Ebooks are cheap, but you might pay in other ways

Ben Osborne 3 Aug 2023

Everyone is looking for a deal on textbooks this back-to-school season. You know it, but so do the scammers. Here's what to look out for with ebook scams.

The practice of buying textbooks is practically a scam itself. Spending hundreds of dollars twice a year for books that you’re not even guaranteed to use? No wonder so many students try to find cheaper alternatives. 

But do you know what’s worse than having to pay full price for textbooks? Giving your credit card number to a sketchy website and getting literally scammed. 

Before diving down the discount textbook rabbit hole, here are some of the things you should be on the lookout for and what you can do to keep yourself (and more importantly, your wallet) safe. 

Types of textbook sites 

If you’re on the hunt for discount books, there are a handful of different types of sites you’re likely to encounter. First off, there are the big resellers like Amazon or Chegg. You’re probably not likely to find any insane steals here (they might even end up costing more than your campus bookstore), but they’re an alright first step. 

Next are the actual publishers of the books. It really depends on what type of book you’re looking for, but sometimes cutting out the middleman and buying direct can be the cheapest way to go. 

Finally, just Googling “Discount Textbooks” will give you hundreds of other less popular retailers. While the bigger sites like Amazon or Chegg can charge premiums on their prices because of their name recognition, these smaller retailers price their books far cheaper in order to remain competitive. This is where the real deals are found, but it’s also where you’re most likely to be scammed. For every legit site that’s offering half price ebooks, there are five copycats waiting for you to input your credit card and give you nothing in return. 

Luckily, telling a real site from a fake site is just a matter of knowing what to look for. 

Spotting a scam 

There are five things you’re going to want to look at when it comes spotting these scam sites: 

1. The URL

 Check the website's domain name and URL. Legitimate sites should have a secure connection indicated by "https://" at the beginning of the URL. All websites with any sort of legitimacy are encrypted to protect themselves during transactions, so a URL missing the “https://” should be a massive red flag. 

Also make sure that the website’s name is spelled correctly in the URL. For example, if a website is named Discount Texts but the URL is “dicounttexts.com”, it could be impersonating another website. 

2. Web design and functionality 

Genuine textbook sites invest in a user-friendly design and interface. Look for a well-organized website with clear navigation, functional search options, and professional-looking aesthetics. If you notice typos, low quality images, or excessive ads, you might want to consider taking your business elsewhere. 

3. Pricing and payment methods 

Be cautious of textbook sites that offer significantly lower prices than other reputable retailers. If the deal seems too good to be true, it probably is. 

Trustworthy sites also offer various payment options like credit, debit, Amazon Pay, or PayPal. Be cautious if there’s only one or two options available, especially if they’re untraceable like crypto or gift cards. 

4. Brand transparency 

Genuine retailers will usually provide transparent contact information, like an email address, phone number, or even a physical address. Check for this information and consider reaching out to them with any questions before making a purchase. 

5. The website’s reputation 

Sometimes, quickly searching the site's name and looking for any news articles or customer complaints is enough to determine whether it’s trustworthy or not. Just remember to be cautious of relying solely on customer reviews and ratings, because a lot of fake sites are known to fabricate positive feedback.  

You can also use a domain checker to see how old the website is and where it’s registered from. If the website was created just a few weeks before the start of a new semester and is based out of some far-off country, it might be smart to stay away. 

Our picks  

If you want to save some time or just need some examples of what a legit website looks like, here are a few discount textbook retailers we’ve already checked out. 



Dealing mostly in used books textbooks, SlugBooks is a solid choice if you’re looking for physical copies. 

Direct Textbook 


Probably the most established supplier on our list, Direct Textbook has sold over 20 million books since 2002. 



One of the smaller sites out there, Knetbooks always offers free shipping and has some great deals if you’re willing to hunt for them  



Scribid is actually a subscription-based service, letting you check out as many textbooks as you want for $8.99 a month (with the first month free).  



With a massive selection and relatively competitive prices, AbeBooks is your go-to if you can’t find what you’re looking for anywhere else. 

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