading or perceptual disability or visual or physical disability.
Bookshare’s library has over one million titles in 34 languages and is the most extensive collection of accessible ebooks globally. It includes books for school, career, and reading pleasure supported by a caring volunteer community and over 1,000 US and international publishers. Bookshare has a copyright exemption under the Chafee Amendment passed in 1996.
Begun in 1996, the Internet Archive is a digital library of Internet sites in various digital versions of other published works, including books and texts, audio recordings, videos, images, and software programs.
They provide free universal access to researchers, scholars, and the general public. Accessible through the Wayback Machine and working with over 950 library partners, they have more than 25 years of web history.
Founded in 2000, Lyryx publishes open textbooks and supplements with Creative Commons open licenses, available with free access to everyone and enables a variety of permissions to adapt the material. Lyryx emphasizes content in business, economics, math, and statistics. Their open textbooks are available worldwide at no cost, and they provide supportive services, including editorial and in-house integration of course materials through its educational software.
10. PDF Search Engine
PDF Search Engine is not a library or a catalog but simply a search engine like Google or Yahoo for searching for pdfs. They have over 500 million pdfs to download and claim they have material like Word documents not available elsewhere.
11. Google Scholar
We know Google as the largest search engine, and Google Scholar is among the best ways to search for scholarly literature rather than textbooks broadly. You can quickly search various databases, disciplines, and peer-reviewed articles and thesis for in-depth research. I don’t want to sound elitist, but you can find some of my articles on this site, and my parents would have been proud.
TextBookGo is building the largest online resource for free e-Textbooks for college. They say that all of the online textbooks they provide are 100% free for you to use. They claim, “All of the textbooks we provide are open source and have been approved by the publishers’ license and terms for free use.” I would note that with any book you get, paid or free, keep in mind that the book is for your use, and not for commercial use to copy for others.
13. The Assayer
The Assayer is the web’s most extensive catalog of books whose authors have made them available for free. The site has been around since 2000 and is a perfect place to find free ebooks about math, science, and computers.
ScholarWorks is a shared institutional repository that collects, preserves, and provides access to scholarship by research communities at The California State University (CSU). Collections include CSU faculty publications, student dissertations and theses, datasets, and teaching materials. They have over 60,000 items to view.
Other Ways To Find Cheaper Textbooks
Besides finding free ebooks online, there are ways to find a cheaper version than the brand new physical textbook that can be expensive. You can check the used booksellers and textbook publisher websites. Students are significant sources of cheap textbooks, as they wrap up the semester. I find new ways to find cheaper books sometimes from my students. Here are just a few ways to save money to help your tight budget, but I am sure there are many alternatives:
- Buy the loose-leaf package or digital format from the publisher which will provide discounts making them more affordable.
- Consider a slightly older version of the textbook but make sure your professor sanctions that strategy. I have several textbook versions for each class I teach. I typically will let students know if it is alright to use an older edition after making sure the material is not stale.
- Purchase a used book from students who completed the class with the same faculty. See if you can negotiate the price with the student.
- Check if your bookstore offers discounts on the new book or if they sell used copies.
- Visit your library to see how many copies of the textbook they have. If you do your reading at night, there may be greater availability.
- There are more places to rent digital or physical books, with more choices every day, including Amazon, Chegg, Bookscouter, CampusBookRentals, and the higher education publishers, Cengage and McGraw-Hill.
- Find a student textbook exchange like Textbook Exchange Network, which can help make your books more affordable.
- Check with your college library or your advisor for courses that use OER material.
- Check your bookstore or the publisher’s website for discounts and coupons on your textbooks.
- Visit your professors to see if they have extra textbooks that may be older or in distressed shape that you may borrow for the term.
It is expensive to go to college when you factor in tuition, rent, food, and other costs, so if you can snag a break on textbooks, you’re ahead of the game, and you can go out on the town with one less meal of ramen noodles! If I missed any websites or ways to get cheaper books, let me know and I’ll add it to the best to benefit others.
Thank you for reading! Please visit us at The Cents of Money for more articles of interest.
With a passion for investing and personal finance, I began The Cents of Money to help and teach others. My experience as an equity analyst, professor, and mom provide me with unique insights about money and wealth creation and a desire to share with you.