Buy the book

With lines in the GW Bookstore winding down the stairs into the lower-level stacks, students are turning to online bookstores, which entice students with discounted prices, little or no shipping costs, and speedy delivery.

Web sites such as Varsitybooks.com, Ecampus.com, Efollett.com, Textbooks.com, and Bigwords.com are available for students to search for textbooks by title, author, subject or, in some cases, book lists provided by the schools. Many sites also vend other school supplies and buy used books back.

Junior Daniela Maestro said she was going to search online for her books before even looking at in the GW Bookstore.

I think the Bookstore is overpriced, she said. I spent $500 last semester, and I didn’t even use all of the books. Plus, (students) hardly get anything when trying to sell them back. Maestro said the Bookstore’s disorganization is another reason for her decision.

More than 50 sites offer textbooks. Two GW law students, Eric Kuhn and Tim Levy, launched one of the first Web sites devoted solely to vending college textbooks, Varsitybooks.com, in August of 1999. The site began with booklists, which included only five schools, but by the fall of 1999 it listed more than 300 colleges and universities.

Varsitybooks.com, one of the easiest sites to navigate, compares its prices to the suggested retail value to highlight savings, a tactic used by several of the sites. The site also lists all of GW’s academic departments and posts reading lists by course and section.

For most of the online bookstores, shipping is generally a flat rate of $4.95, and they guarantee shipping within three business days. Some sites, such as Ecampus.com, allow students to sell textbooks to others, while others, such as Textbooks.com and Bigwords.com, guarantee that they will buy back books at the end of the semester.

While Varsitybooks.com seems to have the largest selection, overnight shipping costs $17.95. Ecampus.com sells non-book products and offers an auction site, but was under construction much of this week and out of service.

Students using Textbooks.com are not able to search for textbooks by their universities, but it does offer new and used textbooks and on-campus jobs for students.

(Online bookstores) are a better deal with less of an effort, Maestro said.

Some newer, online bookstores have hired representatives to walk around campuses promoting their Web sites. Justin Roberts, a representative for Bigwords.com, spent the past few days at GW handing out bouncy-balls, fliers and coupons for discounts on orders. Bigwords.com offers 40 percent off the top 100 college textbooks and free shipping. A drawback to the site is of the seven departments listed for GW, only a few are complete.

According to Roberts, four guys in a garage started Bigwords.com.

We’re a company for college students by college students, he said.

Still many students prefer to shop directly at the GW Bookstore.

Online (bookstores) seem hectic to me, said sophomore Carrie Marsh. I feel like I would mess something up or not get my books on time.

Online bookstores are definitely giving us competition, but I think that we have many benefits, said Steve Duesterhaus, director of the GW Bookstore. The bookstore gets all of the information from the professors and we stock every book.

There are certain things that (online bookstores) will never carry, such as course packets (photocopied material prepared by instructors), said Duesterhaus.

He said it is difficult to determine whether online bookstores are taking away a significant amount of business from campus bookstores.

GW’s bookstore operates through the Web site Efollett.com, according to Duesterhaus. Efollett.com offers the same prices as the Bookstore and allows students to sell books back to the Bookstore at the end of the semester. A search of seven basic textbooks only turned up two.

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