Textbook season is here, and students (or their parents) are probably dreading a dent in the checkbook from the high prices we spend on textbooks these days. According to the National Association of College Stores, last year students spent an average of $702 on required course materials.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with several people in the textbook industry who provided me with an abundance of textbook information. They answered questions of mine that have probably gone through every student’s head. So from student to student, I would like to answer questions that maybe you have, too.
How are printed textbooks priced?
As students, we are constantly complaining about having to pay a bucket of dollars for a textbook that “we don’t even use.” We usually blame the bookstore for ripping us off, but where does the cost really come from? And who gets all of our money? (And why don’t we really use them? But that’s for another day.)
Michelle Froese, public relations manager for MU student and auxiliary services, said publishers sell their new textbooks to the bookstore at a wholesale price; the bookstore then adds 25 percent to get a retail price. Of that 25 percent profit, the bookstore then has to pay operating expenses, keeping a 9 to 11 percent net profit on average, Froese said.
On its Web site, the National Association of College Stores provided a closer look at the breakdown of where the new textbook dollar goes.
Nationally, used textbooks are typically 25 percent less expensive than new books. Froese said the MU bookstore is ranked second in the nation in number of used books available to students: 40 percent of books sold at the MU bookstore are used while the national average is 25 percent.
How does textbook buyback work?
The only thing worse than spending a full paycheck on your textbooks is going to return them at buyback and leaving with maybe a quarter of what you spent. Again, we put the blame on the bookstore, but should we?
Faculty members play a key role in the success of textbook buyback, Froese said. When faculty members place their textbook order on time, it allows the bookstore to source for more used books for future students and offer students more money during buyback. When faculty submits an on-time textbook order, the bookstore can pay students 50 percent of the new book price at buyback. Froese offered a model of the ideal buyback situation:
“Spring 2009: New edition of ‘Textbook A’ costs $100; faculty submits on-time adoption of ‘Textbook A’ for fall 2009; student receives $50 for ‘Textbook A’ at bookstore buyback; this student invested $50 in the book.”
“Fall 2009: Used edition of ‘Textbook A’ costs $75; faculty submits on-time adoption of ‘Textbook A’ for spring 2010; student receives $50 for ‘Textbook A’ at bookstore buyback; this student invested $25 in the book.”
If a student receives less than 50 percent back at buyback, this means the book is not being used at MU and is being purchased by a used book dealer to re-sell to other universities, Froese said. Used book dealers typically offer zero to 35 percent of the new book price, she said.
Is it always cheaper and better to buy textbooks online?
With textbooks being so expensive, students are looking elsewhere to find cheaper alternatives to the bookstore. But is it always better to buy online? According to the National Association of College Stores, 61 percent of students purchased some of their textbooks online last year.
Charles Schmidt, a spokesman for the National Association of College Stores, said one thing to consider when buying online is the cost of shipping. Sometimes you can find free shipping deals from textbook vendors if you spend a certain amount. If not, you may end up spending just as much as you would in the bookstore when you add on shipping costs.
It is also important to make sure you are buying from a reliable online source so you get your textbook on time and aren’t scammed out of your money.
Students: As you prepare to head back to school, keep this information in mind. The bookstore is no longer the only place to go for your textbook needs, but in some cases it still might be your best option. Do some research and shop around to find your best deal.