School Bookstores Can't Afford Cheap Textbooks
I'm taking just one course this semester, with just one reasonably priced textbook. According to the back cover, the price was $29.95, but that isn't the price I paid. I purchased a brand new copy at Amazon.com for $19.77. I could have bought it for $15.89 but I would have lost out on free shipping.
How did the other students in my class get their copies?
- One bought it for full price at the bookstore ($31.75 after sales tax). She said that she'd considered buying online but she only had one book to buy this year and had to walk by the bookstore anyhow.
- One student works at the university's bookstore and gets a 20% discount. She paid $25.40.
- One student works at Barnes and Noble and gets a 30% discount. Her price? $22.23
All that variety for the same 195 pages and some glue. It's pretty obvious that the school bookstore was the worst rate, too. Even if the girl who worked at Barnes & Noble didn't get a discount for working there, she could have gotten a similar discount by using coupons or by using a store membership — same goes for Borders.
But why is the university's bookstore in such a bad way?
University bookstores are almost all owned by a few big corporations these days, rather than the schools that house them. Most of my personal experience has been with eFollet and BN College Booksellers. I don't know about anyothers — if you do, please chime in — but from what I've learned in casual conversation, these booksellers simply can't afford to offer much in the way of discounts. In part, this is because of their obligations to universities: the bookstore has to stock enough books for the number of students enrolled in a given class and have to absorb the shipping costs to return the books when students buy online, through other stores or entirely avoid picking up their textbooks. They have to pay to ship back used books that are sold back (more money!) at the end of the semester and deal with various other costs. On top of all this, the companies are not non-profits — they have to make money. I'm not suggesting propping up these bookstores, though. I'm just saying that the high prices are logical. It's also logical for students to stop buying their textbooks at the stores with the highest costs.
What other textbook options are out there?
Other retailers: Barnes & Noble, Borders and independent bookstores may not stock your particular textbook, but just about every bookstore is happy to put in a special order for you. Just keep in mind that most of these stores charge the same cover price as the school bookstores, so you aren't much better off unless you have coupons or a members' discount.
Online booksellers: There are a slew of websites selling off used textbooks. Most of them are dirt cheap, too. Shipping can get a bit expensive on books, though, if you aren't careful. Buying all your books from one seller can often get you a break on shipping costs. I've run into a couple of problems with edition numbers as well — but in most classes, the edition of your book won't stop you from reading it.
Amazon: Amazon is in a class of its own when it comes to online booksellers for one — free shipping. If you have Amazon Prime, you can get free shipping on an amazing variety of Amazon purchases. I don't have an Amazon Prime account myself, but I use my boyfriend's, as does my mother and several of our other relatives.
Trade: Sophomore year of college, I traded a junior lunch for the textbook for a class I was taking the next semester and that he had taken the semester before (he still made more than he would have by selling it back to the bookstore). Facebook and college message boards have made this technique amazingly easy.