Looking for cheap textbooks?
Good luck, says a recent study conducted by a west coast public interest research group.
The study found that students pay hundreds of dollars a year for textbooks, and the price keeps going up.
So what’s the solution?
A recent poll sponsored by EBay said more and more students, fed up with high prices, are shopping for textbooks online. But is the web the cure-all for the expensive textbook blues?
Why they’re expensive
The study, done by the California Public Interest Research Group, found that an average student at the Universities of California would spend almost $900 for a year’s worth of textbooks. And the study says the cost increases each year, especially for science students.
Textbook publishers called the report one-sided and said expensive research is needed for major changes in later editions. In a Jan. 30 AP story, Judith Platt, spokeswoman for the Association of American Publishers, says it can cost a million dollars over several years to produce a new textbook.
“We’re talking about an extraordinarily expensive product, the price of which has to be spread out over a limited number of students,” she says.
Gary Burdick, manager of the SDSU Bookstore, disagrees. He says the new editions often only look a little different, or they include more things with the textbook – like CD ROMs and workbooks -that are never used and just drive up the cost.
“They make bundles sound like a great deal,” he says. Are they? “Not really.”
He says it’s easy to lump the bookstore in with publishers when talk turns to the cost of textbooks. But Burdick says selling books isn’t the pathway to riches-the markup for textbooks-20 percent for new books, and 25 percent for used-is nothing new.
“That hasn’t changed in my 37 years here,” he says.
There are many websites for students who want to buy or sell textbooks. Some of the major ones are already big-time retailers or auction sites on the web, such as Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and Ebay. Others, like http://isbn.com, probably aren’t as well known, but search a variety of textbook sites to find the best prices.
Most students are comfortable using the Web, so it’s natural that many turn to the Internet to find cheap textbooks. But it’s not necessarily that easy to save money, says Samantha Buchanan, a senior majoring in interior design.
“This semester I can’t even find three of my books online,” she says. “I can only find them at the bookstore.”
And that doesn’t mean she’s taking a big financial hit, either.
“I remember a year ago that I could find books online and I could save $50 or more,” she says. “But now they’re really comparable in price, even the used prices. I’d maybe save 25 dollars. Maybe.”
Buchanan says the best way to save money is to shop smart, whether it’s online or at the bookstore.
Burdick says you have to be careful if you shop online, because with so many editions of the same book, it’s easy to get confused. And a Web-based seller isn’t as accessible as the bookstore.
“It’s not as easy to return something online as it is here,” he said. “Here you can just walk down, and we’ll buy it back.”
You can buy your books online from the bookstore as well, says Burdick. The Web site is updated often, so the inventory should be accurate, he says.
Buying used books has one significant advantage over new books: They tend to be much, much cheaper. And used books keep students from buying new ones, a fact not lost on the publishing companies, Burdick says.
“They’re getting to the point where they’re fighting a battle against used books, and they’re losing,” he says.
Michelle Sala, a senior account manager for textbook manufacturer McGraw-Hill, says it’s really the used book market forcing creation of new textbook editions.
“Publishers put out new editions to compete against the bookstores who sell used editions to make more money,” Sala said in the Nov. 13, 2003 University of California-Los Angeles Daily Bruin.
The SDSU Bookstore deals in used books. The staff buys back books, keeps the best copies, and resells them to students. Burdick says the rest are sold to a wholesaler who sells them at other schools across the country. But even used books have a shelf life.
Burdick says used copies kept value much longer back when new textbooks came every five to seven years.
“Now it’s three years max,” he says.