Website helps students find textbook bargains

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A little-known website has made bargain hunting for textbooks easier by factoring in shipping costs as it searches online vendors for the best rental and purchase prices.

When users search for a book through thecheaptextbook.com, the site searches companies like Amazon, Chegg and others to see how much each one sells the book for. The most helpful feature of the site is that it bundles shipping costs with the purchase or rental price of a desired book, which eliminates hidden costs. Whatever comes up as the price is the full amount that users will pay.

By helping students save both money and time, the site’s owner hopes to keep students coming back to it semester after semester. There are no ads or subscription fees. Price-comparison companies like thecheaptextbook.com make money by collecting referral fees from retailers when they send a customer to them.

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Ofer Matan, owner and developer of thecheaptextbook.com.

Thecheaptextbook.com launched in August 2012 and had about 3200 visitors during its first buying season. Of those, 12 percent went on to make a purchase based on the search results.  The average savings for these users was 51 percent off the list price of their book, according to a press release issued by the company.

The website’s owner and developer, Ofer Matan, said that he believes in “making it easy for people to make decisions.”

The service handles all four forms of textbook shopping: purchasing new books, used books, e-books, and just renting them. It has a clean and simple design, and runs searches quickly.

Users will notice that the site lacks one thing almost all websites have—a Terms and Conditions page. The site is a side project for Matan, who is the CEO of DayJet Technologies, so he is building everything himself, one step at a time. He says the Terms and Conditions will be posted towards the end of the current semester.

Matan remembers how limited his textbook options were as a PhD student at Stanford in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was still in its infancy. Price comparison of textbooks meant “either going to the university bookstore or the used bookstore in San Francisco.”

Price comparison websites may be more helpful now than ever because of the steadily increasing cost of textbooks.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office examined the issue of textbook prices in 2005 and found that, “In the last two decades, college textbook prices have increased at twice the rate of inflation but have followed close behind tuition increases.”

Publishers explained in the report that a major factor in the cost of textbooks is the millions of dollars that they invest in product development. They said that developing high-tech teaching aids to accompany textbooks (like websites) is expensive, but they need to do it in order to meet the expectations of postsecondary institutions and remain competitive.

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