College on a Dime: Can a 1-cent college textbook get the job done?


AOL Money & Finance writer and editor Zac Bissonnette is a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and an expert on getting a great education without going broke. Got a college question? Leave a comment and he'll get back to you!

It's that time of year again! Back to school shopping and, for many college students, that includes the annual ritual of selling organs to finance textbooks.

I already have my course schedule, so I went online to look for my books. One of them -- Before the Law, a requirement for my Introduction to Legal Studies class -- comes in two editions, both available used on Amazon. The 8th Edition will cost me a minimum of $41.54 used but, if I'm willing to settle for 2001's 7th Edition, it'll cost me 1 cent. That's a savings of 99.9759268%!

Here's the question: will I be able to do well in the class with the 2001 edition instead of the 2005 one? I'm betting that I can and, while the financial savings is nice, I'm partly doing it to prove a point. Every few years, textbook publishers come out with new editions and colleges willingly oblige in making the new book the required book -- rendering all those used copies obsolete, forcing kids to fork over cash to the publishers for new books. Seems a little self-serving, doesn't it? I mean, how much really changes in the basics of legal studies that a new edition is needed every few years? I can understand the need for regular updating in some fields -- a class on stem cells for instance -- but what could possibly have changed that required an update of Wheelock's Latin in 2005? Color me a cynic, but I question the need for innovation in the instruction of a language that hasn't been spoken -- or written -- in a thousand plus years.

So here's my goal: get an A in the legal studies class with a previous edition of the textbook, break the cartel, and liberate students from their slavery to publishers. Wish me luck!

Iacta alea est. ("The die is cast", and you'll find that line from Caesar in Latin textbooks going back to the Renaissance).