One thing is for sure, college textbooks are awfully expensive (as if the cost of tuition wasn’t enough). But did you know you can actually get college textbooks for free? I know, you just spit out your drink. But, it’s true, you can get college textbooks for the bargain basement price of free.
According to the latest 2020 report by the College Board, students at a four-year public college will spend about $1,240 on books and supplies a year at school. Although this amount has declined over the last few years, it’s still an insane amount to spend on books and materials, especially when you can get college textbooks for free!
So, what are you waiting for? Come check out the latest websites that offer free college textbooks (legally)!
10 Websites That Offer College Textbooks for Free
Surprise, surprise. You can actually get access to some free college textbooks right through your college’s digital library (or the physical library too). Although some of the books you can get for free may be older editions, they may still be able to be used in your current class (ask your professor). However, this is definitely the first place you should check if you want to get your hands on a free college textbook for a class you’re taking at whatever college you’re attending.
Project Gutenberg is one of the largest collections of free textbooks and is 100% legal, no questions about it. In fact, Project Gutenberg holds over 60,000 books in its e-book library and the amount of books grows every single day. There are epub books with images and no images, Kindle books, plaintext books, and books available for reading right there online in HTML.
You might not readily be able to find some of the college textbooks you need for classes though, that’s the only downside. The actual offering of textbooks drops the 60,000-book mark down closer to 2,500. However, that said, it’s still free and it’s still a good site. Try this search query to help you in your search for your college text.
What’s really cool about Project Gutenberg is that they have no financial incentive to do what they do. In fact, their mission is to be able to offer all kinds of ebooks for free and help give them away for free. They even encourage people to write their own ebooks and submit them to the project.
See more about the mission of Project Gutenberg.
IntechOpen is an awesome repository of high-quality college textbooks. It is well-funded by a list of high-quality organizations and the books are reviewed chapter-by-chapter to check them for quality. The quality standards of the site is excellent and the books are excellent as well. Also, the size of the book library is quite extensive as well, with over 5,100 books in total.
If anything negative is to be said about IntechOpen it’s the fact that they only specialize in a few subjects. Currently they have 2,425 physical sciences, technology and engineering books, 1603 health sciences books, 917 life sciences books, and 227 humanities books. While the selection of subjects maybe be limited this does help them to increase their quality standards.
You probably aren’t going to find your standard college textbooks on this website, however, you will find a list of high-quality books, especially for the STEM fields. If you really want to dig in deep on a particular subject or topic, you’ll definitely be able to do that here. This could prove to be an excellent resource for you if you’re writing a dissertation or doing further research for a project.
One of the more popular sites that come up on Google when you search for “free college textbooks” is Bookboon, and rightfully so. Bookboon offers over 1,000 free college textbooks and they are actually all college textbooks. Although this is slightly lower than Project Gutenberg’s number of textbooks, the odds of finding a high-quality textbook on Bookboon is much higher.
Bookboon offers a fairly wide variety of subjects but tends to have more textbooks that are focused on IT, management, marketing and engineering, and is a bit lighter in selection when it comes to the natural sciences. However, if you are in the tech or the business field, you might have some luck finding the book for your course (but don’t hold your breath).
In addition to a large selection of college textbooks, they also have a wide selection of business e-books, currently at 1,700+. These may or may not be books you’d use in your class, however, they make a great supplement for books you may currently be using. Unlike the textbook database, it’s mostly free as you can get a 30-day free trial. However, after the 30 days is up you have to pay $5.99 per month to access the business e-book database, but only for business e-books (the college textbooks are still 100% free).
Open Textbook Library is part of the University of Minnesota and so the books they offer are of really high quality. Open Textbook Library ranks a little lower due to the fact that they only have 824 textbooks (as of the date of this article). That said, the quality of their textbooks is really good and the fact that they offer a pretty good selection of computer programming, engineering, humanities, journalism and medical textbooks is nice as well. In fact, their variety of subjects is one of the best of the free college textbook sites.
Now, will they have the textbooks you’re using for your course? Probably not. But, overall it’s a good selection of college textbooks and once again, great supplemental material for your current college courses.
Textbook Revolution is a great resource for free college textbooks. Although not as polished as Open Textbook Library or Bookboon, it is still a good website and offers a fair amount of college textbooks. As of this writing, the site has around 500+ free college textbooks. The quality of the textbook is a little bit more lacking compared to some of the other sites, however, there is a nice variety of subjects.
One cool thing that Textbook Revolution does that they don’t do on the other sites is list books by course. Right now they have a list of 36 courses with the textbook (or link to the course page that’ll have the textbook) that is used for each course. This includes courses from MIT, Harvard and Yale. This is a pretty cool feature if you want to self-study a particular subject.
Again, this site probably won’t have the exact textbooks you’ll be using in your college courses but it’s great for those who want to learn more in addition to their coursework. It’s also great if you choose to study some additional subjects in your free time, especially with the course list.
With 333 free textbooks, BCcampus OpenEd is also a great resource for free college textbooks. Not only do they have a fair number of textbooks available to use for free, they also have a decent amount of subjects to choose from as well. Perhaps one of the best things about the site is the user-friendly nature of the site. You can easily browse by subject, pick a book and then read it right there on the page. You can also download the PDF version of the book, e-reader version of the book, Kindle version, or even buy the hard copy if you prefer.
