Comparing prices on books valuable

Peter Frost

Buying textbooks this year could present thrifty students with more options as several new online sellers bombard collegians with alternatives.
Students can not only register for classes and order CDs online like in years past, but also avoid endless bookstore lines by purchasing textbooks from the comfort of their dorm rooms.
“Many of the online booksellers can discount book prices 5 to 10 percent,” said Bob Crabb, University Bookstores director, “but most of them only sell new books, and if they sell used ones, most of the time they don’t even have those books in stock.
“About 50 percent of the books we sell are used, which means we can offer much lower prices.”
Crabb also noted that the University’s bookstores must work on a 20 percent to 25 percent margin, which means they sell books at much higher than cost.
This markup occurs because the University does not subsidize its bookstores, so all operational costs — such as wages, equipment and improvements — must be paid for by bookstore revenue alone.
In many instances, buying books at college bookstores costs about the same or even less than buying them at online stores that claim to sell books at cost.
The Daily compared textbook prices for 15 University classes using six online booksellers, the University bookstores and Dinkytown’s independent Student Book Store.
The local bookstores were frequently very competitive with the online book discounters, but finding the best book deal often involves researching all the options.
Stores like theuzone.com, Textbooks.com, Varsitybooks.com and a host of others are marketing to the most Internet-savvy demographic: college students.
In the Daily’s analysis, The U Zone Web site had some of the best deals.
Prices for the Psychology 1001 textbook illustrate differences between the booksellers.
Students can buy used books at bigwords.com for $53.68, at University Bookstores for $48.50, at SBS for $45 and at theuzone.com for $36.45.
Prices for new books range from the high end at amazon.com for $73.95 to theuzone.com at $58.32, which put up the cheapest rate.
The University bookstores offer a used Chemistry 1031 book for $73.75, while The U Zone offers the lowest used price at $49.79.
Jeffrey Kuperman, the co-president and CEO of The U Zone — which just started selling textbooks on Aug. 23 — said his company sells textbooks at cost and has the “deepest discounts in the market” because it makes its revenue through advertising and other ventures.
“My partner and I formed our business to make buying books a cheaper and easier process for students,” Kuperman said. “Being not far removed from college myself, I remember the long lines and high prices we were forced to pay, and we wanted to help.”
Many of the new bookstores are having problems keeping books in stock, though, and Kuperman expressed that students sometimes are not able to find all of their books at the site because many are sold out.
Varsitybooks.com, another e-commerce company that has been around for about a year, has become the only bookstore for some campuses.
“Some smaller colleges have shut down their bookstores and completely outsource to us,” said Jodi Gershoni, Varsitybooks.com communications director.
But that won’t be happening any time soon at the University, as “online bookstores haven’t even made a measurable effect on revenue,” Crabb said.
One of the reasons online bookstores might not have that much effect on the University bookstores’ revenue is that course packets and lab manuals are not available online, inconveniencing students to the point that they have to go to the bookstore anyway.
Besides picking up materials exclusive to a walk-in bookstore, going in person to the retailer has other perks, too.
If purchasing a used book online, there are no guarantees that the book won’t be in shambles when it arrives on the doorstep.
Also, students are almost guaranteed that they are going to purchase the right edition of the right book by physically walking in to the store.
University Bookstores have large staffs that work with faculty and distributors to assure availability of the right material.
Another way to be sure the book is the right edition is by checking the book’s International Standard Book Number, a unique number found near the UPC label.
Rather than typing long names of multiple authors or searching for the right textbook among 10 others with the same name, online purchasers can simply enter the book’s unique ISBN number and the correct book pops up onto the screen.
If students are worried about getting all of their material at the same time but don’t like to spend time searching for books — sometimes at the multiple University Bookstores — and waiting in line, the University will offer an online purchasing service this year.
“This spring, students should be able to purchase all of their books online with a credit card and pick them all up at once,” Crabb said.
Although he said he hopes the online service will be available before students begin buying spring semester books, Crabb said there is no guarantee that will happen.

Peter Frost covers business and welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3215.