Buying Textbooks

While you might not have seen anything exciting going on in Queens College lately, I saw the exciting world of the market economy hard at work.

While you might not have seen anything exciting going on in Queens College lately, I saw the exciting world of the market economy hard at work.

On the surface, Queens College resembled a utopia-like campus in these first two weeks: students hugging one another and asking trite questions regarding their well being and respective summer activities (don’t deny it-you know exactly what conversation I am describing and you are guilty of having committed the crime of feigning interest multiple times), laughter resonating in the cafeteria, and people taking advantage of the beautiful weather by playing Frisbee on the quad. But, through my perspective, I saw the other side of Queens College. The dark side I am referring to is the cutthroat business of buying and selling textbooks. A highly interactive and competitive field, the textbook economy rears its ugly head at the onset of every semester. And almost all students will find themselves participating in it for all four years of college; I would venture to say that for freshman, buying the necessary material for classes is a rite of passage.

Before shopping, it is vital to first decide what to get. Some professors say that the textbook is optional and not necessary for learning the material that is tested. If indeed this is the case, it would behoove you to not get the book. The simplest way to save money is, after all, to not spend it! Furthermore, you only have a finite amount of space in your room dedicated to books that are required.  If you will not need it nor use it and it will just accumulate dust, such a purchase would be the epitome of a waste of money.

Another important decision when it comes to buying textbooks is to choose whether to rent or buy. Both have legitimate benefits and drawbacks. For example, renting enables you to return the book; this policy is a boon for people who have no interest in taking a class in a particular subject again, and will therefore not be stuck with the book at the end of the semester. Another benefit is, of course, that renting is significantly cheaper. The downside to this method, however, is that you cannot recoup the money you spent on the rental by resale and, in most cases, you are penalized for not shipping back on time.  Additionally, it is worthwhile to keep books that apply to your major because you never know when you will need to refresh your memory on the basics of that subject.

An example of prices listed on Amazon. While it might be tempting to rent simply because it is cheaper, in the long run you might be paying less by buying.

An example of prices listed on Amazon. While it might be tempting to rent simply because it is cheaper, in the long run you might be paying less by buying.

With buying, you have the security of knowing that this item belongs to you. While the cost may be higher, you can resell it and recoup some or all of what you paid. (Or if you are an excellent salesman, you can make a profit. For example, instead of selling it for, say, 75% of what you paid, you can rent it for 40% of its value for a semester. After renting it out for 3 semesters, you have already gained a profit! Then, you can sell it-granted for significantly less than what you originally paid, but nonetheless adding to your earnings. Who would have thought that a textbook could become a cash cow?)

Next semester, when more professors will be requiring the newer textbook, there will be a greater demand for my textbook. As you can see from the graph, as the demand increases (by shifting to the right) and the supply remains the same, the price increases.

Next semester, when more professors will be requiring the newer textbook, there will be a greater demand for my textbook. As you can see from the graph, as the demand increases (by shifting to the right) and the supply remains the same, the price increases.

Textbook editions also matter. Publishing companies update textbooks every year, but how different is the 25th edition from the 24th? Often it does not matter. Of course, there are always those professors who require the latest and therefore most expensive version, which unfortunately happened to me recently. However, instead of dreading the fact that I would have to shell out the full price, I looked at the positive side: at the end of the semester, I will have little competition when reselling the book because it is so new. With very little supply but a lot of demand, I will recoup most of what I spent. In fact, the New York Times a few years ago noted that students very often buy the latest and most expensive edition of a book, instead of an older, cheaper one, because the newer one will retain more of its value and will not become obsolete in the near future.

The markets for buying textbooks nowadays are extremely diverse, thereby giving buyers many options as to where to buy. The classic choice would be the Queens College Bookstore. The pristine condition of the books sold there does not, in my opinion, make up for the fact that the prices are retail and therefore exorbitant. Often you must place an order for your required material-you do not even get the convenience of immediately taking the book home. I was even speaking to a professor about the Queens College Bookstore and she said point blank “Do not buy from the Queens College Bookstore”. And she was not even an economics professor.

Canal Street is notorious for their black market of fake designer goods. The black market between students at Queens College, however, is much less structured.

Canal Street is notorious for its black market of fake designer goods. The black market between students at Queens College, however, is much less structured.

Another place to buy books is from fellow students. This market is essentially a black market, a term that often unfairly conjures up images of extremely illicit interactions. A black market is, by definition “a market in which buyers and sellers take place at prices that violate government price regulation”. Socially, unlike its definition and reputation connote, this practice is entirely innocuous and fully acceptable. To find people who are buying and selling, one can either search on Facebook for people publicizing what they need or, more simply, seek out the necessary books by word of mouth.  This type of market, while amorphous in nature, follows the economic concept of supply and demand perfectly: there is a supply of books that are no longer wanted and there is a demand for books by people in particular classes.  The benefit to this method is that the cost is often negotiable. Unlike in a store, haggling between the buyer, seeking the lowest price, and the seller, seeking the highest price, is common. Additional benefits include immediately receiving the book as well as hearing gossip about the class-a resource that no bookstore could ever provide.

The internet is a third sphere in which one can seek out rock bottom prices. On websites such as Amazon and Ebay, you can find your required textbooks at heavily discounted prices because they are used. The downside, of course, is that you cannot physically see what you are ordering and you do not know how long it will take to ship.

By joining Amazon as an Amazon student, you can get various perks including  free two day shipping, exclusive deals and promotions, and unlimited instant streaming. Buy beware: it is only free for the first six months; after that, you must start paying. If you want to take advantage of these perks without paying, you must be careful to quiz your account before the six months are up.

By joining Amazon as an Amazon Student, you can get various perks including free two day shipping, exclusive deals and promotions, and unlimited instant streaming. Buy beware: it is only free for the first six months; after that, you must start paying. If you want to take advantage of these perks without paying, you must be careful to quiz your account before the six months are up.

While the internet as a place to buy textbooks is an amazing resource that our parents’ generation never had, there is another new and developing market: E-books. E-books are on a tablet and are significantly cheaper than textbooks because they simply involve downloading. A boon to some while a bane to others is the fact that there is no tangible material to a textbook that is downloaded on a slim e-book. As of now, one cannot recoup what you paid for the E-book textbook, but it very well might be that technology will evolve soon enough to enable us to do so.

This information would have been helpful before you bought your textbooks, but do not worry: you will have next semester to apply this knowledge. If you are a natural businessman, then buying on the black market is for you; if you are comfortable always reading on a screen, the E-book textbook downloads are your best option. Whether you realize it or not, there is a great deal of business thought and consideration that goes into how you go about buying your textbooks. You look at things from a financial point of view and you do not even realize it!

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Published in: on September 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm Comments (0)


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