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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    “Bold statements, weak action on textbook prices”

    Evan Lisull columnist
    Evan Lisull
    columnist

    Students are certainly feeling the “”impact,”” but it’s the same impact they’ve felt year in and year out: the dull thud of a $400 bill from the bookstore. In spite of all the polemics against the textbook industry and the lofty initiatives enacted by the Arizona Board of Regents, textbook costs are unchanged. Students complain about textbook prices so often that it’s well past clichǸ. However, despite the annual whining, no one’s taken a realistic approach towards tackling textbook prices.

    Truth is, market-based solutions will have a far greater degree of success than the interventions that have been tried so many times before.

    The Arizona Board of Regents put forth a valiant effort a few months ago, enacting all of the recommendations suggested by its Textbook Task Force. Passed unanimously, the resolutions were lauded by all of the local papers.

    However, a closer look reveals a largely ineffective set of proposals. Two of them begin with “”encourage”” – the legislative equivalent of asking “”pretty please.”” Two more are bureaucratic studies and reports. Others establish long-term goals – sorry, seniors and juniors – and pilot programs, with apologies to 97 percent of campus.

    In the end, they’re as effective as Vermont’s resolutions condemning the war in Iraq. They may be dramatic, but in the end they don’t remove a single troop from the field.

    Students are still paying the same prices and still waiting in the same lines.

    Many have found alternatives on the Internet. In 2004, 43 percent of college students were using the Internet to save money on books. That ratio has no doubt increased in recent years, as textbook prices have risen faster than the cost of living. While eBay and Amazon.com remain major players, this year Facebook Marketplace moved quickly into this market niche, combining college students’ favorite addiction with easy access to secondhand books from their fellow students.

    Yet, maybe there’s still a place for the brick-and-mortar bookstore. Turning the entire campus willy-nilly to the Internet to buy books would have its own problems. My first year just behind me, I can hardly imagine trying to navigate the Internet marketplace, on top of moving in and figuring out where my classes are.

    Furthermore, the bookstore is not charging higher prices just because it can. The ease of having all of your textbooks in a bag, ready for checkout, comes at a price. Online stores don’t smile and ask if you need any help. They aren’t five minutes away from your dorm. These value-added services come at a premium – and judging by the length of the lines, many students are willing to pay it.

    Maybe Bookstore Burn, much like First Test Burn and Intense Hangover Burn, is simply a part of living and learning in college.

    Or maybe not. The UofA Bookstore may monopolize the market on campus, but there are policies that could ease the pain of prices.

    The most obvious first step is to institute a realistic buyback policy. I don’t know whether to laugh or to scream when I am offered $1 for a book that I bought for $18, only to hear that they won’t even consider buying back another, $45 book. Is it any wonder that the bookstore is having a problem with ‘textbook retention’ when they offer such ludicrously low prices or refuse to buy the book back at any price?

    Online, students are quickly discovering that they can get much more back for their used books. The bookstore needs to buy books back at market price – or risk losing even more customers to the allure of the Internet’s low transaction costs.

    Really, the bookstore should embrace the Internet. There’s no reason that the demand-side benefits of easy transactions and quick information can’t be applied to textbook suppliers as well. An online network among campus bookstores – say, those at the UA, Arizona State University, and Northern Arizona University – would bring more books to students that need them, increase the number of available used books, mitigate textbook shortages and surpluses, and could potentially stimulate competition among the stores, leading to lower prices.

    Until then, the most powerful statement you can make in the market is to vote with your dollar. If you want cheap books, go online. If you’re looking for convenience, drop by the bookstore. But Bookstore Burn will be just as bad as long as there are long lines of customers willing to pay.

    Evan Lisull is a sophomore majoring in economics and political science. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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