With the dawn of a new semester comes a new list of books that need purchasing. For some college students, this can be a heavy financial burden to bear.
College Board put the national average a student spends on books at a four-year public college at $1,168 for the 2011-12 school year. ACU’s College Board profile estimated books to cost $1,250 annually, setting it above the national average.
In an effort to alleviate the high cost of textbooks, students are seeking alternatives to the print copies piled high in the Campus Store. Electronic books are increasing in availability and more online textbook retail sites are establishing themselves as competitors to the traditional campus bookstore.
With Apple’s recent announcement of a new iBook store that sells electronic versions of textbooks, electronic books have the ability to be delivered direct to the consumer. Before, there were several middle men between the publisher and the consumer.
Additionally, Amazon gives students the option to rent electronic books. According to Amazon’s website, Amazon’s Kindle textbooks are sold at as much as 80 percent off the retail price of the print textbook. The customer also gets to select the length of time the book is rented for with a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 360 days. The buyers are only charged for the length of time they need the book. Rentals work on PCs, Macs, Kindles or mobile devices, which helps address the 92 percent of students that the National Association of College Stores reported do not own an e-Reader device.
Due to all the new developments, the electronic book industry seems to be growing as more people are converting from print to electronics.
“To see a 100 percent conversion is a long way off,” said Scott Harsh, store director of the ACU Campus Store. “Early adapters of new developments only account for 5 percent, and it’s the third group of 20 percent to 70 percent that will really determine it.”
Tammy Powell, textbook manager of the campus store, said students still want the printed textbooks because they want interactive presentation.
In a NACS survey, 74 percent of students said they preferred printed textbooks over electronic books. Of those who preferred electronic books, the top reason for their preference was saving paper, convenience, price and a preference for technology.
On the other side, those that remain committed to print editions have a broadening selection of book providers as well.
Websites such as Chegg provide a book rental service as well as social education platform that gives students help on homework. According to Chegg.com, Chegg runs a “Chegg For Good” program where funds are given to improve education, various communities and the environment, with things like tree planting. With the support of students who have an increasingly philanthropic view, Chegg has been able to grow significantly since 2007.
Aware of these new competitors, the ACU Campus Store is making an effort to help students compare its prices. There are now signs underneath some books in the Campus Store with QR codes that will take students to a page on the Campus Store’s website that compares their book price with some of the store’s competitors. Sometimes competitors’ prices are lower, but they are often comparable to the Campus Store’s price. Harsh said some students do take the time to do the research and make price comparisons on websites and that is what the QR codes help facilitate.
Harsh said the Campus Store prices are competitive with others on the market, but buying from the bookstore is simpler, does not require shipping fees and it offers security that students are buying the correct book for their class. Traditionally, the Campus Store determined prices on a flat percentage, but has adapted its pricing to a fluid margin to help spread out savings for students.
Harsh believes most students on campus purchase at least some, if not all, of their books from the bookstore.
Used textbooks also help alleviate print textbook costs. Used books are mainly carried in campus stores by student demand, the NACS reported. Used textbooks are generally sold for 75 percent of the original book’s cost when new. Rented books are usually in between 33 percent and 55 percent of the cost of the new book.
For rented books, the Campus Store charges the difference of the retail price, which is typically determined by the publisher, and the buyback price, which is usually determined by the wholesaler. This makes the price of rented books as low as possible for the students Harsh said.
When it comes time to buy back books, there is generally a limit on price and quantity that can be accepted that is set by the wholesaler that buys them from the Campus Store Harsh said.
Students who go to competitors to sell back books may end up getting less for each book. Harsh said if books are sold back to the Campus Store, they can be made available for the next round of students as used books, preventing students from having to buy them new.
“The money we make goes to the university,” Harsh said. “So money students spend on books could be staying within ACU.”
If a book is not going to be used on campus next semester, then the campus store sells it back to the wholesaler. Powell said students do not always understand that the wholesalers set the price for the buyback and there is little the Campus Store can do to change that percentage.
Harsh said the textbook system may change drastically in the coming years or it could end up being an adaptation of what is coming out now; it all depends on the platform used to deliver the books.
“Our role may change in 20 to 30 years, it’s hard to say where it’s going to go,” Harsh said. “We may have to change and adapt the way we serve students.”