Students paying the price for textbooks

Julie Torres

The commencement of the 2005 Spring semester can only mean one thing: chaos at the University’s bookstore. Determined to beat out the rest of the population for the much coveted cheaper, used books, students burrow through the crowds and wait on seemingly endless lines.

The scene is strongly reminiscent of an end of the year clearance sale. But some students opt out of all the excitement by choosing to purchase their textbooks online.

“I’ve never had a negative experience with buying books online,” junior Alejandra Calva said. “They are a lot cheaper than at the school bookstore, even when there’s shipping involved.”

“One of my textbooks last year at the school bookstore was about $90 for the used version. I was able to find one for $53 that was almost like new,” Calva said. “I usually save at least $15 on every book I buy online.”

But the phrase “let the buyer beware” did not originate without reason. Students should be wary of the following:

You might not be getting the right books. When shopping online, make sure you enter the correct ISBN. Professors often want a certain edition of a textbook. The university bookstore is sure to carry the correct books you need.

Sure you’re cutting lines, but not necessarily waiting time. Standard shipping time can range anywhere from 2-14 days, depending on the website. Priority mail is an option, but a costly one.

Returning items purchased online is not always as easy as in-store returns. Make sure you read the vendor’s return policy before buying. Shipping fees are often not included in refunds.

You can’t pay cash. How you pay for books online is limited to credit cards or a debit card.

Essentially, it is a blind purchase. There is no definitive way of determining the condition of a book purchased online. At the school bookstore, you can see what you are paying for ahead of time.

Junior Ashley Miller is reluctant to turn to online sellers for her textbooks, even though she admits the books at the bookstore are overpriced.

“Purchasing books at the bookstore has become a necessary hassle because it is easy for me to find the books I need when I need them,” Miller said. “I don’t have to worry about book being unavailable or even the wrong version online. I can actually see the book for myself before I walk out with it.”

Why are books at the bookstore significantly more expensive?

All retailers, whether online or in-store, get their textbooks from the same source: the publisher. The price of any book at the University bookstore is based on the amount of money spent purchasing that new book. The bookstore then factors in labor, freight and other costs. Online merchants and peer vendors can ignore this type of overhead.

“We don’t pretend to be a discounter,” said Frank Henninger, Director of the Villanova University Shop. “Online is a whole other game. We can’t compete on price.”

Instead, the bookstore provides other services, such as a 5 percent discount on books purchased with a student Wildcard.

Still, Henninger admits, books are overpriced. But a new, carefully thought-out plan is in the works could prove beneficial to all involved in the book buying transaction.

The Book Fee Concept is a proposal to include the price of textbooks as part of the student’s tuition bill. There are different ways in which the book fee may be calculated. One method is to calculate the average amount of money spent for books by major or by school. A more specific approach would involve adding up the prices of books on a course by course basis. Students would then pick up their books at the University Shop at an assigned time. The plan eliminates the time spent searching for books and waiting on long lines. Faculty members would also know for sure that each student has the assigned materials for their class.

“We’d be guaranteed 10 percent book buying,” Henninger said. “The amount of money we’d make would be embarrassing. It wouldn’t be justified. The reason now is to lower the price of textbooks.”

How can the Book Fee Concept provide students with that lower price?

With the involvement of publishers, the University Shop hopes to negotiate a deal that would lead the publishers to knock off the price of new books in exchange for the bookstore’s termination of selling used copies.

Henninger realizes that the Book Fee Concept presents a marketing challenge. “We have to make sure that we can convincingly save you money,” Henninger said.

It will probably take several years before the enactment of the Book Fee Concept. If approved, the University would be the first institution of higher learning to have a program of this nature.

“Villanova could become a leader in the way textbooks are priced,” Henninger said.