Penny-pinching university students are learning the Web can be like an electronic thrift store, and they're using it to purchase textbooks for less than half the bookstore price, finding the best deals at such sites as Amazon.com, half.com and Chegg.com.
Jerrod Nielson, a Southern Oregon University journalism student, found the fifth edition of his textbook, The Newspaper Designer's Handbook, on Amazon.com for $1.99. The SOU bookstore sold the sixth edition for $78.50. Nielson says the textbook, his first such purchase online, arrived in decent condition.
"Now that I've done it, I'll probably do it again — $1.99 is a pretty amazing deal," he says.
Grace Cartwright, a pre-med student at SOU, bought the 11th edition of Hole's Anatomy and Physiology for $93.65 on half.com, part of eBay. One of SOU Bookstore's most expensive textbooks, it sells for $246 new, $184.50 used.
On Amazon.com, you can purchase the book for as little as $102.90. On Chegg.com, you can rent the book for the quarter for $68.31.
"They (students) think it's complicated," she says. "It (buying online) has saved me so much. You just have to be really meticulous about it."
A survey done by student interest research groups shows that students normally spend about $900 a year on textbooks. Cartwright says she spends an average of $250 per year.
Textbook publishers, not the bookstores, are responsible for the big price tag, says Sayla Eisner-Mix, the SOU campus organizer for Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group.
SOU textbook manager Kristen Johnson says the bookstore markup depends on the textbook and the shipping costs. The markup on the anatomy textbook is 3 percent to 5 percent, she says. The bookstore also buys a copy of any textbook costing more than $100 to put in the library for those who can't afford it.
In 2007, the Oregon Legislature passed a law requiring publishers to tell professors the price of their textbooks and to offer the books separate from extra material, such as CD-ROMs and handbooks — a practice called "textbook bundling." According to a survey done by organizations participating in a national "Make Textbooks Affordable" campaign (www.maketextbooksaffordable.org), the items bundled with a textbook can increase the cost up to 50 percent.
Publishers frequently come out with more expensive editions that are not that different from old editions, Eisner-Mix says.
"Professors were not choosing the product and students had to buy it," she says. "They (the publishers) were coming out with new textbooks that were unnecessary ... like one calculus teacher said, 'Calculus has been the same for 1,000 years.'"
In 2004, OSPIRG joined the Make Textbooks Affordable campaign, a group effort by professors, students and legislatures to find cheaper solutions for buying textbooks. One such solution is "open textbooks," which allow students to download textbooks so they can either read them on their computers or print off the needed chapters.
About 19 SOU professors have agreed to support the open textbook program. Donna Lane, associate professor of business, is one of them.
Lane did her dissertation on e-books two years ago. She found that although many students grumbled about using e-books, survey results showed that most students appreciated having the option, and their learning outcomes did not change as a result of using an e-book.
Some students still prefer holding a tangible book in their hands, Lane says, but the price of e-books is persuading more and more students to use them.
Professors are now asking publishers whether electronic versions of the textbooks are available. Publishers don't mind providing an electronic version because production costs less, says Lane.
Teresa Beskow is a Southern Oregon University intern. Reach her at 776-4464 or firstname.lastname@example.org.