I walked into the Isla Vista Bookstore on Monday afternoon with a bantamweight bank account and high hopes. I left a half an hour later a confused and broken man.
I hate buying books. Sometimes it costs $300 for three classes, I usually don’t finish them all and when it comes time to sell them back, I collect enough for lunch money. The only truth I’ve come to realize about purchasing textbooks at UCSB is: buying is a bitch and selling back is a swindle.
Most students jump to the task during the first week’s bottlenecked rush. I prefer to wait until week two in order to beat the lines and weed out the rip-off buys. This tactic has become a pillar of my financial and academic stability for four years. But something went wrong this time.
I was on the hunt for depreciated texts; any yellow-labeled book would do. I already accepted that half of the ones I needed weren’t going to be in stock, and therefore sought only a fraction of them – maybe just a third or a quarter of my 14 “required” texts – to get the ball rolling before tests and papers. I only had close to $100 to spend and, to make matters worse, drawing from this account would also eat into the monthly food allowance.
The battle of food for the mind versus the body heated up while I perused the bookstore’s cold and dusty aisles. First, I found one of the six books required for one of my English classes – a used copy of by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and “Civil Disobedience” for only $9. This was a fortunate no-brainer buy.
The bookstore seemed a barren land of useless academic tumbleweed until I located the only two texts I needed for a religious studies class on Hinduism. There were two piles, both glowing with yellow “used” stickers. One of the books was thick – 654 pages, to be exact – and was priced reasonably at $17.20. This, of course, was the book I bought.
Things looked good until I picked up the skinny book. I read the title, “Hindu Religious Tradition,” quickly skimmed through the 100-plus pages it had to offer and checked the “used price” on the back.
Twenty-six dollars and 90 cents.
This couldn’t be right. For $26 I could get my hands on painted statues of Shiva and Vishnu, or an unsavory plot of land in India. The tattered, battle-worn, 100-page paperback was actually priced at $26.90. I felt mind raped. After all, only a mistake could cause such an injustice. I scanned other copies for clues and found two that listed the book for $1 more. I took the conflicting copies to the counter for answers.
The nice woman smiled as she rung up the other two books and stared curiously when she got to the conflicting price tags.
“Is this price right?” I probed, “because it seems to be really expensive.”
“I’ll look it up for you.”
Two minutes later she returned with an answer. “Sir, it is actually the more expensive one that is the right price.”
My BS-detector redlined and I burst into laughter. Slowly the smile melted away and reality set in. I still needed this book but could not bring myself to waste $28 on a should-be $6 buy. Anger and fear set in, followed by a compelling sense to bargain.
“How can you justify this?” I was beginning to lose my cool. “This book,” I said while pointing to the larger Hinduism book that could easily swallow six of the smaller books between its covers, “is half the price of this little one and it’s huge.”
“Sorry, sir, the distributors are the ones who set the price.”
“Liar!” I wanted to scream, but instead held my tongue and bowed out of the bookstore quietly before I could do more fiscal damage. I left uncertain and baffled.
In the end, the stack of over-priced copies did tell a story. Each one on the shelf represented a scam that one of my classmates didn’t fall for.
Book distributors and store operators in college towns need to understand that in order to peddle their intellectual wares unto the future writers, businessmen, scientists, lawyers, teachers, researchers and critics of this country, they will have to offer more than inflated price tags.
Daily Nexus training and co-photo editor Ted Andersen is now more interested in the RBR than ever.