By Jennifer Davis
Textbook prices have been rising at double the rate of inflation for the past two decades according to a Government Accountability Office study. As BYU students are paying the big bucks for books, many are wondering where the money is going and who is to blame for the high costs.
“Studies show textbook prices have gone up twice as fast as tuition because of pricing structure,” said Brent Laker, associate director of the Bookstore, who retired on Tuesday after 35 years. “The price increase is initiated by the publishers. The bookstores are using the same formula they”ve used the past 10 to 15 years.”
The GAO report states that publishers are charging more for the textbooks due to the new CD-ROMS, Web sites and workbooks that come along with the books.
The publishers are also charging more due to competition between different publishing companies. Every semester a publisher puts out a new edition, they get 100 percent of those sales. If that same textbook is not re-published in a newer edition the next semester, they will only get 50 percent of sales. The sales continue to decrease, so the publishers put out a new edition in order to receive the 100 percent of sales again.
In order to keep prices down for the students, the BYU Bookstore administration encourages the faculty to keep the books as long as they can and to use the books they have required, Laker said.
Sometimes, however, new editions are necessary.
“We usually go with the latest edition,” said Lora Beth Brown, associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science. “In nutrition there are new guidelines, new research, it does tweek a bit, and we want to be up to date with the research.”
Brown said it would be a good idea to let students know when they will be changing editions, so that students have warning to sell books as soon as possible.
Submitting the reading lists early by the professors to the Bookstore administration is another way the Bookstore can order used books instead of new ones.
“Our faculty here are probably the best in the country at putting reading lists in early,” Laker said.
Although the BYU Bookstore can”t do much about the high cost of books, the buy-back policy of 60 percent is the best in the country, Laker said.
The Bookstore is also trying to cut back on expenses by publishing their own textbooks.
“We are offering a service to the university,” Laker said. “We have 15-20 books published right now. They are much less expensive.”
The Bookstore may be publishing some of the textbooks, but they have the same margin, so they are making the same amount of money from their own published books as the books ordered from the publishers. The self-published books are really just a service for the students, Laker said.
“If students sat in our office and saw what we try to do to keep prices down, they”d be amazed,” Laker said.
The Bookstore has to be really tight in operating the business. According to a graph published by the National Association of College Stores, college bookstores in general receive 10.9 cents for store personnel, 6.8 cents for store operations, and 4.9 cents for income.
The income for the BYU Bookstore is less than the national average.
“We are not at that level,” Laker said. “We are more between zero to two percent.”
Students have tight budgets as well, which is why they are trying to find different methods to avoid paying the high prices for the textbooks. Jared Davis, an electrical engineering major from Coral Springs, Fla. said he pays half as much for his books when he buys them online.
Laker said they are not against students buying their books from online, but they are buying from individuals, not wholesale, which is taking a risk.
“They take a chance in not getting the right book, not getting it in a timely fashion, in refunds and paying freight,” Laker said.
Davis said he”s had problems with buying books from online as well as problems with books from the Bookstore.
“I”ve had trouble with Half.com in getting refunds if the Bookstore listed the wrong class,” Davis said.
Teresa Davenport, a BYU graduate of 1996 went through much of her BYU career without buying her books but by using the books in the library.
“I thought the textbooks were overpriced and they were not as easy to buy them on the Internet,” Davenport said. “I couldn”t check out the books, so I would just study in the library.”
Another method students are using, which the Bookstore administration is discouraging, is buying the textbook from the Bookstore with the intent to refund it once the online purchase of the book arrives. The problem is students are returning the books, most of the time the used books, after the major selling time is over. After the major selling time, the Bookstore is stuck with the used edition, which cannot go back to the publisher or wholesaler.
“That”s an 80 percent loss because some student kept it out of cycle until sales are over to bring it back,” Larson said.
In order to combat this problem, the Bookstore has implemented a textbook refund policy. After the major selling point, 90 percent of the cost is refunded. After the second week, 80 percent is refunded upon proof of class withdrawal.
The Bookstore has also discouraged this process by putting up signs asking students to not ask for a refund if the book was bought somewhere else.
The Bookstore is also considering scanning student ID cards when textbooks are bought, so they have priority for buy back, but that is just being considered and wouldn”t go into effect for another year, Laker said.