Online textbook trading organizations continue to struggle for business, even when increased attention is paid to high prices.
In May, a report by Congress’s Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance encouraged the use of book trading Web sites as a solution to high textbook prices. The committee also recommended college bookstores guarantee they will buy back books for a set price at the time of purchase.
New businesses have edged their way into the market, but have made little impact at GW.
“With the Web, it only makes sense that a portion of the sales are outside of the bookstore, whereas before they had a total monopoly,” said Jonathan Hakakian, co-managing member of Exchange on Campus, a site that allows GW students to buy and sell their textbooks, setting their own prices. In addition to textbooks, students can put up postings for housing, tutors and electronics.
Hakakian and Benjamin Havlin – both 2006 GW graduates – started the business in February 2006. Business may be steady, but it is not booming, the two said. They do not track how many actual transactions take place, but Hakakian said there were about 25 textbook posts in the weeks before school started.
Brenton Raymond, a sophomore, started GDubBooks last fall. The site works similarly to the Exchange on Campus.
“I’m a student like everyone else, and I want other kids to save money on their textbooks,” Raymond said.
Around 650 people are registered for the site, he said. Though many are registered, he said not enough people are buying books to keep the site fully functional.
“A lot of people are posting, but not a lot of people are buying,” he said. “There are not as many actual transactions as we had hoped for.”
He said big competitors are businesses that set up stands on campus offering cash for books.
“It’s really hard to compete with the green right up front,” he said.
Patricia Lee, director of the GW Bookstore, said book sales have remained steady even with the increasing prominence of alternative book sellers. Lee added that several factors prevent the store from giving students much money back when they sell their books to the GW bookstore at the end of the semester.
If professors have informed the bookstore of plans to use certain books during the following academic year, students can sell these books back to the bookstore at 50 percent of the book’s original value. If professors have not yet said they plan to use the book within the year, students can sell the book back for its wholesale price.
Lee said an increasing problem is the rising popularity of “packages,” textbooks sold with accompanying CDs or workbooks. These books can often not be sold back to the bookstore, she said.
Another problem, she said, is that professors are increasingly not ordering the books they plan to use by the end of the previous semester. Waiting to place orders for books makes it impossible for the bookstore to give students back 50 percent of the textbooks cost when selling back books.
Despite the often low return on bookstore book buy-back, Lee said students continue to use the bookstore because of its convenience and immediacy.
“We’re catering to the needs of GW students exclusively,” she said.
This article appeared in the September 6, 2007 issue of the Hatchet.