A new semester means new classes, and every student knows that also means new books—books that don’t come cheap. College students spend an average of $702 on course materials per academic year, according to a National Association of College Stores 2008 report, and college textbook prices have risen at twice the rate of inflation over the past two decades according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
The high price tags on textbooks and other course materials have led many Concordia students to shop around for the best deal from a variety of sources, such as online textbook retailers, online textbook rental services, used books at the Cobber Bookstore, or buying and trading textbooks with other students.
Textbook orders from online retailers made the first week of the new semester extremely busy for the Concordia Post Office. On Jan. 4, the first day of classes, the post office was flooded by a staggering 765 boxes. The line of students waiting with their bright orange slips to pick up their packages reached as far as the stairway in the Atrium. An additional 335 packages arrived over the next two days.
Paulette Dixon, manager of the Concordia Post Office, said this year’s influx of textbook orders is the most she has ever seen. Dixon said the majority of packages she’s seen have come from half.com, a division of Ebay, and Amazon, although she has seen some packages from chegg.com. Chegg is one of several Web sites that rent textbooks to students for a quarter or a semester, and students return them after they have finished the course.
The Cobber Bookstore has seen a decrease of textbook purchasing in recent years due to the increasing availability of books online, said Director PJ Hines.
“This is a trend our whole industry is seeing,” Hines said.
In order to combat the decline in bookstore textbook purchasing, Hines said the Cobber Bookstore has placed a high emphasis on used books, whose prices are much more competitive with online retailers than new books. This is the first year the Cobber Bookstore has sourced 100 percent used books when possible.
“It all has to do with used textbooks,” Hines said. “We no longer order any new books [when used books are available] unless a student special requests it.”
The Cobber Bookstore receives many used books from students at the end-of-semester buyback and locates the remainder through multiple used book wholesalers.
Hines said herself and the Cobber Bookstore staff also contact faculty when new editions or bundles are requested for courses to see if the professor is interested in hanging on to the old edition for another semester or if the Cobber Bookstore can source the pieces in the bundle used.
Hines said they also remind students that books are be able to be charged to tuition at the bookstore using their student ID, which directly bills the student’s account at the Business Office. The student ID charge to tuition is by far the largest tender at the Cobber Bookstore because of the convenience of having all college-related expenses on one bill.
Another benefit of textbook purchasing at the Cobber Bookstore, pointed out by Hines, is that books can be returned or exchanged if purchased incorrectly by a student, or in the event a professor decides not to use a book during the first five class days of each semester. This option isn’t available through some online retailers, and if offered, shipping often takes more time than is available and is costly.
Another method of acquiring necessary textbooks is purchasing them from other students. Sophomore Emily Swedberg is the Cobber who started the student-to-student recycling organization of books on Facebook. Swedberg was inspired to start the Facebook group “Cobber Book Exchange,” a textbook classifieds system for Concordia students, after she had books to sell but felt she wouldn’t get a fair price at the Cobber Bookstore and wasn’t getting a response from posters she posted on campus.
“I thought of something like Craigslist, like the same community idea but for Concordia,” Swedberg said. “So I figured Facebook would probably be the easiest way to do it.”
Swedberg’s textbook trading community has grown to nearly 900 members. Swedberg researched other college’s online textbook exchange groups for ideas for the organization of the exchange and decided that a discussion topic for each subject would be the most conducive for both sellers and buyers. The “Cobber Book Exchange” lists 20 subjects for sellers to post their books, as well as a wanted section. Swedberg requests group members post the title, author, edition, and asking price of books they wish to sell. Buyers reply to the posting, and sellers delete their post after a sale is made.
Swedberg said the group has an advantage over online auction sites and the Cobber Bookstore buyback because students can generally get a better price than they would going through a third party, they can check the book out before deciding to purchase, and they are likely to know the seller.
“I sold a book the day after I put it up; it’s pretty easy to work with, I think,” Swedberg said.
Sophomore Steve Hanson said the Cobber Book Exchange group was an easier, more convenient, and more profitable way to sell his books than selling them online or back to the bookstore.
“With the Cobber Book Exchange, I was able to get about 70-80 percent back of what I paid, while still selling the books for less than what the bookstore was selling them for,” Hanson said. “The Cobber Book Exchange benefits both sellers and buyers—sellers get more money for their books than they would from the bookstore, and buyers get books cheaper than what they sell for at the bookstore.”
Marisa Paulson is a senior and the news & features editor of The Concordian, although she still writes when she can. She plans to attend the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in fall 2011.