Students eye book bargins

With the introduction of Colonial Cash this year, purchasing textbooks at the GW Bookstore has become even more convenient for students living on or near campus. Book sales at the bookstore have remained steady since August, even as students continue to turn to online dealers looking for cheaper book prices.

Students cited amazon.com, half.com and TexbookX.com as popular Web sites for book hunting. On some sites shoppers purchase new books, but on other sites buyers trade with others and get used books.

“I was able to get my (statistics) book for almost half price,” said junior Mark Swartz, who used bookcentral.com this year. “It was supposed to be $110 at the bookstore and it was $66 online.”

With GW Bookstore prices ranging from $3 for a used paperback book to more than $150 for new textbooks, some students said they look for less expensive options. Nationally, students spend about $730 to $800 per academic year on books, or $365 to $400 per semester, according to the National Association of College Stores. But several GW students said they spend more than the national average, which has led some to turn to online retailers.

“Last semester I spent just over $500 on my textbooks,” freshman Michael Ryan said. “It was a lot of money to be spending on books.”

Pat Lee, general manager of the GW Bookstore, said eFOLLETT – which owns hundreds of bookstores including GW’s – has a national pricing structure but declined to comment on how the company determines textbook prices.

However, Lee said buying textbooks at the bookstore has advantages such as timeliness, customer service and a large selection.

“We have a huge amount of titles,” she said. “At GW in particular we have more than 5,000 titles. (Web sites) are not going to carry every title.”

Several GW students noted the benefits of shopping at the Marvin Center.

“I buy my textbooks at the bookstore,” sophomore Gregg Sokoloff said. “It’s just the easiest and most convenient way, and I know that they will usually have the books I need.”

According to a fall 2002 study by Student Watch, a market research branch of the National Association of College Stores, 3.5 percent of students regularly shop for textbooks online.

“Psychology: 7th Edition” by Carol Tavris and Carole Wade sells for $73 at the GW Bookstore, while on half.com it costs $55 and on TextbookX.com it costs $86.90. “Finite Mathematics: Third Edition” is almost twice as much at the GW Bookstore as on half.com.

Cliff Eweritt, vice president of public relations for eFOLLETT, said the company specifically caters to students’ needs, and he is not concerned about competition from online dealers.

Half.com and TextbookX.com operate on an exchange basis, by which students can only buy textbooks after selling old textbooks online.

Students have a new option for purchasing books this semester – the Web site booksoncampus.com. GW is one of nine nationally participating universities. The Web site allows students to buy and sell books on their own campus.

While the GW Bookstore will buy back old textbooks, it gives customers cash for their books rather than credit used to buy other books in the GW Bookstore.

“We give students half price on most books, provided we have a need for that book,” Everitt said.

He said eFOLLETT then sells used books at 20 percent to 30 percent of their original price.

Students only interested in selling their books are not limited to Web sites or the GW Bookstore. Jason Brewer has been buying textbooks from GW students for the past five years. Twice a year Brewer takes off two weeks from his work, drives to GW from his home in Maryland and sets up his truck on H Street.

“You bring me your books, the computer tells me what price to buy them at and I give you money,” he said.

Hooked up to a laptop computer that determines the price of textbooks based on the supply and demand of that book at area bookstores, Brewer gives students cash for their textbooks and then sells the books to local stores. He said he receives 10 percent of the sales.

Brewer said online book dealers have hurt his business. He also said that while he tries to stay competitive with the GW Bookstore, he cannot always offer the best deals.

“If I know that the bookstore is (going to) be paying more for a book, I’ll tell you,” he said. “I suggest that people price them here with me, price them at the bookstore and then take whichever one will give you the better deal … but if you don’t care, bring them to me.”

-Elizabeth Chernow contributed to this report.

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