All college students are painfully aware of the high prices of college textbooks. Â While the bookstore can supply required books for classes, students complain that it does not always boast the lowest prices, prompting them to look into other options.
Websites like Chegg and Amazon have risen in popularity as college students are more and more willing to buy used books for their lower prices. However, URI students may be surprised to learn that the university bookstore is dedicated to helping students secure the best options at low prices.
“Part of what the store has been doing is trying to offer the customer choices because that’s what the Internet does,” said bookstore director Paul Whitney. Whitney has held his role as director of the URI bookstore for 20 years, during which time he has noticed many changes in the textbook industry. While a great number of students turn to websites like Amazon for the lowest prices, Whitney promises that “college stores are trying to do as much as possible to lower prices.”
Although professors tell students exactly which books to buy, according to Whitney, the market is all about choices. For the URI bookstore, this means offering used books, rental books, e-books and alternate out of print editions of more expensive textbooks. While Whitney points out that 25 percent of students purchase used textbooks from the bookstore, he also mentions that about 30 percent of students do not purchase books at all. “If a student can find an alternative method of studying and fulfilling the requirements for that class, they won’t buy the book.” In fact, freshman Dalia Jennings belongs to this 30 percent. “I found a PDF of an older version of the required textbook for my Math 110 class,” she said. “If more people knew about that, nobody would have bought the textbook.”
Part of the responsibility of lowering the prices of college textbooks falls on the shoulders of college professors. “If we can find out early [from the faculty] what the course material is, then we research the Internet ourselves to look to buy lower,” said Whitney. “If we can buy lower, we can put the books on the shelves for less.” Although many faculty members are concerned with the cost of course materials, some are unwilling to select older or out of print editions. Currently the bookstore offers between 80 and 90 out of print editions. While the bookstore strives to work with faculty to choose their course materials in a timely manner, students are still disappointed with professors’ roles in textbook selection.
“Some teachers post the required books online, and then you get to class and you don’t even need to use them,” said Shaina Gootzit, freshman. “It’s a huge waste of money.”
Despite this year’s large freshman class, business at the bookstore is comparable to the last few years. Although freshman sales are up and the first two weeks of the semester are the busiest with about 24,000 customers, sales volume and customer counts remain even with the last few years. Whitney also mentioned that the store “needs to be in a number of different areas of business.” These areas include not only the bookstore, but also Campus Copy, the convenience store and Ram Computers. All of these additions are necessary for maintaining a diversified retail model. In fact, Campus Copy is adding to its store a digital printing garment machine that will benefit from business from clubs and organizations that want to print group t-shirts.
It is important for students to recognize other areas on campus in which the bookstore is involved. When the bookstore makes a profit it reinvests any net income into project funds at the university. In the last five to six years the bookstore has donated over $4 million to financial aid, training equipment at Mackal, the Fascitelli Fitness and Wellness Center and other projects that benefit URI students.
The bookstore also provides clothing to admission tour guides and orientation events, and there are also several bookstore giveaways throughout the year. This giveback, according to Whitney, is the key difference between the internet and the URI bookstore. “Unlike Amazon, who may be saving an individual on a book, the campus store’s money is all on campus,” Whitney explains. “That’s the plus side to the campus business.”
Some students still feel ripped off when it comes to buying textbooks. Alex Pires, freshman, theorizes that the bookstore has a hand in offering books at higher prices. “They [the bookstore] jack up the prices on these books because they know that we have to buy them.” Whitney, however, argues that students have been making the same complaints for many years. “It’s always been that way,” he says. “The bookstore does not really control everything because there are so many different factors.” So while students complain about high prices, they should keep in mind Whitney’s words; “We concentrate on what we can do for the students, and let them decide if they’re going to buy from us or not.”