I was inspired to write this post by a recent experience which I found to be onerous: purchasing a textbook. I had to purchase three textbooks for five classes, and of the three I purchased only 2 were hard copies, the other being an E-textbook. Given a little effort and research I probably could have found these books for cheaper, but given my natural tendency to leave things for the last minute I only purchased one textbook off of amazon.com, saving myself $10-$15 at the most compared to what I would have paid for at the Temple Bookstore on a near $200 purchase (There were no used versions of this textbook at the University bookstore, all versions were brand new). The other hard-copy textbook I purchased at the Temple University Bookstore, and given that it was necessary to purchase a Mymathlab (MML) access code alongside the book, it was more convenient to purchase a new copy that contained both the book and MML access code as opposed to purchasing a used textbook and the MML access code separately. Also, there were no used versions of the textbook so even if I wanted to purchase the book and online content separately I couldn’t unless I found a student from last semester’s course who was willing to sell me their used textbook. Taking into account the fact that courses switch their required textbooks from semester to semester quite frequently students are often deterred from paying for a book which may have little resale value at the end of the semester. So, it comes with little surprise that students are searching for new ways to access their course content. Recently, bookstores and sites like chegg.com have been catering to students’ need for cheap access to textbook materials by allowing students to rent their textbooks for the duration of a semester at a reduced cost compared to what they would buy them for. Even more recently publishers have started to provide digital copies of their hard-copy textbooks which if purchased need not be returned or unsubscribed and also provide the opportunity to update content from semester to semester, or even class to class. While E-textbook’s may or may not have some resale value, renting a textbook does not, and the prospect of reselling a book at a later date for some cash at the end of the semester is often enough to make students purchase textbooks from the bookstore (think of those huge lines at the end of each semester for buyback programs).
The fact of the matter is that the network for purchasing textbooks at Temple is one that heavily favors the publishers and the bookstores and not the actual students who purchase them. For example, If a student purchases a a textbook for $150 and then sells it back to the bookstore once the semester is over for $60 the student is essentially renting the textbook for $90 (something he/her could have done for much cheaper). The Textbook is bought back by the bookstore with the intention of selling said textbook to another student at a later date. In the network for textbooks it would be in a student’s best interest to sell his or her used textbook to another student who needs the textbook for next semester, thus increasing the re-sale value relative to the bookstore ( A student could ask for $80 on the $150 purchase as opposed to the $60 offered to them at the bookstore). As long at this $80 represents a price lower than that offered by the bookstore for the same hard-copy textbook, students could theoretically sell their hard-copy textbooks to other students for more than they would receive from the University bookstore through a buy-back program. This benefits not only the student-seller but also the student-buyer as he/she can now purchase a textbook for less than what it is offered for at the bookstore. Sites like Amazon help to facilitate the search for buyers of textbooks but a cost, most notably a set commission on any sale and also the cost of shipping. The network for buying textbooks at Temple University is an irritatingly inefficient reflected by the stubbornly high prices students pay for their textbooks in comparison to what could potentially be offered through digital textbooks or by even buying their textbooks from other students for cheaper. Part of this can be attributed to the relative ease in which links are created between the bookstores on campus and the students who use them; as more students fill the lines to sell-back their textbooks only more will join them. The price of books over the past two decades has increased at twice the rate of inflation. Every semester the burden of buying books becomes heavier and heavier. I would love to purchase my textbooks from other students for less than what i pay at the bookstore but find it very hard to find students who are trying to sell me their textbooks and much easier to find cash when I sell-back my textbooks to the bookstore.