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International Edition Textbooks: An Economical Alternative

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If you’re planning on higher education, prepare your billfolds to be swiped clean by the cost of tuition, hidden fees, living expenses, and textbooks. Over the past few years, American publishers have driven the cost of textbooks to outrageous amounts, handing over a sure financial blow to already insolvent students.

Claire Suddath of Time reported in her article, “Outsourcing the Textbook,” that according to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, “U.S. textbook prices rose 186% between 1986 and 2004, or twice the rate of inflation.” (Suddath, Time)

As unscrupulous as college textbook price gouging is, there is an alternative if you’re strapped for cash. The same college textbooks are published by different companies all over the world to give equal opportunity for education in other countries. The international edition textbooks are published at lower costs to be sold overseas and are available to purchase by any interested foreign or domestic buyer via the Internet.

What’s the Difference: International vs. U.S. Editions

The content in international edition textbooks is exactly the same as their U.S. counterparts. Some inconsiderable differences may be found in a lower quality of paper, the use of only black and white ink, and a paperback cover rather than a hard cover. Also, supplemental material such as CDroms, etc., may not be included with an international edition.

Aside from the material differences, the most significant is the pricing distinction. Abebooks.com for instance, lists “Biology with MasteringBiology,” 8th Edition by Neil A. Campbell and Jane B. Reece for $59.69 as opposed to its $178.20 list price. “Introduction to Quantum Mechanics,” by David J. Griffiths is $1.00 on Abebooks.com. Its list price: $129.33. These books are listed as brand new, some in color, with the original packaging. With shipping around $30, you are still saving an exceptional amount of money, rather than buying books from the school bookstore.

Is Purchasing International Edition Textbooks Legal?

Most sites offering the purchase of international textbooks by U.S. buyers will warn their purchasers that publishers of international editions do not authorize the sale and distribution of these books in the U.S. and Canada as it is an infringement of copyright and trademark laws.

Does this mean that it is illegal to purchase international edition textbooks? No. Purchasing from international distributors or grey market importing is a legal form of commerce. The dissimilarity is that grey market imports are unofficial and unintended by the manufacturer.

Tips On Ordering International Edition Books

There are many sites that offer the purchase of IE textbooks as the website mentioned above. When you are searching for certain textbooks, make sure you have the following information:

  • Title
  • Author
  • IBSN number

Check for any revised or new additions and also ask the distributor before you place your order if any supplemental material comes with the textbook. Also, because you are placing an international order, be sure to allow plenty of time to ship, at least eight weeks. It may be wise to select more expedited shipping. It is also best to order multiple books from the same bookseller. This will help you save time and money, the things that are hard to come by.


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KD over 1 year ago KD


I've been guying International versions every chance I can for the last three years. I've never come across any differences, except on one occasion the cover was different. I've saved a lot of money, and recommend it.

Tess over 2 years ago Tess


I've been purchasing international texts for the past 3 semesters for my daughter. There is a huge savings and so far there have been no notable differences in the texts other than the covers sometimes being different and Brittish spellings of certain words. I just received a text today in the mail that is $170 at the university book store, but only $30 internationally!! Say what you want about me not buying American, but I need every penny of the the $140 that I just saved! Hint: Ebay is a great place to find international texts for seriously low prices! (Last semester I got a text for $2.95 that cost $151 at the bookstore!!)

Cameron C over 3 years ago Cameron C


I sadly cannot recommend International Editions for graduate courses. The material can vary in the textbook even within the "same" edition, and the out-of-order chapters can result in out-of-book, aka missing. I agree that US textbooks for grad students are ridiculously expensive and frustrating to purchase but it is a necessary evil for now. I recommend purchasing e-book versions with searchable PDF (key!) and make sure it comes with supplemental material (like passwords to get access to specialized and expensive DB) because they are essential for research. If an e-book with those options is not available, I recommend a used book with supplemental material (CDs, keys, passwords). Last resort would be to buy the new version or an international version. My main point is, for grad work the supplemental material is essential. Also, it IS possible to pirate (illegally download) textbooks. I do not recommend this as you run major risks: viruses, NO SUPPLEMENTAL MATERIAL or support, unsearchable PDFs (most of the time), and sometimes its just a scanned copy of the actual book, making it hard to read. I have actually used a pirated textbook due to extenuating circumstances - I bought the textbook online, waited almost 4 weeks for it to arrive by which time the course had started. I was forced to use a pirated copy until claims with the textbook reseller was handled and they sent me a new textbook.

Nala357 almost 4 years ago Nala357


Thank you so much for this information. I am in Nursing school and text books are KILLING ME! I was wondering what the difference was and I will start buying IE's thanks to this blog. Appreciate it!

Elizabeth almost 4 years ago Elizabeth


I have been purchasing International copies of textbooks for three years of my college career. It saves me tons of money and I have never had a book be even slightly different than the U.S. version. The last two semesters in a row I saved myself over $500!!!!!

smartbuy almost 4 years ago smartbuy


I just purchased an international ed book, which cost me $44.00, and I will do it again. Just because I made a decision not to purchase the book from the US, which was priced at $141.oo, has nothing to do with me taking away from improving the economy. It all has to do with me improving my cash flow!

Colorado Chic almost 4 years ago Colorado Chic


I have purchased international ed books every since the second term of school and im a junior! They are the same and save you TONS of cash. The only difference sometime is the order in the chapters. Example you might be told by your professor to read chapter 5 but in your book its chapter 6 etc. This is easily fixed by going over the syllbus and finding the "tittle of the chapter needed to read" for the week and find its place in the text. Save money folks its worth it!!!

jimbo over 4 years ago jimbo


Yeah buy international editions! Help destroy our economy! thanks a lot yeah, students are taking out loans (in a crappy economy with terrible job prospects) to pay for books that are ridiculously priced.

jacob over 4 years ago jacob


Yeah buy international editions! Help destroy our economy! thanks a lot

Sammi Jo over 5 years ago Sammi Jo


There is no difference in the context of these books! I've used www.abebooks.com for 2 years now, and I've never come across a book that's been different from the one the person next to me had, and they paid 4 times more than I did. I think bookstores should be banned from selling textbooks so expensive! I go to a community college, but my books would've cost close to the same amount as my tuition if I would've went through the bookstore. If you have the time to go online and find the international versions online, I would. It saved me $275.00 this semester just by buying 3 books.

Amanda over 5 years ago Amanda


Thank you so much. I was looking for the masteringbiology book and could only find the international on websties other than amazon.com. I didnt really know the difference but now i see it doesnt much matter and now i dont have to pay a fortune either!

Publishing Refugee over 5 years ago Publishing Refugee


Great post and a great way to save money! Students, as Tara says, the publishing companies really don't want you to do this. They go to great lengths in their international distribution contracts to prevent the cheaper international editions from being sold domestically. But it is not illegal for students to purchase these books. (Maybe it should be illegal to sell them at $400 per book???) International textbooks are also a good option for students who would prefer to read the text in a language other than English.