As the only on-campus source for textbooks, overused “Scarface” posters and bad acoustic guitars, the University Bookstore plays a major role in the life of many students. Knowing perfectly well that its ink supplies and free (after spending over $100) teddy bears keep countless first-year students emotionally intact, the bookstore nevertheless continues to provide a lackluster service to those who rely on its resources.
In this economically fragile time, the last thing students wanted to do was come back from the escape of winter break to spend $300 on textbooks for the new quarter. Yes, many, if not most, students charge their textbooks to their parents. But for those who cannot afford that luxury, the inflated prices publishers place on these books is often too much to handle. Which is why many turn to other sources for their textbooks, such as online marketplaces like Amazon or Uloop, where the middleman is essentially cut out and texts can be found for half the price you would pay at the UCSB Bookstore.
Still, the convenience of walking into the UCen and leaving 10 minutes later with all your books for the quarter in hand is quite appealing. Mark Beisecker, the Bookstore Director, is well aware of this convenience factor, which he admits is chief among the reasons why students keep purchasing books at his store.
“There’s also the guarantee that we have the book, and that it’s what the professor wants,” he adds. “You don’t have that guarantee online.”
His point is valid. Although, by saving so much money online – one quarter I saved nearly $100 by purchasing only through Amazon’s marketplace – I’ll take the risk of not getting exactly what the professor wants. According to Beisecker, the UCSB Bookstore gets no money from the state, and no subsidies. “We’re self-sustaining,” he explains. Yet, when the store is selling one inch-thick books like The Atlantic Slave Trade for $43, it’s difficult not to point fingers at the place. And to add insult to injury, the bookstore has changed its return policy, giving students less than five days from the start of the quarter to return their books. Beisecker doesn’t see this as an issue, given that other bookstores, such as that of Santa Barbara City College, have no return policy at all. Though by bringing up SBCC, Beisecker is really just deflecting the issue, not confronting it.
For people like myself who make a habit of crashing classes, it’s difficult to know what books I’ll need until, at best, midway through week two. Sure you could just wait. But by the time you get around to buying the books, there will be no used ones left and then you will be forced into shelling out even more money to the bookstore. So instead, you buy the damn things and hope that you can at least make some cash at the end of the quarter through the bookstore’s famous BuyBack program. This is where the real fun begins. For those of us who used Daddy’s money to buy the books – begrudgingly, I admit I fit into this category – we collect our cash and make a nice net profit. Meanwhile, the students who are working their way through college line up with their stack of books as some gray-haired guy with a laptop tells you your 15 books are worth a whopping $24.73. Is this a slap in the face to a student body that is already being swindled by a bunch of publishing giants?
“It’s depressing,” admits Beisecker.
It might be depressing for some who know what their books are actually worth, joyous for others looking to make quick cash, and just plain ludicrous to those laughing on the outside looking in. And while there really is no reason to have a middleman in this 21st century, Internet-driven society we live in, for the time being, it’s unrealistic to expect any major changes in the way the bookstore operates.
All of this is not to say that Beisecker is a bad guy. He seems genuinely concerned about the students, while acknowledging that the bookstore has received its fair share of criticism.
“I know we’ve got a black eye,” he says. “But we’re here to do the best we can.”
If the best he can is employing a friendly, attractive staff, and having textbooks – which are said to have the lowest profit margin in the entire store – available to students when they need them, then the bookstore is doing fine. On the other hand, if allowing themselves to be manipulated by publishers who set ludicrous prices on their textbooks, and selling UCSB sweatshirts with uninspired designs for $45 is the best they can do, then they’re failing miserably. I’d love to show more school pride, but for $45 I’d rather buy a round of Patron shots at Tonic.
Daily Nexus Opinion Editor Adam Wenger loves Bri.