Although BCcampus OpenEd is a Canadian site, many of the books available are similar to books you’d find on American sites. Also, their books are up-to-date, well-vetted, and the format of the reading on the website is exceptional. BCcampus OpenEd is also great for if you’re looking for supplemental information to use for your course.
OpenStax was created by a professor of engineering at Rice University and is still operated by Rice University. It is also supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as well as the Hewlett Foundation and other philanthropic organizations. OpenStax has really high-quality books but they are not going to have the books you’ll actually need for your college course. Instead, the textbooks they offer are actually books they created. However, the books they have are excellent supplements to books you’ll be using in your classes, especially basic level classes, if you need clarification on a particular topic.
Since they only have a little over 80+ books and all the books are created by them, OpenStax isn’t going to be your go-to option for free college textbooks. However, OpenStax is still a great idea and it’ll be exciting to see how it’s utilized in the future. But, it’s only going to be helpful if your college professors actually use the books they offer. That said, their books are created and peer-reviewed by actual educators and are of great quality.
Saylor Academy is a nonprofit organization which currently specializes in offering free courses for students. However, with free course offerings also comes free books. There is a bit of overlap with Saylor Academy and some of the other sites on this list though. This is due to the fact that the books used by Saylor Academy come from both Open Textbook Library, OpenStax and BCCampus Open Textbooks. However, they also have some additional textbooks from Lyryx Learning, so it was still worth mentioning. They also do a good job of organizing their textbooks and their courses are well laid out and can be used as a resource as well.
10. Google Books
Google claims that their site is the “most comprehensive” database of full-text books and that might be true, however, you are mostly going to be able to find older books on here as opposed to newer college textbooks that you need for your classes. That said, you may find this is the case with most of these free college textbook websites. But, as a rule of thumb, Google will mostly have older college textbooks and not newer ones. Although, you will still be able to find some great supplements for your courses here. It’s also a great place to find lower prices for your college textbooks.
Online Mathematics Textbooks: If you happen to be a math major, you might find Online Mathematics Textbooks from the Georgia Institute of Technology to be a good resource for college textbooks. However, this is only going to be useful for math majors or those taking particular math classes. Currently they are only offering around 77 books and this is why it was not included in the main list.
How to Find College Textbooks for Cheap
Okay, so not every single textbook is going to be available online for free. However, there are some ways you can get textbooks cheaper (and not just tooling around on Amazon).
Here are some of the best ways and best sites to get college textbooks for cheap:
Far and away the best resource for finding cheap textbooks is SlugBooks. Slugbooks allows you to type in the ISBN of the textbook you are using an instantly compare the price of several websites that offer your textbook. This includes Amazon, Amazon Rental, Abebooks, eCampus Buy, eCampus Rental, Chegg, Chegg Rental, Vitalsource, ValoreBooks Rental, and Campus Book Rentals. Instead of going to each of these sites individually, you can just check on all the prices here and find the best price for your book or book rental.
The only downside is not knowing exactly how accurate their database is or how often it is updated. This is the only reason you may want to visit some of these sites individually. That said, SlugBooks could save you a lot of time and give you a quick glimpse of what is most likely the best price available for your college textbook. If you are going to visit any sites individually to check their rates, check Abebooks first (see #3 below for why).
Textbook Spyder is extremely simple to use. It is sort of a basic site design, like Google, but don’t let that fool you! All you have to do is type in the book’s ISBN or book name and instantly the book will pop up on your screen with comparisons of prices from over 35 merchants.
Textbook Spyder was ranked slightly lower than SlugBooks because it appears that the databases aren’t updated as often and don’t seem to show as accurate of information as SlugBooks. That said, they do show rental price information like SlugBooks does, so that is a big plus. If Textbook Spyder could improve the accuracy of the information it provides, it could easily rank number one.
Here are the current merchants that Textbook Spyder compares book prices from:
Barnes & Noble Marketplace
Barnes & Noble Rental
Chegg New and Used
Abebooks is a tremendous website to use if you’re looking for a lower price on your college textbooks. One of the best things you’ll find is that there are often international editions of a lot of the books you will be required to get for your classes. The only problem is sometimes you might find an international edition of a book that you think is a U.S. edition, so be careful if you actually need the U.S. version!
What’s nice about Abebooks is that it’s search feature is so robust. You can search by the title, author, keyword or ISBN. Search by the ISBN first to ensure your search matches the exact right textbook. After you get your list of search results you’ll see a boxed “International Edition” for international or global edition books. If there is no box present, it’s most likely the U.S. version but always check with the seller, especially if the price seems too good to be true.
Although it doesn’t have the greatest selection of textbooks, if you do happen to find a textbook on Thriftbooks, you can get it for a great price. One thing it does excel at is offering a large selection of older editions for books you may currently be using. If your professor allows you to use an older edition of a book this website could save you a bundle on your textbook. A nice feature is the fact that you are able to search for books by the ISBN so you can quickly find out if the book you’re looking for is available or not.