When it comes to the cost of college, nothing is quite as unexpectedly expensive as textbooks. Sure, tuition might be over ten grand, but that’s par for the course… and of course, transportation to and from campus might cost you lots of gas, but you’re likely very familiar with gas prices already.
On the other hand, one singular college textbook can cost over $100! Take this price, multiply it by the number of courses (usually four to six) you have each semester, and then factor in the typical eight semesters of a regular college experience, and you’re almost paying another tuition!
With inflation and the rise of textbook prices, they have the ability to be a serious liability to your college experience. This post aims to lighten the load a bit with eight of the best websites offering free college textbooks. Even if they manage to save you a little bit of money, that’s still money that could go towards other expenses or help to pay down debt (better yet, you could invest the money and compound it over time).
Ready to discover some of the best open educational resources offering free college textbooks and save some money? Let’s get right into it.
Best Websites for Free College Textbooks
From websites that exclusively focus on science textbooks to ones that offer free college textbooks in a broad range of subjects, you’re sure to find something on this list that can help you cut down on college costs.
zLibrary was launched in 2009 as a project intending to make literature more accessible for all. You’ll find all sorts of texts on zLibrary from scholarly journal articles to academic texts to general-purpose books. With over 8,930,000 books and 84,830,000 articles (as of December 2021), it’s likely that at least some of your college textbooks will be available on zLibrary.
zLibrary has an option for you to create an account with them (for more premium access), but if you find the textbook you need and only need to use zLibrary a few times, you can fully download the pdf without an account.
Pros of zLibrary
- zLibrary has one of the biggest databases for books in the world. If you’re trying to find anything, you’re best bet is probably zLibrary.
- zLibrary is also completely free and you can typically find what you want without signing up for an account.
Cons of zLibrary
- Being a “shadow library”, zLibrary sometimes has a tough time with publishing organizations accusing it of IP theft. This means that it could one day disappear if things truly escalate in court.
With roots dating as far back as 1990, Library Genesis (or LibGen for short) is one of the oldest and most extensive file-sharing databases in the world. Here you’ll be able to find all sorts of resources like scholarly articles, journals, academic books, general books, comics, magazines, images, audiobooks, and more.
Library Genesis calls itself a “links aggregator” meaning it provides material that is gathered from “publicly available internet resources” and also files that are uploaded by users. The catalog is huge and you can search for the book you need much like how you would in a regular library via author, ISBN, year, and (of course) title.
The next time you’re about to head to your campus bookstore to look for used textbooks (that are usually quite grimey) to buy, check out LibGen to see if your textbook is available for free online.
Pros of Library Genesis
- Library Genesis is especially good for college students because the database is geared toward scholars (meaning the open textbooks you find will likely be relevant for you).
- The search engine for digital books is extremely similar to the one you would use in a real textbook library (making it easier to navigate and find what you want).
Cons of Library Genesis
- Probably UNLIKE your local college bookstore, the layout of Library Genesis is really not up to date. This may lead you to think that you won’t be able to find the digital textbooks you need on the site and discourage you from using it often.
If you ever find yourself in a class that requires you to purchase some kind of classic piece of literature, consider checking out Project Gutenberg first. Project Gutenberg was created as a volunteer effort to preserve and archive cultural works (digitally). So while you might not find some of your needed textbooks online with Project Gutenberg, you’re sure to find the world’s greatest literature on the site (and have access to it for free)!
Founded in 1971 by American writer Michael S. Hart, it is the oldest digital library to date. You don’t need to register for it, you don’t need to download any special apps and the service is completely free.
Pros of Project Gutenberg
- It is extremely easy to search for ebooks with Project Gutenberg.
- Project Gutenberg is especially good if you’re a humanities student as most of the text is related to old western literature.
Cons of Project Gutenberg
- If you’re a math and science student, you may find Project Gutenberg a little bit lacking. You’re unlikely to find any online textbooks related to STEM subjects on Project Gutenberg.
Bookboon is an online textbook publishing company that focuses on making learning content for engineering and business students/professionals. Founded in Denmark in 1988, Bookboon has over 900 academic textbooks publicly available to students on their website.
Some of the most popular subjects on Bookboon are economics, IT, science and engineering, and natural sciences. If you’re a student studying any of these majors, chances are you’ll find a lot of online textbooks on Bookboon that will prove useful to you.
Pros of Bookboon
- When it comes to engineering books online (and other technical subjects), Bookboon covers books on the simplest of subject matters to the most advanced.
- Bookboon is extremely easy to use and probably more straightforward than your university bookstore.
