The price of textbooks an unpleasant necessity

The woes of textbooks; every semester with new classes comes a new list of textbooks, or as students often see it, a list of prices in the seedy parts of the three-digits. Even with alternatives to the UAA bookstore, such as Amazon.com, Half.com and craigslist, textbooks are not cheap. The average amount a student spends on textbooks is around $700, according to the National Association of College Stores. This, however, is not the fault of universities.

The textbook buying process begins with professors and departments submitting textbook adoption information to the bookstore. The bookstore then calculates the quantity it needs to buy, this is includes determining the amount of textbooks that will be sold back to the store from students finishing that class. The final number of textbooks is then ordered from wholesalers or directly from publishers. The books are then shelved by staff at the store and then taken down by students off to class. The remaining books not purchased are sent back to the wholesaler or publisher, usually at the cost of the bookstore.

“Textbook prices reflect real costs and a reasonable return on investment for authors, publishers, distributors and college stores.  The fact is the bookstore makes very little money or no profit on textbooks,” said Joyce Colajezzi, director of UAA Business Services.

The amount that is returned to the bookstore is about 65 percent of the selling price. The author gets 11 percent in royalties and the company that shipped the books gets about 1 percent. What is left is used to run the bookstore.

“The Campus bookstore is a self-supporting unit of the University of Alaska Anchorage,” said Colajezzi. “There are no general funds or student fee dollars needed or appropriated to the bookstore.”

This means that the bookstore covers all of its operating costs from that small percentage it receives after other parties take their cut.

“Textbook prices reflect real costs and a reasonable return on investment for authors, publishers, distributors and college stores,” said Colajezzi. “The fact is the bookstore makes very little money or no profit on textbooks.”

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There is a glimmer of hope for students lamenting over the expense of textbooks. Buyback, which the bookstore hosts, provides students an opportunity to sell their books back to the store. These books are then resold at a cheaper price if a professor or department adopts the book again.

“The bookstore will pay 50 percent of the new retail price for a used copy of a textbook adopted for the next term,” said Colajezzi.

Reasons for the bookstore not buying a book include: the book not being adopted again, a newer edition of the book being released or the book is part of a package.

The bookstore may still buy a book according to the National Wholesale Market Value, which is set by wholesalers. This price fluctuates; one student may get more for the same book than another student if the books are sold back at different times.

The price of a textbook is so high because of the specialty of the books. Since they are subject-specific, a general audience is not interested in the book since they are geared towards a more academic audience.

“While we understand that students are concerned about the price of textbooks, the real issue is not price, but value,” said Colajezzi. “When textbooks are integral to a course and faculty teach and test from the book, it is seen more as an investment and less as an unnecessary or forced purchase.”

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