Textbook 101: Low Stress and Low Cost Book Buying

Back to school once more, but back to budget spending? I think not. The latest trend among college students has keep them on their computers and away from campus until its time to hit the books.

And where are they getting these books from? Online, of course. More and more sites are beginning to pop up that offer everything from substantial savings on books to free shipping.

Online text shopping is not an entirely new idea, but with more and more people becoming comfortable with shopping online, this market is rising in popularity. With approximately three billion dollars a year in the college textbook industry, it isn’t surprising that new methods to increase sales and profit are being implemented.

The Companies

Not all dot com companies are created equal, and this is readily apparent in the college book market. While two of the largest booksellers on the web, Amazon and Barnes and Noble, do offer college textbooks and specials pertaining to their purchase, they are geared more towards general sales.

Efollett, eCampus, and Varsitybooks are some of the most popular and lucrative of these companies, and each handles the market with a slightly different bent.

Efollett derives most of its profit by integrating its storefronts into college bookstores nationwide, allowing for partnerships between colleges, and to augment the physical campus bookstores and take some of the strain of stocking the books.

The nature of the textbook market, costs typically run very high for both books and shipping, as a variety of obscure texts need to be procured from a variety of different publishers. Efollett helps to mitigate these frustrations by channeling all the books and shipments through a central hub of their own warehouse, and several of their partners.

ECampus allows you to both buy and sell textbooks through their site, but their goal is to augment the college bookstore, instead of replacing it. To help with this cooperative outlook, they offer commissions to the schools from students that use eCampus.

VarsityBooks seeks a more general approach to sales, offering books that are of interest to the college student, although their textbook selection is not as extension as some other online ventures.

Hooking in the Students

With fast shipping and vast discounts as compared to the campus bookstores, more and more students are investigating online alternatives to the often hefty costs of their textbooks, especially those non traditional students who often don’t have the advantage of having loans and scholarships to cover book costs.

Along with offering discounts on books, a variety of other merchandise can be offered, from school supplies to university paraphernalia, and a goldmine for advertisers to impart their products upon the, in general, younger set.

In having a virtual storefront, less support is needed for the physical book store, and this translates into more money for the university to (hopefully) spend in benefits for the students.

The Disadvantages

Some students are just not interested in purchasing their products online, citing reasons of security issues, or in preferring to physically see the books. Others just like meandering around the bookstore, socializing with classmates not seen since last semester, and picking through the normal variety of merchandise that litters the store shelves.

Also, there are always the horror stories some students have in dealing with online distributors. Either a beaten up, unusable book, the wrong edition, or an order several weeks late, complaints run the gamut, although this is not an issue that is isolated to just online bookstores.

The Big Picture

As more and more dependence upon relatively pain free ordering and shipment rise, the on campus bookstores will begin to be scaled back, forcing students to adapt to the wired world and campus. It’s not as bad as it sounds, though. Ease of distribution and a single shipping cost makes it easier to stock bookshelves, and there are many other ways for colleges to implement their online prescense into money making ventures.

So as summer comes to an end and you are looking into gathering up your textbooks for fall classes, take a look at what you might find online. From exclusive deals, to hard to find textbooks, you might even be helping your school out by ordering direct from the sites.

A Checklist of Things to Watch For

Matching the exact edition:

While sometimes you can get away with having the 1st edition of a book when the course calls for the 3rd or 4th, many times it ends up in missing exercises, or outdated information, especially in the case of computer books.

Condition of the book:

Buying used textbooks online can be a hazardous venture no matter which site you choose to go with. Make sure you order your books with plenty of time to spare for returns or reorders, if the condition if unusable.

Shipping Costs

If the shipping cost overshadows what it would take for you to purchase the book from the campus bookstore, avoid it. Most online bookstores offer substantial discounts or free shipping on orders after a certain amount, which, when buying textbooks, is often easily surpassed.

Shipping Time

If you, like many other thousands of students, like to wait until the last minute before getting everything taken care of, then you might not have your book available the first few days of class. For some professors, this is not acceptable. Make sure you leave time to account for shipping delays, misplaced orders, and as mentioned above, condition or edition of the book.

Explore all your options

If you have the luxury of time, compare both online and campus vendors to see if you are getting the best deal for your money. Factor in the costs such as time, condition, and convenience, along with the actual face value of the book. Also, see if there are any online vendors that link up directly with your college bookstores. Many times they have added features. The online prescense of my college’s bookstore allows you to see exactly what texts are needed for every course, along with the new and used book cost, and whether the title was available in the store, or if it needed to be specially ordered. This made it very convenient, and by ordering through their online store, saved me from having to burrow through the book shelves.

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