Newest text book scam

Newest Text Book Scam

The “book” pictured above was part of a stack of used text books, my son JumpStart Jack returned with, after his first semester. Looking at the book makes me furious.

You might suspect that I’m mad at Jack for not even removing his book from the plastic, but he pulled a B in calculus.  I believe he studied, and know many kids do a lot worse in college calculus.

Or maybe I’m angry at the cheap book company that didn’t bother to bind the book. If they won’t bind it into a book, could they at least throw in a binder?

I’m actually fine with loose pages, and we’ve got plenty of old binders around.  It’s not like the papers ever even got loose.

The reason I’m furious is the newest text book scam makes a “book” that cost $280 in August worthless today.  The “book” is brand-new, never-been read, but no college kid is ever going to buy it thanks to this scam.

Text books were also a sore point from my college days.

I remember ranting during the early 90’s about what a total BS rip-off great business the UNCW books store had going.  They’d sell me a new book for 220$ or a used book for $160. At the end of the semester, the bookstore would buy it back for 30$. Next semester, that same book would be back on shelves for sale at $160 again.

At the end of the semester, we would stand in line to give away sell the book back to the bookstore.  College kids reasoned that some money was better than none, and we were broke (but luckily not in debt).  The line frequently became so long it stretched around the building, past the bookstore owner’s Tesla Ferrari.

Odds are we were standing in line to sell books, in close proximity to another student, destined to buy that same book next semester.  I remember discussing how it was simply a matter of matching the right students together.  In retrospect a megaphone might have been a great tool to find a buyer.

Lucky match.

Occasionally, I’d actually identify the right student, and sell him my book for $110.  There is a saying that someone always loses in a deal, but in this deal, both parties were happy. I got more than 30$, and they paid less than $160.  It really felt win-win.  If only there had been a tool to connect all the kids who had textbooks with all the kids needing textbooks.

A tool connecting sellers and buyers seems pretty obvious today, but the late 90’s were different. I had access to a computer lab, and there was an internet, but nobody sold anything on it.

Nowadays, the challenge of matching people selling books with people buying books is the aided by huge companies.  Amazon, Ebay, and Paypal are waiting to gouge you with fees ready to help. With a little effort from students, textbooks can be recycled and used multiple times.

New editions scam.

It was pretty common for a professor to write, and then require the 6th edition of his “new” textbook.  However, I managed to sneak through a few classes with an illegal 5th edition.  It was always a challenge to find differences between editions, but the school bookstore stopped selling and buying expired editions immediately.

The newest text book scam.

Examine the picture, and you’ll notice the torn plastic in one corner.  JS Jack ripped it open just enough to retrieve the online access code.

Isaac Newton himself couldn’t pass this Calculus class without that mandatory code, because the assignments and quizzes are electronically delivered, and graded.

At the end of the semester, the access code has now been used, making the new stack of pages worthless.  Instead of buying a book, students pay a fee for online instruction, and it is charged to students who have already paid big money to attend a brick and mortar college.


I’m frustrated that my post doesn’t contain a hack or solution.  Sometimes you can buy just the unlock codes, but the savings are minimal.  Looking at Jack’s book list for next semester, 2 classes require books with access codes.

We have been able to find deals on the other 4 classes by searching Amazon and Ebay.  The 2 “books” with access codes will cost over $500, and be worthless by June.  It takes Jack about 50 hours at his restaurant job to earn that money.

Posted in Family finances, Paying for college..


  1. This really makes me upset. This whole buy a big pile of new books every year is a curse for parents and burden both financially and economically. We had to buy books too back in the university, but not this expensive ones, especially not workbooks. I think the most I spent was a heavy book about computer networks and it was about $50. This is plain robbery and makes absolutely no sense in today’s digital age. Solution: make these things available online and wrap the cost into the tuition.

  2. Fortunately my grad school professors are well aware of the financial limitations of students and all allow any edition of any textbook. That wasn’t the case in undergrad, but I finished a few years before this was an issue!

  3. Digital solutions can greatly reduce costs for students, but colleges and sometimes professors are motivated to act against the solutions, because they are profiting.
    Some of my UNCW professors were actually the authors of their required texts. I don’t think this is the case with Jack’s classes. I’m not sure how the money is being distributed from the online access codes.
    I would love to write posts on companies that have weaseled their way into profiting from education, but I’m lacking details, about how the money moves around. All I know is someone is charging students and school systems lots of money.

  4. Curious if the ones with the access code are published by the same company. I know one that is famous for this – and ripping off students left and right… I have two kids in college – and often, there professors “require” these books and then they don’t even use them.

    • I believe it is possible to sell unused codes. There are many risks though, and they are similar to risks with selling gift cards online. A buyer can use the code, claim it didn’t work, and file a claim with ebay or paypal for a refund.
      The online material can be very useful, especially in math classes. Students might be conflicted about whether to use the code for the first time, before they know the online materials are good.

  5. This is SO TRUE! Can you tell which ones of us have a kid in college?? Because this is a universal problem that we are all dealing with. The textbook scam is just adding the insult to the injury that is the college tuition scam. Ugh

  6. Oh my -I can not believe all of this. I kept waiting for your solution and there just wasn’t any. The no book binding was unbelievable.

  7. Yikes. I was lucky that my professors usually were pretty sympathetic and would tell us we didn’t even need the book or if we did, where we could get a copy for cheap. And we never had to use the access code. Math was the worst. They’d change the edition each semester and the only difference would be a plus or minus sign in the homework assignments. Not enough to change the content, but enough to screw you over in your grades if you didn’t buy.

  8. Oh yeah, I graduated from grad school in 2012 and professors had definitely found the “new edition” scam by then! Luckily, we were older and vocal about being broke, so many professors didn’t force us to buy the books. I was lucky in the early 2000s (graduated college 2009) that professors, even if they did release a “new edition”, would still let us use “old books” – some profs even listed the old pages on their syllabus next to their new page numbers because they knew so many of us bought old!

    It’s such a racket and a shame – college is truly starting to become unaffordable.

  9. Thanks for the comments everybody. It feels like I am preaching to the choir.
    It seems to be a consensus that if schools and professors want to reduce book costs, they can.
    If they want a place to extract some more money, books and access codes are a scam at their disposal.

  10. It’s been a loooong time since I was in college, but I remember thinking that the used textbooks I bought were expensive, and tried my best not to mark them up so I could resell them when I was done. This business with the access codes is truly a scam. The ability to do assignments and take tests should be included as part of the tuition. I feel for today’s college students. It’s not enough to rack up all that tuition debt, but then they have to pay ridiculous amounts for the books and codes as well.

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