College students are paying less for books
Aug. 21, 2017
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - While foot traffic is increasing at campus bookstores across the country this time of year, the amount college students are spending on course materials continues to decrease as rentals and digital textbooks provide budget-friendly alternatives.
According to the latest National Association of College Stores' survey, the average cost for 10 required course materials in 2016-17 was $579, down from $602 a year ago. Nine years ago the average was $701.
Despite the decline, college bookstores are still a hub of activity, including the SGA Bookstore at Slippery Rock University, which will operate with extended hours Aug. 24-31 to accommodate the annual "Book Rush," similar to what most retail stores experience during holiday shopping season.
"That's our Christmas; it's all hands on deck," said Joe Flynn, manager of the SGA Bookstore, which is located in the Smith Student Center and staffed with eight full-time employees and 25 student workers.
Flynn said the NACS survey matches what SRU is experiencing. Campus bookstores continue to be the top source for course materials, 82 percent, according to the NASC survey, rather than online sellers like Amazon, which has a 40 percent share of the book-buying market.
"We cycled past that trend three or four years ago," Flynn said. "The service aspect is what we're really concentrating on and staying on top of the trends and the pricing. The big thing we offer is convenience."
Students who buy from the campus bookstore are ensured they are not only getting the correct edition, but can return a book easily, especially if it's a rental and the student needs a better copy; for example, if there's too much highlighted text from the previous owner.
More than 60 percent of students surveyed by NASC said they believe it's cheaper to rent what they need, and 57 percent of students who rented at least one course material did so through their campus store's rental program.
"That is what students want," Flynn said. "We are staying current and we have an aggressive rental program."
According to Flynn, about half of the textbooks at the SGA Bookstore are rentals.
More than two years ago, SRU formed a Textbook Taskforce Committee to ensure that the institution remained compliant with a federal law that required ample time for the bookstore
to be aware of book orders so they can buy them from wholesalers at a reasonable price, but the committee also made recommendations to expand the textbook rental, buyback and new/used programs to become competitive with online sources.
"It's a win-win for everybody," Flynn said. "It's a win for us because we get the books cheaper and are able to pass that on to the students in the form of lower retail pricing."
Although the use of digital versions of textbooks are up 8 percent nationally, with 23 percent of students purchasing a least one digital version last year, Flynn said the move to digital textbooks is moving slowly. However, many students and faculty are sourcing free digital assets from the internet and downloading materials online, which is up to 23 percent from 19 percent, according to the NASC survey.
The trend of students spending less on required course materials does not entirely mean they are pocketing all their money. The NASC survey indicates that students spent an average of $506 last year on technology and other school supplies.
Four years ago, the SGA Bookstore added its Electronic Technology Center, where students can buy laptop computers, readers and other equipment, as well as make photo copies and purchase materials for presentations.
Students are taking advantage of resources and valuing customer service. The SGA Bookstore offers a Books in a Box program where students can reserve textbooks during orientation with a credit card. The bookstore staff pulls their books and puts them in a box so the students don't have to wait in line, thereby beating the "book rush." Conversely, students are also waiting until after a few class sessions have occurred to determine which books to buy. Both examples epitomize recent trends of bookstores providing better services and students becoming more savvy shoppers.
The extended Book Rush hours at the SGA Bookstore are:
-Aug. 24-25, 8 a.m.-6 p.m.
-Aug. 26, 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
-Aug. 27, noon-6 p.m.
-Aug. 28-31, 8 a.m.-8 p.m.
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