Counterfeit College Textbooks – How To Spot Them


You might not consider college textbooks when you think about counterfeit items on the market. However, for an untrained eye, books are the easiest to pass off as the real thing. First, it is an unsuspecting market for forgeries. Second, sometimes their low price is the purchasing factor since college students tend to be on a tight budget.

Think about the books on your shelves. Do you believe you could spot a fake if the titles looked similar enough? What if you have never held or seen the real book in person? Worse, what if you resell your used book later only to discover that you have a counterfeit?

Aside from the personal legality of purchasing a fake book, you should be aware that reputable used book resellers would not accept your book. If you are considering the aftermarket resale value in your purchase, you should be cautious and gain a critical eye to protect yourself and your investment.

How To Spot A Fake Textbook

How To Spot A Fake Textbook
Understand first that textbooks often have multiple editions, including international ones. We share this upfront because the majority of forgeries originate in foreign markets, but you should not confuse them with legitimate international copies of Eastern Economy Editions.

However, publishers typically mark or affix special labels to these books; the reason can vary, but international editions can contain different information or layouts in comparison to the US edition. While the books often claim they cannot be resold or redistributed in the US, a 1998 US Supreme Court decision allowed retailers in the US to legally purchase and resell these copies.

Telltale Signs Of A Fake Textbook

Signs Of A Fake Textbook
You can use the common methods below to spot a fake textbook, and we will go further into detail on some to give you a better comparison and real-life application.

  • Pixelated printing of cover text
  • Uneven or un-centered spine
  • Books are smaller or thinner in size than others of the same edition
  • Black and white pictures when other publications contain color photographs
  • Same ISBN as the regular edition. Every version of a textbook should have its ISBN.
  • Poor quality paper that lacks a glossy sheen or is incredibly thin like a mass-marketed paperback
  • No flyleaves, copyright, or blank pages between chapters
  • No International/Eastern Edition markings
  • Cheap binding
  • Split binding
  • Glaring typos or strange sentence syntax
  • An international/Eastern Edition recovered as a US edition

Pixilated Cover Text

Cover Text

Does the title appear blurred? Do the graphics seem misplaced or out of focus? While some designers blur cover images and art on purpose, the distortion should not apply to the text on the cover like author name, title, spine, or any blurb on the back (if applicable).

Uneven Spine

Uneven Spine
Look at the book spines on your shelf. Do you notice the precise centering of text? Or how the size of text floats seamlessly from top to bottom? That is a positive sign. A counterfeit textbook’s spine will seldom be as perfect as a legitimate book.

Different Size/Smaller Size

Different Sized Books
Counterfeits use smaller printing sizes to save on production costs while relying on their buyers, not noticing the difference. These differences can be miniscule or vastly different. Most buyers might not realize it until they see their book beside a legitimate version.

Black And White Photographs

Old Book
As stated above, you might not realize photographs should be in color. Few textbooks use black and white photos; however, some exceptions do exist. They do this because printing in black and white is cheaper.

Paper Quality

Paper Quality
Online it can be difficult for you to notice page quality, but pages should appear glossy, white, and not be so thin that you can see through them. Matte paper is inexpensive. Your textbook should not resemble a mass-marketed paperback in terms of paper color, thickness, or finish.


Always research the ISBN and make sure it does not belong to another edition. This is one of the easiest ways to spot a fake online because the seller will provide you with the ISBN and you can independently look that up in seconds. If they refuse to provide you with an ISBN, consider that a red flag.


A cheaply bound book will not last. Again, consider it alongside mass-marketed paperbacks. If your textbook looks and feels like a cheap run, it likely is just that.

Pages easily fall out, thanks to a shoddy binding. The binding itself can show the glue near the spine or when you open up the middle of the book. You might even see gaps between the spine and binding far sooner than with a real edition, but do keep in mind that this can occur with age and improper care of books too.

What If You Have Unknowingly Purchased a Counterfeit Textbook?

Counterfeit Textbook
If possible, send the book, transaction details, and seller’s contact information to the textbook’s publisher. The publisher will first verify whether your copy is a forgery, then it will be up to them to take legal action against the seller. Unfortunately, you might have little recourse in obtaining your money back, but if you used a credit card, you might be able to dispute and reverse the charges with the information the publisher provides.

Place your trust in a reputable reseller, like Booksrun, who takes pride and passion in their new and used textbooks and vets each book they receive. If you’re uncertain, ask your seller plenty of questions about their used book process in addition to their return policies.

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Preeti Shah is a person who loves checking out different styles and designs of houses. She took interior designing in college and is practicing in the field of home improvement for five years now. In her spare time, she is usually searching the web for interesting and fascinating home designs.


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