Opinion: Don’t buy textbooks

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New semesters always come with a long checklist of expenses for students. Paying tuition makes sense and could certainly be worse when BYU is one of the most affordable universities in the country. Paying for housing also makes sense, even if Provo landlords and parking can be unbearable.

Still, there is one major expense that has never made any sense to me: textbooks. Students likely know this ordeal well — you head to the BYU Store and search high and low for an American Heritage textbook, finding the last one on the shelf. Then you also have to find the professor-specific workbook before waiting in the obscenely long line and spending a hefty sum. If you’re lucky, you might make it out having spent less than $200.

You think to yourself, “I know! I’ll buy the textbook used and save a bunch of money!” That’s an excellent idea — better for the environment, better for you and better for the person who you’re purchasing the book from. But when you purchase a book used, not a single dollar goes into the pocket of the publisher.

Have you ever really compared the difference between textbooks that are different editions? Between a first and second edition version of a textbook, it’s likely the differences are extremely minor. Maybe 10 pages were added or removed, some spelling errors were corrected, or the glossary was expanded. All ultimately negligible changes, but just enough to alter the page numbers of assignments. Just enough to consider it a “brand new edition” and charge you another $100.

Sometimes, you don’t even get a physical textbook for this price. In several classes at BYU, I had to purchase an “access code” to an online textbook. You would think these codes would be less expensive since there are no costs associated with printing or shipping, but you would be wrong. The codes I had to purchase were no less than $70 every time.

General education courses are often the worst culprits of this. As someone who has completed all her generals, here’s a word of advice to those still working on GEs: you probably don’t need the latest edition of every textbook. If your professor insists on having the latest edition for their course, do your research. How different are the editions, really?

To give credit where it is due, BYU has improved in a few textbook-related areas since my first semester here. Starting this semester, the BYU Store has implemented a textbook price match policy, meaning if you find a better price for the textbook somewhere else, you can get it from BYU for the lower price. Another excellent resource is the library, where a lot of textbooks are available to be used in the study rooms and many are accessible online for free, so long as you have a BYU login.

I don’t believe this is a BYU-centric issue, because this sentiment has been echoed by university students across the country. I don’t know that this issue will change any time soon, but I do know that I could have saved a lot of money for the first three years of my college experience if I had known what I know now about textbooks.

Do your research: find textbooks online, rent your textbooks, price-match them, use the library, buy old editions, and do anything you can to save money. You’re already paying for your education, so see the textbook publishing industry for what it really is: a big, fat cash-grab.

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