A universal complaint among college students is the pricing of textbooks.
Each quarter, students have a variety of options for purchasing textbooks. Whether looking for used or new books, students can bargain hunt over the Internet or face long lines at the UCSB and Isla Vista bookstores. Despite the increasing use and popularity of the Internet to purchase textbooks, neither the UCSB nor Isla Vista bookstores have seen any drop in sales. With Fall Quarter now more than two weeks in session, the majority of students have already purchased their textbooks. However, the best option for the price-conscious student is still unclear.
ScrewTheBookStores.com is a recent venture into the college textbook industry. The site was created in 2001 by Ben Wilson and Kirk DeClark, recent graduates who were “screwed” by bookstores throughout their college careers. The site is an online book exchange where students can post their book offerings and have other students contact them directly to make offers.
Wilson graduated from Cal Poly in 2002 as a business marketing major, and DeClark graduated from UC Davis in 2001 as an economics and communication major.
“Since the exchange is made in person, there is very little risk to the buyer because he/she can physically inspect the book before forking over the money,” Wilson said.
At present, Wilson said there are 7,852 current student book listings, 1,796 of which are from the UCSB campus. The services offered by the site are free, but with the addition of an advertising campaign, a small-scale fee of $2-3 per transaction will go into effect in a few months.
“Posting and selling a book will remain free, and we will collect our fee from the buyer upon each successful transaction,” Wilson said.
Wilson said that perhaps the key to ScrewTheBookStores.com and its future is its name.
“We have received a lot of feedback from our users that our name is what made our flyers stand out from the bulletin board clutter and provoked them to visit our site and tell their friends about it,” Wilson said.
Wilson said all expectations for the first year were exceeded.
“In less than a year, we have become the largest student-to-student textbook exchange in California, and we are growing fast,” he said.
Students also have the option of visiting StudentMarket.com. The site was founded in 1995 as the first national book exchange, but the idea did not catch on immediately.
“More people were interested in buying books than selling. The concept was too new in 1995,” said Oren Milgram, Director of Student Affairs at StudentMarket.com.
Shortly thereafter, StudentMarket.com dropped the book exchange program and went on to develop a free online comparison shopping service.
“Instead of shopping at different book sites to compare textbook prices, StudentMarket.com’s service compares new and used textbook prices among several competing online bookstores, thus saving students time and money,” Milgram said.
Several listings are given for books, with the entries indicating whether the book is used or new. Among the various sites given are Amazon.com, Half.com, Powell.com and ClassBook.com. StudentMarket.com also offers a variety of products for students, including software and magazine subscriptions.
Internet-challenged students can explore the more traditional venues in their quest for textbooks. The Isla Vista Bookstore has been in operation since 1965 and offers a large selection of mostly used but also new books.
“We stress specializing [in] used books; those are the ones that go the quickest and are desired the most,” Assistant Manager Keven Moriaine said. The I.V. Bookstore has a current guarantee to match any UCSB Bookstore price.
“When people scream about prices, it’s not usually the bookstore, but the publishers,” Moriaine said. “Basically we’re a middleman here. We have only so much control.”
The most common venue for purchasing textbooks by UCSB students is the UCen bookstore. Beside school supplies and clothing, the UCSB Bookstore offers new and used textbooks for all classes offered on campus.
“All bookstore revenues left over after expenses go to support the University Center, so it isn’t like the store is some business designed to generate a profit for some company,” UCen Bookstore Manager Ken Bowers said.
Bowers said the bookstore carries about 2,400 titles each quarter.
“No other bookstore offers as many books, new and used, for UCSB classes as we do,” Bowers said. “Bookstores are often targeted for criticism because most students have no context for textbook prices. Most of our students arrive at UCSB never having had to pay for textbooks, so they often think they should be free. Beyond that, publishing companies have increasingly raised the prices of key textbooks to meet their needs and high production costs. Not only is the student paying for the production costs of the books, they are covering the publisher’s speculation costs for books that did not sell.”
In a comparison of prices for David G. Myers’ Psychology, a textbook required for Psychology 1, ScrewTheBookStores.com came out on top with a range of prices from $20-$70, although none of the listings were from UCSB and all were used books. Normally priced new at $98.70, the UCSB Bookstore offered a new edition at $92.65 and the I.V. Bookstore had a price of $91.45. Comparison shopping on StudentMarket.com revealed a variety of options – the lowest price for a used version, with shipping included, came out to $70.16 from ClassBook.com. However, a used version may be the incorrect edition since the edition required for Psychology 1 came out just this year.
A comparison of prices for Odyssey by Homer, translated by Stanley Lombardo, also had varying prices, with used versions coming out on top. Both the UCSB Bookstore and the I.V. Bookstore offered Odyssey used for $7.45 and new at $9.95. The cheapest offering found on StudentMarket.com was $8.00. ScrewTheBookStores.com had one copy offered by a UCSB student for $7.00.
Undeclared sophomore Brittany Urban used ScrewTheBookStores.com to sell her textbooks before the start of the Fall Quarter.
“I think the bookstores screw you over. Most people don’t even read their books anyway. I sold a lot of books; everyone [who bought them] was from here,” Urban said. “You make a lot more and you get books a lot cheaper.”
Senior computer science major John Katirciglu also used ScrewTheBookStores.com to sell his used books.
“Most calls were from other campuses, so I wasn’t able to get back to them, but I sold them my junior year and I’m a senior now,” Katirciglu said. “It’s better when you are a freshman and have books for GE courses.”
Bowers said bookstores are not out to “screw” students.
“They are here to make sure that every student has the things they need for a successful experience at UCSB,” Bowers said. “That means that virtually every book, notepad, type of paper, general book, etc. that a student might need to get on campus for convenience. No other source can match the convenience and selection of required items.”
Moriaine said despite the online competition, I.V. Bookstore is here to stay.
“We are in a good location. We cater to certain people,” Moriaine said. “All we can do is buy used books year-round.”