Bookstores, Web offer students variety in costs

by Sam Kean

Go to the University Bookstore or Student Book Store early – at orientation, if possible. Go there, maybe be impressed and get it out of the way.

But don’t think for a second it’s the only place to get books.

Everyone has to go there sometimes. Textbooks, particularly for science classes, aren’t available many other places. An extra $250 in books every semester gets old fast – especially when you try to sell them back and only get enough for a nice lunch (no appetizers).

University Bookstores director Bob Crabb said the high prices are industry standards, so students across the country are equally set back. The market for textbooks is limited, which increases prices. Plus, Crabb noted, once the rights to a book are sold, “The publisher basically has a monopoly.”

The Internet is the major exception for finding textbooks. Take advantage of the summer lull (with parents still around to foot the bill) and compare the prices on campus to those online. The prices aren’t always better online, but it doesn’t hurt to scour. The shipping times are reasonable and people generally feel like geniuses for getting around the system.

For literature, psychology, history courses – beyond basic introductory classes – don’t be lulled by convenience and shiny covers at the University stores. Try used-book stores. There are two in Dinkytown – The Book House and Cummings Books, both on 14th Avenue Southeast – and dozens of others around town. Minneapolis is one of the literary hotbeds in the country. Take advantage of it.

People generally have to hunt in used-book stores and they’ll probably get distracted by shelves full to the ceiling and dog-eared editions piled on the floor.

Another option is bypassing stores altogether and buying books from other people. Those in the dorms should remember to ask around, especially during second semester. Watch for fliers around campus selling texts, too.

Even the University bookstore has its own option, called Gopher Book Exchange, which is available through its Web site. If someone wants to sell a book, he or she posts its name, its condition and the desired price.

The University doesn’t monitor or control the prices. The database is searchable by title and author.

Be wary of “new” editions. Crabb said in some cases new editions are barely different from old ones. Publishers, he said, seem to be making a “conscious effort” to revise their books only slightly and sell them as brand new to increase profits.

Sometimes, students can’t afford whole books. At this point, try sharing them. This works best for introductory classes with friends.

Sam Kean encourages comments at [email protected]