Cons of Bookboon
- When it comes to open textbook projects, Bookboon is a bit lacking as you need to pay a subscription of $5.99 a month to access their full repertoire of books. Still, their free version is not bad, and you can have access by just signing up.
Founded by Rice University in 2012, OpenStax is a non-profit educational platform that has tons of peer-reviewed and openly licensed textbooks available for you to access. You can get the free digital versions online and also (for very cheap) get print textbooks.
The great thing about OpenStax is that it covers a huge variety of subjects. To list just a few:
- Micro and Macroeconomics
Pros of OpenStax
- OpenStax will send you email updates whenever a new textbook is published in your field of interest so you’ll be the first to gain access to it.
- The quality of content on OpenStax is very high as it’s reviewed by tons of people before being put on the platform.
Cons of OpenStax
- If you’re looking for very specific school textbooks (perhaps by very specific textbook publishers) it might be a bit hard to find on OpenStax.
Better World Books
Founded by students of the University of Notre Dame in 2002, Better World Books is an online reseller of new and used books. Though you might not find any textbooks for free on Better World Books, you will be able to buy cheap textbooks. Better World Books is the premier place to find the cheapest books on the market.
You can search for books by title, authoring, or ISBN number. If you see a book or textbook in your syllabus, head to Better World Books before your campus store to see if you can get it for cheaper.
Pros of Better World Books
- Better World Books is a great way to buy textbooks, compare textbook prices, or even sell your old ones for some cash. You’re likely to find anything you need on the site.
- Better World Books is also extremely reputable and you’re probably going to find the best price for college textbooks on the website (the price will almost definitely be lower than what you can find in your local college store).
Cons of Better World Books
- If you’re looking for free college textbooks, you’re out of luck as everything on Better World Books costs some money.
Have you ever tried to access a particular research paper but found out that the cost was just far too great? Sci-Hub was created by Alexandra Elbakyan in 2011 in Kazakhstan as a response to the egregious costs of research papers behind paywalls. Its goal is to provide the masses with access to research papers regardless of copyright.
Sci-Hub is all about open education, open content, and open courseware, and thus makes all of its material open-source for all. If you’re looking for a research paper for a class, it’s likely to be on Sci-Hub for free!
Pros of Sci-Hub
- Sci-Hub gives you access to tons of papers you can use for your homework and research that you otherwise wouldn’t have had access to.
- Sci-Hub’s goals are very aligned with the public interest (making education available for all).
Cons of Sci-Hub
- When it comes to higher-education, there’s an argument that the incentive of having exclusive intellectual property is what motivates people. By making papers publicly available, Sci-Hub is essentially eroding away at that incentive.
Based in Palo Alto, California and founded in 2001 Bookshare is an online bookstore of sorts (except free / extremely cheap) for people with print disabilities, like visual impairment, severe dyslexia, and cerebral palsy.
If you have a print disability and are worried about buying textbooks that won’t be a good match for you (since most of the textbook market is lacking in accessibility regards), Bookshare could be of some help.
- Bookshare really excels in the affordability aspect as it’s free to students and only $1 per week for adults.
- Bookshare is also slowly shaping the publishing industry to create more accessible works (and taking initiative on the matter).
- According to some reviews, there is some lag time when downloading texts so some patience may be needed.
Website for Free College Textbooks: What to Know
If you’re a student, you know just how expensive college and university textbooks can be. Purchasing textbooks is almost akin to paying for tuition in some extreme cases, hence why there’s even an option for renting textbooks (if they were affordable, you wouldn’t need to break apart your payment into several installments).
This post has hopefully helped to alleviate the struggle of expensive textbooks by providing you with 8 websites that could help. As a quick recap, they are:
- Library Genesis
- Project Gutenberg
- Better World Books
So there you have it: some of the best free textbook websites on the market for college students who are trying to save money. Whether you’re trying to get your hands on some free textbooks, get new textbooks for classes, or even compare prices on existing textbooks there’s a website on this list that can help you out.
So what are you waiting for? Don’t ever worry about having to save-up for textbooks again and dive into these eight sites here! Your future self (who is likely to have saved a couple of hundred dollars) will thank you for it.
Jeff is a Harvard 2025 student passionate about making smart financial decisions both in school and in the workplace so that he can spend more time doing what he loves (like playing golf, spending time with family, and travelling). He has experience working in the financial industry and enjoys sharing all things personal finance, academic, and golf-related. Outside of blogging, he loves to cook, read, and golf in his spare time.