Students lose in resale of textbooks

Heather Fors

Young Chung’s advertising textbooks sat on her shelf for three months after the class ended. They weren’t a welcome addition to her library, but rather hostages to the wholesale market.
The junior in journalism took Psychology of Advertising fall quarter but didn’t sell her books back until the last week of winter quarter. Chung said she wanted to wait until the course was offered again so she would get more money for them when she sold them back to the University Bookstore.
However, she only got $27 for the book she says she bought for about $77. That price is a little better than the $20 she was offered for it the previous quarter, but for Chung, this was still not satisfactory.
“I don’t like selling my books; they rip me off all the time,” she said.
A national exchange student from Georgia, Chung said things are no different at her old school. “All the bookstores — it doesn’t matter where you are — they always rip you off.”
These same remarks can be heard from many students after selling or buying books. However, students might be hasty in their judgment of the bookstores.
“That’s got nothing to do with the bookstore; that has to do with the cost of labor,” said former professor Donald Gillmor, who teaches in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
“I sympathize, but when books were $10 movies were $1 — everything shifts.” Gillmor said price inflation must be expected in a capitalist society.
Bob Crabb, department director of University Bookstores, explained that when he was a student at the University in the late 1960s the bookstores didn’t buy back books; students simply had to keep them all.
“We do that as a service to the students,” Crabb said. “I know it’s hard when you pay $50 for it and the used book wholesaler only pays $10.”
Crabb said University Bookstores use Nebraska Book Company because they offer better deals for the students. “They pay slightly more than the other used book wholesalers and that’s obviously a benefit to the students.”
Ken Jirovsky, vice president of Nebraska Book Company, explained there are two ways used books are stocked on the bookstore shelves.
First is by students themselves: They sell their texts back to the store. The people at the bookstore who buy back the books and hand out candy to the students actually work for the wholesaler.
These wholesalers generally buy the books back at half the cover price. However, if a book is not being used at that bookstore the next quarter, the wholesalers will only pay a quarter or a third of the cover price so they can sell it at half price to another bookstore.
After workers at the bookstore retrieve as many books as they can in a quarter and they discover that the store needs more books, the wholesaler will accommodate them. The wholesaler usually accumulates used books from around the country and stocks the bookstore shelves with those.
Jirovsky said the University’s quarter system perpetuates a poor book buying and selling system. The books used in a quarter system have a high turnover. He also said a student’s major has a lot to do with it, depending on how many quarters they will be able to use the same book.
But the University bookstore is not the only option for students. The Student Book Store in Dinkytown and other independent bookstores, as well as the Student Book Exchange Web site, are alternative places to buy and sell books.
The Student Book Store, however, does not solely exist to compete with University Bookstores. “What we do is we give the people an alternative. If we were not here the University would have a monopoly,” said Mark Hepler, the general manager of the Student Book Store.
Hepler said the Student Book Store’s goals are not to beat the other bookstores’ prices but to keep the competition competitive and offer students an alternative source for buying books. “Fundamentally, we’re just trying to stay open.”
The Student Book Exchange Web site is an alternative that has become popular recently. Run by University students Michael Hack and Dion Almaer, the site has recently increased its visitors ten-fold.
“This is a student-run program that eliminates the middle man and saves students money,” said Jigar Madia, president of the Minnesota Student Association. He said since MSA began to publicize the program usership has increased from 1,000 to 10,000.
“I think it’s a great way for students to keep the cost of books down,” said Crabb. He added that if students can trade with each other, it not only eliminates the middle men, it’s also more economical.
“The key to this program is that students use it,” Madia said. MSA members have had an active role in the program since May of 1997. They have advertised it on a 10-by-40-foot plywood sign on Northrop Mall, as well as distributing bookmarks and posters.
However, some say the service still isn’t widely accepted by students. “I think it needs to be advertised more and the guy needs help,” said Justin Wu, a University College senior. “I think it’s a huge project.”
But supporters are hopeful. “It would be ideal if we could force the bookstore to lower prices because of competition from the student book exchange,” Madia said. However, he said, the only way to do that is for students to continue to use it.
“There’s a lot of potential for that Web site because there’s 50,000 students at the University,” Wu said.”That’s a lot of books.”