Apr 23, 2019

Texting for textbook prices

Each semester, students must undergo the ritual of buying their textbooks—first locating the correct ones, then being able to afford them. With textbook prices averaging around $1,000 per student per year, some students are staying away from conventional college bookstores and looking online for better deals. That’s where AbeBooks.com comes in.

AbeBooks.com, the world’s largest online bookstore, launched a new text messaging service just this month geared toward students looking for a quick price quote on new and used textbooks. With a few presses on the cell phone, this information can literally be in the palm of your hand within seconds. It’s still too early to tell what kind of impact the new text message service will have on students, said AbeBooks.com Public Relations Manager Richard Davies. He said AbeBooks.com representatives will be on 30 college campuses in August and September promoting the new service, but Fresno State is not one of them.

“We expect the service to be well received,” Davies said. “Many students do not know how much their textbooks will cost until they walk into the campus bookstore because their reading lists do not include ISBNs. An ISBN allows students to conduct instant price comparisons on the Internet and you can be sure that you are always searching on the right edition of your textbook.”

The ISBN, or International Standard Book Number, is the 10 or 13-digit identification number that can be found on the back cover of textbooks. Davies said searching for a book by its ISBN was the most efficient method because including the title or author alone could bring up different or older versions.
Students can simply text the ISBN to ABEBKS (223257). A response is promised within seconds, indicating the lowest price for a new copy of that textbook at AbeBooks.com.

If the student then decides to purchase the book, he or she replies to the message by inserting “fwd” and their e-mail address. AbeBooks.com will then send an e-mail with a link to the company’s web site, where the student can place an order.

Davies said the text message innovation was an added incentive in his company’s overall goal of offering vastly cheaper prices and a wider selection than campus bookstores.

“Our textbook sales increase by 20 percent to 30 percent with each back-to-school season, and this is simply because prices in campus bookstores keep rising but prices are actually falling on the Internet due to stiff competition between sellers.”

A text message option for finding textbook prices was welcome news to freshman James McLaughlan, who spent $550 on textbooks from the Kennel Bookstore for the fall semester. “That would be my first option,” McLaughlan said of text messaging for better deals.

Junior Smitha Sunny, a bio-medical physics major, already makes most of her textbook purchases online via AddALL.com, an online bookstore search engine. She said she can usually get textbooks for half price or better from online stores. She said she would consider texting for price quotes in the future.

“Texting is more convenient and it saves time,” Sunny said. “I wouldn’t have to find a computer.”
Kennel Bookstore Director Ron Durham agreed that students can often find better book deals online, but cautioned that such shopping comes with more risk. He said that mistaken orders from online sellers such as eBay are often not refundable.

“Refunds here are the most liberal of all the CSU campuses,” Durham said of Fresno State. “Here, you are guaranteed the right book and the right edition.” This year, full book refunds run through September 10.

Susan Bartel, Kennel Bookstore division manager, added that customized textbooks are becoming increasingly common on college campuses. As a result, certain textbooks will be difficult to find elsewhere.

Bartel also said the bookstore now offers electronic versions of some books for only 60 percent of the cost for a hard copy, and that these versions probably can’t be found elsewhere.

The Kennel Bookstore is a private, non-profit organization. All profits go directly to the college, Durham said.

Durham said the bookstore is not to blame for high textbooks prices because all orders are made directly with the publishers, who set the prices.

Davies agrees. “People describe the textbook market as broken because the consumers have little power and the publishers can increase prices and bring out new editions at will,” Davies said. “The Internet is starting to level the playing field here. If students buy more books from the Internet, then the publishers will be forced to change their ways.”

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