‘Bundled’ books contribute to rising Bookstore prices

Brett Mihelish
Montana Kaimin

Forking over hard-earned cash for expensive textbooks is becoming a problem for some University of Montana students.

Victoria Hull, a freshman, has definitely noticed the high prices during her first year at UM, she said. Hull purchased more costly books this semester than the previous, shelling out $160 more.

According to a report called “Ripoff 101,” written by the State Public Interest Research Groups, textbook publishers have increased book prices by 62 percent since 1994.

One reason for this increase is publishers who “bundle” books — or package them as a set — which irritates college bookstores, said Bryan Thornton, manager of the Bookstore.

Books are being packaged with compact discs and other related course materials, which tacks on a 10 percent increase, according to the report.

The book for Chemistry 161, for example, is bundled along with a molecular model set for organic stereochemistry and another book titled “General Chemistry: An active learning approach.” The three-item bundle costs $100.85 new and $75.65 used. However, there are no used books to purchase for the class and the books cannot be returned once the seal has been broken. And there are four more books that students can purchase for the class, bringing the total up to $207.50. Bundles such as these make it harder for bookstores to resell the books as used.

“Students are in a strange spot,” Thornton said.

With the high cost of tuition and other University fees, most students don’t plan ahead for the price of books, Thornton said.

“It’s like adding insult to injury — the total cost gets to be unpleasant,” Thornton said.

Hull said a fellow classmate had to explain to her professor that her assignment would be late because she could not afford the book the first week of class.

For students struggling to pay for pricey textbooks, Thornton recommended visiting the Bookstore’s online text exchange Web site. There, Thornton said, students can find a used book at a cheap price. However, the downside is the student does not know the condition of the book and the book can’t be sold back, he said. Thornton also said the Bookstore does put some books on the library shelves, but not enough for an entire class.

Some college bookstores participate in rental programs for students who cannot afford a new book. A student pays a fee for the use of a book for a semester and returns it in good condition at the end of the term.

But in order to do this, the faculty member has to commit to using the book for a few years, because the average new textbook edition is released every three years, Thornton said. UM does not offer the service.

“This was more common years ago, when universities weren’t as large and books didn’t cost as much,” he said.

Hull said a girl in her sorority bought a book on Amazon.com for $20 less than the Bookstore’s price.

That large of a difference can add up when buying a lot of books, she said.

On the Bookstore’s Web site, students can find a link to Amazon.com. Students can compare prices and even purchase books online from either Amazon.com or the Bookstore.

Shopping online can be hit or miss. Some books are cheaper on Amazon.com and others are cheaper at the Bookstore. “Essential Biology with Physiology” is priced at $90 new and $67.50 used at the Bookstore. On Amazon.com it is $96 new and $67.95 used.

Some prices don’t favor the Bookstore, but Thornton recommends only purchasing a book for up to 75 percent of the new price online.

Shipping books can take three to four days from Amazon.com and students have to pay to return the book. When students buy a book at UM, they can stop by the Bookstore to return it, Thornton said.

“There is no villain, just a weird cycle that has been set up,” Thornton said.

College bookstores’ prices for individual books rarely differ, Thornton said. It is the middleman — suppliers such as Barnes & Noble, Follett Educational Services and the Nebraska Book Co. — that cause used book prices to fluctuate.

“We are trying to find a way to facilitate the exchange of books from bookstore to bookstore, cutting out the middleman,” Thornton said. Thornton explained the system as follows, based on a $100 book:

When a $100 book is being used for the next semester, UM’s bookstore will buy back the book from the student for $65. It will then resell the used book the following semester to a student for $75.

If the professor doesn’t plan to use the book the next term, the sellback price at the end of the semester is $10. The Bookstore sells the used book to a wholesale store for $10. In return, the wholesale store sells the book to another university bookstore for $50. That store sells the book for $75 to a student.

Thornton said the number of books sold has not decreased with increased prices.

According to “Ripoff 101,” students on average will shell out $900 each year buying books. That is nearly 40 percent of the amount an in-state student pays for tuition and fees each semester at the University, according to information from the Financial Aid Office Web site.