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Online or Overpriced: the challenge to getting cheap textbooks at Arcadia

In Uncategorized on February 5, 2009 at 5:24 pm

page5bookstoreAs most students know, Arcadia’s resident bookstore, Templeton Books, is located on the second floor of the Kuch Center.  For many it is a dreaded stop at the beginning of each semester. It is not unusual for students to end up spending upwards of $200 or $300 for text books in one semester. With certain books reaching into the triple-digits, many students are quick to point blame at Templeton Bookstore for the steep price they pay for their education. Templeton’s Store Manager Meg Lavan and Text Manager Lydia Whitelaw are not convinced students  are pointing their fingers in the right direction, however.

“We put a lot of time to get as many used books as possible,” says Whitelaw. Used books are often the cheapest option for many students, as they can often be discounted by 25% or more from the price of a new book. Whitelaw says she makes every effort to stock as many used text books as possible, but she can be limited by unavailability from Templeton’s owner, Nebraska Books, or by Arcadia’s professors not giving her enough time to order used books. “If we have an order from a professor we know what [used books] to buy back,” says Whitelaw.

Currently, Templeton books is on an extension of a five year agreement they signed with Arcadia. In exchange, Arcadia gets a commission on items sold at Templeton. “It’s a win-win situation for the university,” says Lavan of the arrangement. “Buying from Templeton is a way of supporting Arcadia.”

This sounds good, but what about the students already paying over $40,000 to “support” the university? Many students look to buying their books online to save some money. Not a good idea says Whitelaw and Lavan.

“You don’t know what you’re getting [online],” says Whitelaw, referring to the possibility that someone selling used text books might not send the book or send the wrong copy. Despite the potential unreliability of a seller online, it is hard to argue with the prices. Used copies bought off of sites like Amazon.com and Ebay’s Half.com typically sell for lower than the prices for even Templeton’s used copies. But Lavan is quick to point out what is perhaps the number one advantage Templeton has over its online rivals: convenience. “You get your book right away, no shipping,” says Lavan.
Despite the higher prices, Whitelaw and Lavan defend Templeton as advocating for the students by trying to purchase used and affordable books. Some students are slightly less convinced.

Faced with an increasing tuition and a general downturn in the economy, the last thing students want to shell out cash for are text books. While books are a necessary evil when going to college, spending on average more than $200 a semester on some high-gloss, hard-covered information seems a bit steep. Not surprisingly, most students hold little regard for Templeton.

“I buy my books online,” says senior Psychology major Courtney LeCompte. “I feel like the bookstore is insanely expensive, and if I can get a book for half the price online, then why not?”

Other students opt to buy from Templeton for its convenience and reliability. “I usually buy them at the bookstorejust because it is more convenient,” says senior Biology major Alyshia Newhart. For her, Templeton’s prices might be hard to stomach, but at least she knows she will be getting a quality product. Freshman Elementary Education major Becca Hayman is also wary of buying textbooks from the Internet. “I thought about it, but a girl in my class bought online, but she got the wrong edition.”  Both Newman and Hayman agree that they will probably continue to buy from Templeton.

What seems to be at the heart of the problem for both students and Templeton is the constant production of new editions by publishers. In some areas like Political Science or International Studies, it is important to keep text books updated so that they stay relevant to the subject. But how many new discoveries are there in the newest edition of a Calculus textbook?

Templeton’s Text Manager Whitemarsh says the only limit to students getting old editions is whether or not Arcadia’s professors request them. The trouble is that the publishers of these books often send new editions to professors free of charge to try to get them to use them for their class. The result is that students are stuck footing the bill for the eleventh edition of a book that might only be slightly changed from the tenth.

“The new editions are the biggest obstacle to getting cheap prices for students,” says Co-chair of the  Political Science Department Dr. Joan Thompson. “I encourage students to look for ways to get used books or pick them up online.”

At the same time Thompson recognizes that the topic she teaches requires her to stay up to date with current events. “I want to talk about [Sarah] Palin and Hillary [Clinton] in a class, so a book that is two years old won’t cut it,” Thompson added.

For now textbook buying will remain one of two things for Arcadia’s students: painful or potentially unreliable. It is almost certainly cheaper to buy used books online, but the quality and reliability of service is something students should be aware of. For diehards like Arcadia senior LeCompte, the reward is worth the risk. “If I have to pick between highlighting in a book and paying $50 to $100 more, I’ll take the highlighting.”

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