Many college textbooks today come with access codes that, accordingly, grant students access to additional course materials that enhance the learning experience. At face value, the concept of access codes seems straightforward; however, when skyrocketing tuition fees, textbook prices, and other college-related expenses force students to seek cost-cutting measures, the need for and availability of cheaper course materials leaves many students navigating uncertain waters when it comes to access codes. The following attempts to demystify access codes so you can make informed decisions about purchasing your college course materials.

What are access codes?

Access codes grant students privileges to additional course materials such as online tutorials, self-tests, course outlines, videos, interactive student forums, student-teacher feedback, e-textbooks, and other dynamic content.

The actual content depends on the textbook. Some textbooks feature simple course materials, such as a digital copy of the textbook and perhaps a few sample quizzes. Others feature rich learning materials that are linked to directly from digital textbooks. For example, the digital copy of your biology textbook might include a link to a relevant video and quiz. Not all textbooks offer digital copies via access codes; many focus exclusively on content that cannot be found in the print editions.

Do I need access codes?

The need for access codes for a specific course is dependent on your professor. Some require you to utilize the additional course materials, others do not. To be fair, many students are able to supplement their own textbook learning without the additional course materials; however, some courses require participation in order to be graded and ultimately pass.

For example, you might be required to take an online quiz, provide feedback to other students, or otherwise interact with your professor or course materials in order to pass your class, and to do so you might have to have an access code. In short, if you do not have access to additional course materials, you will not pass.

What are the arguments for and against access codes?

Many contend that access codes are textbook publishers' way of undermining the used textbook market. The contention is that if an access code is used, it renders its accompanying textbook worthless on the used market. Not all publishers allow secondary access codes to be purchased, and so students must buy new editions in order to access all course materials. When secondary access codes are available, they can be sold for as much as two-thirds the price of a new textbook, guaranteeing publishers earn a hefty profit regardless.

Students say they have no option; the access codes are a barrier to graduation, mandated by professors with controlled by publishers. In essence, publishers can charge what they want and set whatever policies they'd like because they know students have to have the access codes in order to graduate.

Publishers and others argue that the additional course materials afforded by access codes are well worth the price; the idea is that dynamic content enhances the learning experience and contributes to a better college education. Moreover, some publishers have acknowledged that student demand is critical to long-term success, and offer unbundled access codes available for purchase separately. Such access codes allow students to purchase used textbooks along with new access codes for less than they'd pay for a new textbook. In cases in which digital e-textbooks are available with course materials, access codes are the only purchases students need to make at all.

Do access codes have ISBNs?

Yes, access codes have ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers), which are unique numbers ascribed to each book or access code. ISBNs make it easy for books and access codes to be cataloged and searched.

How do I find the ISBN for a given access code?

It's simple to find the ISBN for your access code. You can:

1. Conduct on an online search for the title of your textbook plus the words “access code” (for example, type in “MyMathLab access code”)

2. Contact your bookstore and ask them for the access code ISBN

3. Email Direct Textbook and ask for the access code – we're happy to help!

How long are access codes good?

The length of your access code subscription is dependent on the publisher, and most vary from six to twelve months. The idea is to give you long enough to complete the course for which you've purchased your access code; however, savvy students might find they can complete two or three courses that utilize the same course material by stacking said courses within the subscription time frame.

Can I transfer access codes between courses?

Generally speaking, no, but as stated you could gain more value from your access code purchases by taking multiple courses that use their course materials within your subscription time frame.

Can I return access codes once purchased?

In general, no; however, it never hurts to plead your case to your publisher if the access code is unused and you mistakenly purchased the wrong textbook or access code – especially if you're willing to purchase the correct textbook or access code from the same publisher.

Can I share my access code with other students?

Unlike print textbooks, you can't share your access codes with other students to reduce your course material investment. The reason is that your access code generally represents you as an individual for interactive course materials. Thus, if students have to take an online quiz for a given course, for example, only one of you will be able to take the quiz and receive credit for it.

This has been a source of consternation among college students in recent years. One well-known example involves an engaged couple who were taking the same course at the University of Maine. The couple wanted to purchase one textbook to share for the course, but because the textbook and access code were bundled together they had to purchase two textbooks. That doubled their $150 fee to $300. Fortunately, the publisher was sympathetic to the couple's cause and allowed them to purchase a second access code for $20.

What if my access code doesn't work?

If you purchased your access code from a trusted textbook retailer, you can be assured it should work and is not a fake or used access code. In that case, it's best to contact the publisher. Many students to go their campus bookstore, but the solution typically lies in tech support provided by the publisher.

Is it cheaper to buy access codes and used textbooks?

In most cases, it is cheaper to buy used textbooks and access codes separately. Still, you have to consider the price on a case-by-case basis. Occasionally, an unbundled access code might cost enough to warrant purchasing the new textbook with a bundled access code. Do your research to determine which is the cheapest option for each textbook and access code you need.

What are my access code purchasing options?

You can:

• Purchase new textbooks with bundled access codes
• Purchase used textbooks with publisher-sold access codes
• Purchased used textbooks with privately-sold access codes

Is it safe to purchase unbundled access codes?

If you purchase unbundled access codes – those that are sold without the print textbook – it's important to trust the source. You're safe if you purchase access codes from the publisher or a trusted textbook retailer. However, you have to be careful when buying access codes from private parties. While some students sell unused access codes that work perfectly, it's possible for unscrupulous people to sell fake or used access codes and then disappear.

Can I sell unused access codes?

Most publishers say the access codes are only intended for the original buyer, but in most cases you can indeed sell unused access codes as long as you've never activated them. You can sell unused access codes on sites such as, Ebay, and Craigslist. You can also sell unused access codes to other students you know. Whether you buy or sell unused access codes, take care to ensure the sale is legal.

Where can I buy access codes?

You can search for access codes on Direct Textbook and instantly compare access code prices and features between trusted textbook retailers.

How much do access codes cost?

The price for an access code depends on the publisher and the retailer you buy it from. Access codes can be listed for anywhere from $10 to nearly $200 or more, depending on whether you have to buy the textbook with it. For a real-world example, access codes for the popular MyMathLab cost between $55 and $160, depending on the retailer. My Diet Analysis access codes can be purchased for less than $15.

How can I buy cheaper access codes?

You can minimize the cost of access codes by researching prices on Direct Textbook, which instantly compares prices and also lists available access code coupons to further reduce your investment.

What is the future of access codes?

If trends in the digital age are any indication, you can expect access codes to become more prevalent. Digital content is cheaper to publish and edit, so publishers will continue moving toward producing digital content as a supplementary course materials. Always be sure to properly research access code prices before you buy so you can minimize college expenses.

    Oct 24, 2013    Comments     (2.9)   Share: Share This Page Share on Facebook Tweet This