Students look to the Web for deals on textbooks

Textbooks are a big part of student expenses and at least one student is trying to offer an alternative.

Marketing sophomore Jenny Sliwinski said she was frustrated with the high price of books and the University Bookstores’ low buyback rates.

“The worst part is when you sell your books back,” she said. “It’s like a slap in the face.”

Sliwinski started a book auction Web site last March for University students to buy and sell their books. She said she has not had a lot of business, but it is picking up.

Since the book auction service is geared toward University students, she said it is easier for them to buy and sell books with her than nationwide Web sites such as eBay.

Another Web site,, offers students similar service to Sliwinski’s site. Representatives from the site were unavailable for comment.

Online book auctioning services like eBay have become more popular in recent years.

EBay’s nationwide book auctioning service has grown because of the ineffective market for used books, said Catherine Hatch, an eBay spokeswoman.

“EBay is about making an inefficient market more efficient,” she said. “Textbooks are the perfect example of an inefficient market.”

She said eBay’s used book sales have grown 308 percent from 2002 to 2003.

Students spent an average of $727 to $807 for books in 2003, according to the College Board, a company that offers statistics on college expenses.

Some publishers said one reason new college books are expensive is because used book wholesalers act as middlemen, said Judith Platt, Association of American Publishers spokeswoman.

The used book wholesalers buy and distribute used books between college bookstores across the country, Platt said.

“(The used book wholesalers) are very extensive, very highly organized and very commercial,” she said.

She said the used-book wholesalers sell one-third of all college books and do not pay any royalties to the publisher or authors.

Because so many students buy the used books and the wholesalers do not pay royalties, the price of new books is driven up, Platt said.

“If there was no such thing as the commercial used-book market, our publishers estimated the price of new books would decrease by as much as 40 percent,” she said.

The University Bookstores use the used-book wholesalers to keep up with students’ demand to sell books the store will not be selling anymore, said University Bookstores assistant director Martha Hoppe.

College bookstores generally buy books that are no longer in use and sell them to a used-book wholesaler for a 20 percent commission, said Laura Nakoneczny, spokeswoman for the National Association of College Stores.

Though online book auctions present new competition, the University Bookstores’ book sales are still increasing, Hoppe said.

She also said the University Bookstores cannot engage in direct competition with the Web sites.

“We watch the competition, but that does not affect our pricing strategies,” she said. “The price is based on what we pay the provider.”

Platt said although students pay a relatively high price to get their books, they are worth it.

“Nobody questions the quality,” Platt said. “(The United States) has simply the best textbooks in the world.”