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Web sites compete with bookstore prices

Beep…$39.45…beep…$103.65…beep…$169.85…beep…$214.80…

The University Bookstore’s cash registers are ringing in the spring semester one textbook at a time, but some students have decided to go a different route.

Wishing to avoid the hefty price tags, they have decided to shop at online used book retailers such as Half.com and Amazon.com, which were referred to as the “Napsters of the book industry” in a recent New York Times article.

Basic economic theory declares that as the number of firms selling textbooks increases, prices will go down due to competition.

While both Amazon.com and Half.com are notorious for keeping their seller information private, a cursory glance at either of the sites indicates that the number of textbook sellers is in the thousands, at least.

Those sellers can be anyone, from large used textbook distributors to college students wishing to get rid of unwanted textbooks.

Unlike brick-and-mortar textbook retailers, the students can set whatever price will get rid of their textbooks quickest. The result? Significant savings.

For instance, “The Scott Foresman Handbook for Writers,” a book used in several English courses across campus, sells for $42 used at the University bookstore. That same edition can be found for $36.25 with shipping included on Half.com; however, last year’s edition, which has essentially the same information, sells for only $12.65 — a savings of 60 percent or $29.

That is why senior Justin Fujka attempts to purchase all of his books online.

“The only reason I buy books online is to save money,” he said. “I’ve never had a bad experience buying them, but sometimes it can be hard to find all the ones I need.”

Maureen Ireland, the assistant director of the University Bookstore, often cites that as one of the many services they offer that online retailers do not.

“It is our commitment to get every piece of course material that the teacher wants,” she said, “So it might be chemistry and they also have to get the little kits they put together, the goggles and all that. We’ll carry everything that professor needs to have his class be successful.”

Student Book Exchange manager Steve Donnelly is not worried either. He said the Internet has not affected his sales very much, and he does not expect it to get worse anytime soon.

“Still, the most convenient thing to do, I think, is to go to the store, find all your books used, buy them at once. Get it all done. You don’t pay freight. Returns are easy to do. Get it out of the way,” he explained, later reiterating the ability to make easy returns, which is more difficult to do with online sellers.

Ireland could not agree more.

“Those are individual sellers who are sitting in their basements. What you can get from us is a guarantee that the book is in good condition … We’ll take care of any kind of problem with it. We don’t charge shipping and handling fees,” she said.

Ireland also wanted to remind students that they can avoid the lines at the University bookstore by ordering their books through MyBSGU.

Students ordering on that web site also receive priority access to used books, she said.

So while online textbook retailers may have the better price, Ireland and Donnelly contest they provide the better service.

“After all,” Ireland said, “some people are lucky and some people are not. I personally bought a used video game that came crushed in the mail and there was nothing I could do about it.”

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