How the Internet is changing textbook buying

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The frenzied students, the long rows of shelves, the lines that wrap around themselves were all a part of a quintessential beginning of a semester for many students at the BYU Bookstore.

However, much of that is changing because of the emergence of options such as mybooklist, online textbook rental, ebooks and the BYU Book Exchange.

Tom Hirtzel, the textbook manager at the BYU Bookstore, said the ability to shop online has changed all areas of retail.

“Because the ability to shop online is what costumers across all levels of merchandise, not just textbooks, want everyone goes online and compares before they go into a brick and mortar store,” Hirtzel said.

People today go online and compare pricing before they go into stores, so the Bookstore made adjustments by implementing mybooklist last year, which is targeted to help students compare pricing.

The comparative feature benefits the university as well. BYU receives a commission on every student who goes through mybooklist and then purchases from an outside vendor.

“We prefer students go through mybooklist,” Hirtzel said. “They pay the same amount whether they went through mybooklist or not, but when they do choose to go through it and they choose to use an off-campus vendor of some sort then at least the university’s making a commission and it benefits the university. It doesn’t make any impact on the student in terms of price.”

The Bookstore also offers online textbook rental — a student rents a textbook online, then the book is shipped to the student and the student returns the rental to the Bookstore at the end of the semester during sell-back time — saving the student time at the beginning of the semester.

Another Internet trend in the Bookstore is is ebooks — an electronic form of a printed textbook. Hirtzel said the Bookstore buys ebooks based on the faculty’s requests.

BYU student Chris Hausberg, an English major from Eagle River, Alaska, said he used an ebook for a class once and it had its pros and cons.

“It was nice because I could carry (my ebook on my laptop) around wherever I went, but it was a lot of work just to get to a textbook,” Hausberg said.

A 2012 study by Student Watch reported some students prefer digital or electronic textbooks for different reasons — not having to carry a textbook around, having all the required materials in one place, saving paper, convenience, affordability, preference for the technology or recommendation by a professor.

However, not all students like this newer medium of book and would prefer the hard copy.

Jennifer Bullock, a communication disorders major from Littleton, Colo., recently used an ebook for a math class.

“I didn’t really like it that much,” Bullock said. “I usually like tangible books where I can see it and flip through it. Plus, looking at a computer screen for a long time makes my eyes hurt.”

Nate Nielsen, a pre-accounting major from Draper, said an ebook is not worth the amount it costs.

“I still had to pay for it,” Nielsen said. “So I might as well get something I can have in my hands, right?”

The last way the Internet has changed textbook dynamics for BYU students is through the BYU Book Exchange. It is a lesser-known service sponsored by the BYU Bookstore to help students connect with other students selling used textbooks.

Nate Austin and Tyler Cahoon, two BYU students, both said they had never heard of the BYU Book Exchange and they just go to the bookstore at the beginning of the semester to buy their textbooks.

The book exchange is similar to online classifieds for BYU students to sell and buy textbooks from each other. Students make a connection through the book exchange and arrange a time to meet on campus to exchange books. The book exchange website counsels students to use common sense about taking personal safety measures when meeting with strangers, such as meeting during daylight hours and bringing a friend with them.

Convenient or not, depending on the student, the reality is the Internet has and will continue to affect the textbook medium and buying experience.

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