The textbook hunter’s dilemma: new or used?

Big, heavy and costly. No, not your newly-fixed Xbox. While it may be sunny, with classes the last thing on your mind, textbook hunting soon begins again.

Each semester students flock to the bookstore to capture their knowledge-filled prey at high prices. But what about those free-range hunters — students that try to save a few bucks by searching out alternatives to new textbook prices? Do these students really save money by looking at other options?

University of Calgary Bookstore manager Brent Beatty offered an inside look at prices for used books.

“We sell used textbooks at 75 per cent of the listed price without GST,” Beatty said. “By using the bookstore to buy your books, you ensure you get the correct edition and the lowest possible price.”

When a student finishes ravaging their books at the end of a semester, the bookstore runs a book buy back program. They offer 50 per cent of the new book price for books that will stay on campus, 30 per cent for books destined for one of 22 partner campuses and 10-30 per cent for books sent to U.S. wholesalers.

“[The bookstore] also provides online classifieds where students can put up their own price if they don’t agree with the buy back price,” Beatty explained. Currently, there are 8,204 listings.

Beatty said that though the bookstore pays students 50 per cent of the new book price through the book buy back program, they charge the 75 per cent to “offset the cost of book buy back staff, credit card transactions and other expenses” using a cost recovery model.

The bookstore also offers a book loan program which was recently expanded to 40 students in financial need. This program loans a qualified student all textbooks needed for all four semesters.

Another popular book-hunting spot is Bound & Copied, the Students’ Union-run used bookstore. Students can set their own price and consign books over to Bound & Copied. If your book is bought to educate another, you get back 75 per cent of the consigned price. The store also accepts books that the buy back program turns away. And while the wait is longer, the money you receive could be more than the instant cash from the bookstore.

However, many students hesitate before considering Bound & Copied.

“I have never consigned a book before, mainly because I’ve heard that it can take quite a while for your textbook to be picked up,” said third-year biomedical sciences student Syeda Ahmad. “Also, I’m not entirely sure how to go about [consigning].”

Haley Macleod, a third-year combined business and science student, agreed.

“Consigning books probably would get you more money than the regular bookstore, but you have to wait a while and don’t have a guarantee your books are sold.”

Many seem to prefer underground textbook exchanges to the traditional bookstore route, where students find friends or friends of friends in an extended, informal network to trade, lend or sell text books.

“Selling books to friends is just so much easier than most other options,” said Macleod. “I already know which of my friends are taking classes, and if I approach them we both win.”

Another option is to sell online through websites like eBay or Amazon, though these routes aren’t always popular.

“Amazon and eBay make me nervous,” Macleod said. “If I’m buying a textbook, I want to see it before I pay for it so that I know exactly what I’m paying for.”

Amazon and eBay are fairly easy to navigate — they both list new and used prices of the same product, though Amazon notes the edition and publishing date.

A growing option is a Facebook group called University of Calgary Textbook Centre. Boasting 2,676 members, students can place ads to sell books, search by class, department and latest posts. Asking prices are usually 40-50 per cent less than the university’s bookstore used price.

“On [the Textbook Centre group], it has been easy to come to a mutual and fair agreement,” Ahmad said. “It’s really convenient to take five minutes out of your day and meet the buyer.”

Macleod also recommended the Facebook group.

“I find it to be better organized than other online sources, so if you are looking for something you don’t have to hunt around. I’ve found some really great deals through that.”

For students preying on cheap textbooks, there are many hunting grounds available, from the university’s bookstore and Bound & Copied, to online and underground services. But the root of the problem remains: why are textbooks so costly? It is a problem that new Students’ Union vice-president academic Alyssa Stacy plans to address during her term.

“High textbook costs is a major problem for U of C students,” said Stacy. “The Canadian price is usually 15.51 per cent higher than the U.S. price, and students typically spend $1,100 per year just on books. I plan to keep the value of textbooks, but cut the costs.”

Stacy hopes to reestablish the Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials lobbying group that fell to the sidelines last year. CRAM tried to bring student representatives and publishers together, but textbook companies weren’t interested.

“I’m quite realistic and plan to work on an internal level by promoting awareness of the cost issues to publishers,” said Stacy, “but also promote campus knowledge of the resources that are already offered.”

However, encouraging students to use available resources may not be enough.

“Even if I lose a bit of profit, I feel like it’s worth it if I am supporting ‘underground’ textbook exchanges,” said Macleod.

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