Vivian Underhill
Vivian Underhill

At the end of last semester, I excitedly packed all my books into an overstuffed backpack and lugged them up the hill to sell them. Once I got there, though, huffing and panting, I learned that I could only get $5 back for my entire semester's worth of books.

There was nothing to do but drag them all back to my apartment -- as, of course, it started to rain.

In a fit of powerless rage, I vowed never to sell to the CU Book Store ever again. And so far, I haven't.

The problem is that I haven't sold to anywhere else, either.

I have a fast-mounting stack of textbooks in my closet taking up far more space than they deserve. So finally, I decided to get my act together and sell them -- before they become completely out-of-date.

Obviously, I'm a little out of the loop on these sorts of things, so first I called my online guru friend. I think she's generally amused -- and a little astonished -- by my ignorance, so I try to ask her as many questions as I can.

First off, she suggested renting books in the future. The CU Book Store has started to rent some books, but only 12 titles as of last semester.

A better option might be any of the multitude that pop up when I Googled "rent textbooks." Of these, Chegg.com and BookRenter.com came highly recommended to me. I'm impressed -- I might do this from now on -- but for now, I still need to get those books out of my closet so I can put my clothes back in.

Just like online is the best option for renting books, it's also the best option for selling books. Even I know that.

But with a quick search, I found far too many options and my head began to spin. There was BigWords.com, who in their words, have been "protecting the world from high textbook prices since the dawn of time," as well as JitterBook.com, MoneyForBooks.com, eCampus.com, and CollegeSmarts.com.

Each of them advertises great prices and convenience, but they all look exactly the same to me. I guess this makes sense, because they all work on the same basic, efficient model: By exchanging the bookstore for a much cheaper website as middleman, both buyers and sellers of books get better prices.

We have to do a little more work, but we also get better satisfaction at the end.

My informant's favorite site is Half.com, affiliated with eBay.com. She says it's easy to use and takes only 10 percent commission. (As a comparison, Amazon.com takes 15 percent commission and a fixed closing fee.)

I rely on her advice, so I'll probably go there, too, as soon as I can get around to it.

Just one last thought on selling books: timing is key.

The CU Book Store buys them back right at the end of finals, which, in some ways, makes a lot of sense. There's a cathartic feeling to getting all 50 pounds of them off your hands.

But online buyers -- my potential new market -- won't be interested in my books again until the beginning of spring semester. I'm not flying anywhere for break, or moving or anything, so I have no excuses.

I guess I have to keep them on my hands just a little longer.

Vivian Underhill's Boulder Frugalista runs every Tuesday in the Colorado Daily.