A college student can spend upwards of $300 for textbooks in one semester. Why are textbooks so expensive, even when they are used?
The answer to this question requires knowledge of how a textbook price is calculated. Barnes & Noble College Bookstores, which owns two bookstores on Temple’s Main campus, has provided a web page that is devoted to explaining the components of cost for textbooks. The site, www.bkstore.com/temple, breaks down the components in the pricing of books.
The site uses a $40 book as an example. In that cost, the publisher receives just over $26, or two-thirds of the price. The author of that book receives only 10 percent of the price, in this case $4.
Other components of the cost include paying shipping, revenue given to the college, and employee salaries at the stores. These other components add up to only 24 percent, which is less than $10.
Temple University bookstore manager Mark Allan deals with the buying and selling of both new and used books all the time.
According to Allan, there are two ways that prices are set. In the first case, Allan said, a publisher gives the university a list of prices for books. If the price says $75, Temple University would sell the book for $75.
Under this method of pricing, Temple would receive a discount of 20 percent when they go to purchase other books and they would keep the savings. According to Allan, the money is then used for shipping, overstock and staff costs, as well as other areas.
Another way of pricing textbooks comes when the publisher gives a university their price but does not restrict the price charged by the university. This is the more common of the two methods.
Allan gave the example of a textbook that has a set cost of $60 by the publisher.
“I utilize the standardized mark up of 27 percent,” he said. “A $60 book will cost a student $80, an extra $5 is built into the cost to cover staffing and shipping, and breaking even.”
That 27 percent is a college bookstore standard, according to Allan, and not a standard for regular Barnes & Noble chains.
“Just selling new textbooks; it is very hard to make any money. Used textbooks are where we make money.”
When textbooks are bought back, they are bought back at 50 percent of the books’ cost at original value, and then sold at 75 percent of the original value. This is standard, according to Allan.
Allan said the buying of used books only benefits the student if that textbook is used next semester. If the textbook is not used the next semester, the university will hand a student only a small percentage of the original price paid for the textbook.
Allan said that late textbook submissions by professors is a reason for small buyback refunds and higher prices when textbooks are resold.
If the bookstore is only able to recycle the book, the student will receive market value. Also, if the book cannot be used on campus, students will receive the national market price, which is very low compared to the original price that students pay.
The reason the national market price is so low is because of the expenses needed by the national system to buy the books back. These elements include paying for shipping, cataloging the books, and storing the books before they are resold.
To combat the buying back of books by students, Allan said the publishers issue new versions of the textbooks to make older versions of the textbook obsolete. Dr. James L. Marra, a Temple professor and author of several textbooks, concurred with Allan.
As far as using new books for his classes, Marra says he puts the students and what they will get out of the book first.
“I review books,” Marra said. “I look at them and see how students can benefit from new material in the book.”
Marra also mentioned that in one of his classes, Introduction to Mass Media, he has kept the same book for three years. By doing this, students are able to buy books for that class used, saving them money.
“When I can find books used, I buy them,” said Temple student Jeanette Tessier.
Other students such as Tracey Suer were upset with the high prices of textbooks.
“Textbooks are over-priced and so are the used books,” Suer said.
Suer was upset about the profit gained by the bookstore and the lack of compensation to students when they sell back their books.
“They are making a ton of money off of them, but they are not giving kids any money for their books,” she said.
Both Marra and Allan agree that the publishers are the trendsetters for the high prices students pay for textbooks.