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Today's word on journalism

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

"Paranoia means having all the facts."

--William S. Burroughs, Beat Generation writer (1914-1997)

Textbook tips and tricks: USU upperclassmen give advice on shopping (and not spending $900)

TIPS ON BOOK BUCKS: Cami Clarke, above, couldn't find one book elsewhere so she bought it at the bookstore. / Photo illustration by Brooke Barker

By Brooke Barker

September 11, 2006 | It's the beginning of the school year, and that means one thing for most college students: money. Money buys housing; money buys books, which in turn further education to one day help students find careers.

Each year, the average American college student spends about $900 on textbooks, according to a 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office.

This small fortune is often paid by students heading into the campus bookstore with their class schedule and no idea of what exactly they're looking for.

Following the clearly labeled aisles to find required materials may be easy, but with a little effort some upperclassmen have been known to save a bundle on books.

"I have never settled with the bookstore price; there's always a better deal out there," said Nick Lambert, a senior majoring in physics. "Most people go to the bookstore simply because they're in a crunch and didn't get their books earlier.

Facts about textbooks

• A college store makes about four cents for every dollar's worth of new textbooks sold, after paying for expenses.

• According to a study by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Textbooks prices are rising twice as fast as the annual rate of inflation, but still not as much as tuition and other higher education expenses.

• Even with all of the emphasis on shopping online, students only reported buying 23 percent of their textbooks online, according to a fall 2005 Student Watch report. About one third of the textbooks bought online are through a college store's website.

• There are lower prices on college textbooks from foreign distributors because some U.S. publishers choose to sell their books to retailers abroad at reduced prices in comparison to U.S. college bookstores- and most of these foreign distributors are able to sell their books online at a discounted price, putting them in competition with college bookstores across the nation.

• 76 percent of students agree that used course materials are as valuable as new ones, according to a fall 2003 Student Watch report.

• Used books made up $1.9 billion in college store sales during the 2004-2005 school year- about 18% of U.S. campus bookstore sales.

• Used textbooks are normally 75% of the price of a new book. Prices on used books range from $10 to $80, with the average price being $40.01 according to National Association of College Store's 2005 Industry Financial Report.

Facts gathered from the National Association of College Store's Web site: http://nacs.org.

Lambert said he starts looking for books about a month before the semester begins, and usually saves $10 to $30 on each required book by shopping on the Internet.

"I usually get online and see what books I'll need, and then I compare sites on a spreadsheet to find the best deals," said Lambert. "There are a few sites I always hit."

Lambert often uses search engines such as Google to look directly for a particular book. This normally leads him to a few obscure sites as well as a few well known ones such as half.com, amazon.com and collegebooksdirect.com.

"You have to make sure it's a secure site if you're shopping on a lesser known source," he said. "Do your research. Check out the reviews of other customers."

Lambert says he's never had a problem getting his books in time for class, and always most of the time his books arrive ahead of schedule.

A Web site exclusively for USU students is the Online Book Exchange. It allows students to sell their books at a chosen price to other classmates. Students list the title, edition, contact information and asking price on the site- making it simple for searching classmates to find a match.

Most people who use the Book Exchange are able to buy or sell their books at a better deal than at the bookstore.

The site also connects those sharing majors, which can be helpful when it comes to knowing the secret to surviving that dreaded first test.

If buying books online sounds a little distressing or scary, there are several shops around town that focus on saving students money on textbooks. Jared Nye, a sophomore majoring in nursing saved $70 on two books by shopping at Aggie Books this fall.

Alternative bookstores in Logan such as Aggie Books and Beat the Bookstore promise to beat the bookstore prices on textbooks they have in stock. While the stores only carry high-demand books -- this may be a perfect solution for students still working on their generals, or an idea for when it comes time to sell books at the end of the semester.

"When I take the time to shop around, I can normally save between $50 and $100 on books," said Stacy Washburn. Washburn, a senior in early childhood education, was required to buy most of her books at the USU bookstore this semester because of the availability of her course materials, but wishes she could have saved money by shopping elsewhere.

Washburn said that she usually sells her books to friends in her major- which helps her make a little money, and her classmates get a good deal on books. Cami Clarke, a junior majoring in social work, ended up having to buy a philosophy book from the university bookstore this semester, after spending an afternoon driving around town looking for a better deal.

"They (the other bookstores in Cache Valley) told me that philosophy students tend to keep their books, and so they don't normally carry them," said Clarke.

She was able to get a good deal on another book, however, by sharing with classmates.

"The teacher said we only needed one book per group, and so we were able to divide it between five of us," said Clarke. Lambert recommends only buying a book from the bookstore if you're not sure if you'll stay in the class.

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