At the end of every semester, students flock to the bookstore to sell their textbooks and hopefully make a few extra dollars. Unfortunately for many of these students, the money they get back is nothing compared to the amount that they spend on the books.
In some cases, students get absolutely no money back for their books. With some students paying over $100 each semester for their textbooks, how is it that by the end of the semester their books are valued at little to nothing or not allowed to be sold back at all?
Nataly Garcia, a clerk at the University of Rhode Island Bookstore who is part of the team in charge of textbooks, is frustrated herself with the bookstore’s inability to buy every book back at a satisfactory price. She said that the buyback prices for the bookstore are already predetermined through a systematic process.
To even be considered as a book that can be bought back by the bookstore, the book needs to have a reasonable chance of being a required material for a course in the coming semester. According to Garcia, “[for] some books we can increase the price if we know [they’re] going to be sold again” the following semester.
Sometimes, though, there are only a specific number of books the bookstore can buy back from students before they become “no value” books. This number is derived from looking at how many of these books were bought for the class in previous semesters.
“We try to get as much as we can,” Garcia said, in regard to buying back textbooks. But the bookstore can only do so much. Many of the adjunct professors do not get hired until after the buyback season is over, possibly due to state-level regulations of hiring part-time staff.
Without knowing what books will be needed in the following semester, the bookstore cannot be sure if buying back books will allow them to be able to resell them in the following semester. In Garcia’s opinion, “we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place” in trying to figure out which books are required for each course in a timely manner.
In terms of profit at the bookstore, the only place where much profit is accumulated is with the new books- and Garcia said that even there it is very minimal. Garcia said that the bookstore usually goes below the suggested retail price for textbooks. And in some cases, the bookstore does receive a discount from the supplier due to their continuous business. But again, the bookstore tries to price books as close to the discounted price as possible while making a minimal profit, according to Garcia. Any profit that the bookstore does make goes directly back into the university for the students.
Garcia said that the URI Bookstore does not strive to make a profit, but rather to “break even” at the end of the day. It’s a very dangerous business, though, to give the best prices for the students at the same time as avoiding going into debt. The bookstore is different than other book retailers such as Barnes and Noble, in that it is institutionalized and is made to help the students as much as possible and give them the lowest possible price for their textbooks, according to Garcia.
English course books are the hardest, though, Garcia said. The online market is flooded with literature books that allows them to be sold at extremely low prices that the bookstore cannot match. Especially given the fact that the bookstore cannot buy back as many English books due to the fact that English teachers are more likely to change the books in their classes than a course that is focused around a large textbook.
The bookstore wants to help the students and provide material at a reasonable price for both parties considered, according to Garcia. In fact, the bookstore tries to be as flexible as possible for students and provide a more “human aspect” that they would not receive in other online sources. But that does not mean that everything works out in the end.
While there are some professors who are very flexible and try to find the cheapest textbooks and editions as possible, some professors do not and instead require custom URI books that students often cannot resell afterwards. Other professors assign books that are used either very infrequently or not at all during the course of the semester, but it should be noted that the bookstore cannot be faulted in such cases.