We always seem to forget how much money we actually pay for books as exams, papers and projects fly by during the semester. This is true because when winter break rolls around, we are so pleasantly surprised by the “book buyback” myth.
In our distorted memories of the previous semester, a magical figure waits for us patiently at the bookstore with cash in hand. It absolutely needs textbooks and pays handsomely for them. It’s really the closest thing you can get to free money.
As Temple students, we know that this never happens. The ghostly book buyer is replaced by a tired, overworked student and the cash vanishes with the crushing line, “We can’t accept this book.”
Why not? It just doesn’t make sense to have a program like this when so many textbooks are not accepted.
Usually this rejection occurs because the textbook has been reprinted thus rendering older editions sold at the beginning of the semester completely useless.
Sadly, neither the bookstore nor faculty has a hand in the matter.
“What often happens in my own courses is that when a new edition is released, I assign the newest edition because that’s often the only one available to order directly from the publisher,” said John Fiore, professor of computer science at Temple. “I encourage students to find used copies of older editions.”
This is some good advice because the books do not change very much from edition to edition. I recently attempted to sell back an expensive book and it was rejected in order to make room for the text’s new and improved version.
According to the publisher’s Web site, the new version of the book has exactly the same chapters as my version.
“Textbook publishing is a business,” Fiore said. “Financial reasons may play a part in the publication frequency of many texts.”
While it may seem obvious that new editions equal more profits, there are some things that departments could do to get around the frequent changes.
For example, if professors decided to order double the amount of every other edition of textbooks instead of the current amount of all new editions, then more used books would float around for longer periods of time.
Over multiple years, this would give students more opportunities to buy cheaper used books and cash in at the end of each semester.
Until then, do some research on textbook publishers’ Web sites before going all in on the buyback lottery. You won’t need any luck to save a lot of money with an older edition.
Brendan McNamara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.