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Saturday, May 8, 2021

Bartering for your books

Each quarter, students search high and low to find the various textbooks required for their new classes. In the textbook dance that occurs every season, there are costs to not knowing how to navigate the textbook marketplace. 

With a wide variety of options available, each student ultimately decides whether to rent, buy or borrow books and which locations to seek them out; however the choice can often be a difficult one.

STUDENTS SCRAMBLING

Tosia Ruvalcaba, a senior majoring in Spanish, started the three-year-old Facebook group titled “Buying cheap WWU textbooks” after deciding that textbooks have gotten too expensive. Ruvalcaba, taking matters into her own hands, looks at requests from students and attempts to find them the best deals online. 

“I decided why not help Western students not have to pay $300 for a book you can get for 10 bucks online,” Ruvalcaba said. “It’s actually really relaxing, a stress reliever — and the real reward is being able to help people to not suffer through having to buy really expensive books.”

Before coming to Western, Ruvalcaba attended college classes as a high-school Running Start student. She was faced with the high costs of college textbooks for the first time, and began learning ways to lessen the financial burden. She borrowed books from friends, scanned pages, used e-books and discovered an array of book-selling websites.

Abebooks is a website allowing you to sort through new and used textbooks, and is one of Ruvalcaba’s favorites, she said.

She keeps an eye out for international versions of books. International books are typically identical to the original but are often less expensive, she said.

“I think Western students do know about a lot of other sources, like Amazon and eBay. But there’s also a bunch of other sources that aren’t super well-known,” Ruvalcaba said. “A lot of times they just have so many books to look for and they don’t want to do it.”

Sanoosh Gamblewood searches for textbooks in the lower level of The Western AS Bookstore. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath
Sanoosh Gamblewood searches for textbooks in the lower level of The Western AS Bookstore. // Photo by Caleb Galbreath

WWU BOOKSTORE

Jaime Ross works as the textbook assistant at the Associated Students Bookstore, and said that she understands the difficulties many students face when purchasing textbooks because she recently was one.

“I love fighting with publishers, trying to get prices [lower],” Ross said. “From recently being a student, it’s liberating to say ‘I’m going to save everybody else since I had to buy expensive books.’”

Western is one of the only colleges that sets a textbook discount of 10 percent right off the bat, Ross said. Usually, she said, publishers are the ones who set prices for brand new books.

Ross said that if she finds an older book that’s in the triple-digits in the book store but much lower online, she can buy used copies and bring the in-store price down.

“Everyone who orders books online essentially gets first dibs,” Ross said. “All summer long people were buying them online, and then students come in on the first day and are upset all the used copies are gone.”

Only after all the used books are bought up will she go to publishers and ask for the new copies, Ross said. The bookstore is only allowed by companies to keep the used books for 60 days after the quarter starts — they must be shipped back to the warehouses to be made available again for other schools to purchase.

To bring down prices, the bookstore has several methods: buying used books, ordering them early and using a company called Verba, Ross said.

Amazon and other retailers can be inefficient and unreliable, Ross said.

So instead, the technology-savvy company Verba does “online sourcing” which uses price comparisons to find the cheapest books.  The bookstore can then order multiple used copies from Verba, which all arrive at the same time, guaranteed Ross said.

MARKETPLACE POLITICS

Ross said that Publishers are using access codes and loose-leaf books to ensure that they are no longer resalable. Doing this is their attempt to take over the option of students buying used books, Ross said.

Shogo Yoneda, a senior, bought his textbooks at the bookstore. He said he many of the books he buys for his major require these access codes, which adds an extra expense to an already expensive textbook.

In order for the bookstore to obtain the much-desired used copies of books, Ross said it must compete with other school’s bookstores as well as people who shop online.

The catch to getting the books first is the bookstore must send in their orders very early in a quarter, before all the used books are bought up, Ross said.

As soon as the “fall rush” is over, Ross will begin searching in October for winter quarter’s books.

“That’s part of the reason we ask professors to send in their books lists so early,” she said.

Freshman Brooke Stroosma also ended up buying her books from the bookstore this quarter because she said she couldn’t find what she needed online.

This quarter, her three textbooks costs were about $250,  Stroosma said. Next quarter, she said she will check online first because it’s the least expensive option she found.

Ross said the AS Bookstore offers a online price comparison tool for students, even though sometimes the online prices can be lower than those found in the bookstore.

“It’s counterproductive for us as a business, but we are the Western AS bookstore — we’re part of the Associated Students. My goal here is to help you guys,” Ross said.

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