UBS works to cut textbook costs for GV students

Anya Zentmeyer

For both Grand Valley State University students and college students nationwide, the only thing heavier than all those books in weighing down their backpacks is often the cash they had to hand over to buy them. The management at University Bookstore hopes to lessen the financial burden students face when buying textbooks next fall through both new and continued efforts – many of which have already saved students $1.4 this past academic year.

For example, at UBS, the average operating margin for new textbooks rests around 19 percent, while many other college bookstores sell new textbooks around a 25 percent margin.

UBS has also increased the availability of used books, buying more books back from students, from wholesalers and online discount retailers.

“In addition to buying more books back from students – our primary source of used books – and textbook wholesalers – companies in the business of selling used book – we are also buying books online when we can find them at low enough prices to pass on a deal for our students,” said Jerrod Nickels, UBS manager.

The bookstore tries to pay the highest possible buy-back price for students’ books, working with other school’s buy-back programs for discontinued books, and has also been working with faculty to encourage them to use old editions whenever possible so students may not have to buy new copies of the latest editions.

“First of all, let me say that we understand and fully support the idea of academic freedom and the idea that faculty should be able to make their own decisions regarding which course materials to use,” Nickels said. “Having said that, encouraging faculty to use an old edition is sometimes feasible, particularly if she/he is teaching in a discipline that doesn’t reflect dramatic change from one edition to the next. “

Last year, UBS developed a program called Guaranteed Buy-back which lists both the purchase price and the guaranteed buy-back price for a textbook at the beginning of the semester, so students know what the net cost of ownership will be going into their purchase.

UBS is also introducing a new feature on their website for the fall 2012 semester – a product called GVSU Choose that Nickels said the bookstore is very excited about. The program will allow students compare the pricing on UBS’ website with book pricing from a variety of other online stores – including Amazon and some rental companies.

GVSU students can then choose to purchase the book from us or from a number of other vendors,” Nickels said. “We believe that our pricing is competitive and we are prepared to put our prices up against other online sources. This is a software package that a few innovative college stores around the country are implementing.”

Nickels said though UBS has considered the textbook rental model, they find it challenging to implement for a number of reasons.

The net cost of purchasing a textbook and selling it back at the end of the semester tends to result in more gain for students, and many stores are having difficulties retrieving textbooks back from students at the end of the semester, resulting in extra charges for students.

Nickels said rental programs create a need for both extra management and extra floor space – both of which UBS doesn’t currently have, but they plan on working up to in the future.

“Ultimately, we are hoping to design a rental program that is economically viable for both our students and the university,” Nickels said.

As for e-books, UBS is staying away from most of them for the time being due to rising pricing from publishers that Nickels said often creates higher costs for students in the long-run.

“In most cases, it was far less expensive for students to buy a physical textbook and sell it back at the end of the term than it was to purchase an e-book, which expires after a certain period of time,” he said, adding that he thinks the e-book market is still evolving, and eventually publishers will settle on standardized formats and more reasonable pricing.

“We’ve discontinued most e-books for the time being, but in some cases, e-books are available on the access cards that students already purchase for supplemental online material,” Nickels said. “Some e-books will also be available through college textbook publishers with our new online program ‘GVSU Choose.’”

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