Most estimates show that the average college student spends between $800 to $1200 per year on textbooks. This cost has many students, parents, and even politicians, enraged.
“Textbook prices can be the difference between going to college and dropping out,” Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin said last year when introducing his legislation, The Open College Textbook Act. This still-pending legislation would allow schools to access to free online textbooks via grants.
Eastern students are just as frustrated about costs as their peers nationwide.
“I think it’s crazy how much books cost,” said special education major Corinne Smith. “I spend, usually, $300 to $400 each quarter.”
Senior Anna Welch agrees, saying, “Textbook prices are ridiculous. I think they’re just a big scam.”
Numbers provided by the University Bookstore show a huge amount of money earned in textbook sales by the publisher.
Last year, the university sold more than $2.5 million in new textbooks at both the Cheney and Riverpoint campuses. The store sold almost $1.3 million worth of used books at both sites.
While those numbers are eye-popping, the store is hardly making record profits, said director Bob Anderson.
“[For] a book that would sell for $100, $75 goes back to the publisher,” Anderson said.
That means the bookstore, on average, makes a 25 percent gross profit, before shipping costs and payroll are factored in. The bookstore also pays rent on the space it uses in the PUB.
When all is said and done, the bookstore makes a net profit of just 1 percent, Anderson said. Sometimes the store breaks even or ends in the red. If that occurs, it has to rely on reserves.
Unlike other universities, the University Bookstore is run independently and does not use funding from student fees or taxpayer money.
As more students turn to other stores and websites to buy their books, up to a third of University Bookstore positions are being cut or going unfilled to cope with lost revenue.
In spite of tough economic times, the store is finding ways to help students save money. This quarter, for the first time in the bookstore’s history, students had the option to rent textbooks instead of purchasing them. About 300 students used the textbook rental program.
The store is also testing a new program that allows students to download books for free from their website. It’s in the preliminary stages and titles are limited, but Anderson believes it is a step into the future.
“It’s trying to, from our standpoint, determine where do we go in the future?” Anderson said of the online downloading program.
He said that he understands students’ frustrations about book prices and insists the bookstore is not looking to make large profits.
“If we could give the books away for free, I’d much rather. There wouldn’t be as many people mad at us,” he joked.
Anderson not only worries about helping students access books, but also about the uncertain future in the textbook industry during these “unprecedented times.”
The constantly growing online textbook market may continue to put pressure on the bookstore.
Despite all of this, the goal of the bookstore will remain the same: providing students with convenience and affordability.
“We are the only place that will guarantee you get the right book. If you don’t get the right book, we’ll do something about it,” said Anderson. “There’s no reason to make bigger profits for us.”