Forget beer and pizza. College students are cracking their piggy banks to scrounge enough money for textbooks these days.
The average student will spend about $700 on textbooks this year alone, according to Student Monitor, an independent research firm that studies the college student market.
The price of textbooks is justifiable, says Bruce Hildebrand, Executive Director for Higher Education of the Association of American Publishers.
“Publishers offer more course material choices than at any time in history,” Hildebrand said in an e-mail interview. “The faculty are the experts paid to choose what course materials best meet their students educational needs. Publishers provide the choices. That’s fair.“
Hildebrand said he would not oppose lowering the cost of textbooks and that publishers are always trying to find new ways to lower the cost.
According to the National Association of College Stores, a trade association for bookstores and publishers, 11.7 percent of a textbook’s cost goes to the author’s royalties, 22.7 percent goes to the distributor and 64.6 percent goes to the publisher.
Margaret Howe, campus organizer for CALPIRG at UC Davis, said the high textbook prices are due to several things, including the frequent use of newer editions that require another book purchase, the use of eBooks that can’t be sold back to the school, the bundling of extra CDs and such with the textbooks, and the fact that publishers don’t disclose the textbook prices to faculty.
Gary Litvin, president of Skylight Publishing, a small textbook company, sees the high cost of textbooks as a fragmentation of the book market.
“Relatively few copies of each book are sold,” Litvin said in an e-mail interview. “Another factor is greed.“
Independent entrepreneurs are trying their hand at alternatives to textbook purchasing. A series of online companies rent textbooks to college students for the academic term.
Colin Barceloux of BookRenter.com and Alan Martin of CampusBookRentals.com claimed that they started their companies out of dissatisfaction with the cost of textbooks.
“Renting textbooks makes sense for a lot of students,” Martin said. “Especially today with less money going around.”
Online textbook rental companies have seen exceptional growth in the past three years.
“This month will be our highest sales month yet,” Barceloux said.
But the companies are far from perfect. Each claims to save students more money than buying from a book store. This is only true if the student does not use the campus buyback option.
“You pay full retail at the book store and then on average sell it back for 15 percent of retail,” Barceloux said. “And in most times you cannot sell back the book.“
Not only is this claim unfounded, it is totally untrue at UC Davis, said Jason Lorgan, book department manager at the UC Davis Bookstore.
“It’s all the way it’s presented,” Lorgan said. “You can make a number say whatever you want it to say.“
According to Lorgan, UC Davis buys back all textbooks at 50 percent of the new price and 66 percent of the used price. This is only if the same edition of the textbook is needed for the next quarter. Otherwise, the student receives the national wholesale book price. The buyback takes place all year long at Memorial Union.
Campus prices are established by the Campus Unions and Recreation Board, which currently adds 22 percent to the list price of a book. The added 22 percent goes to maintaining the bookstore. All surplus after that gets returned to the university.
UC Davis sells more used textbooks than any other quarter school in North America through the bookstore. UC Davis also offers refunds for dropped classes and a lowest price guarantee on all textbooks bought within two weeks of purchase price. If a student can find a textbook from a registered seller and not an individual for cheaper, the bookstore will pay back the difference in price.
“Our goal is to provide tools of education to the campus community at the lowest possible cost,” Lorgan said.
Most importantly is that if students use buyback at UC Davis they generally will pay less than an off-campus source, he said.
For example, the most popular book bought at UC Davis is Petrucci’s General Chemistry. The same book costs $68.57 at BookRenter.com, and $69.50 at CampusBookRentals.com. The used price at UC Davis is $134.70, and offers about a $90 buyback – a net cost of $44.70. The advantage online is less money up front.
“People always ask us, ‘How come you don’t do rental?'” Lorgan said. “Buyback is rental.“
UC Davis bought back $2.2 million in textbooks from students last academic year, Lorgan said, yet less than 30 percent of students used buyback. The most popular reason for not using buyback is that the student might need the textbook later.
“I kept all my business books from college and I’ve never opened any of them,” Lorgan said. “I could have gotten thousands of dollars.“
RONNY SMITH can be reached at email@example.com.