The scene has become all too familiar — an endless line of students huddled in the narrow stairway of Shaman Drum Bookshop, covered in snow, eagerly waiting to drop the routine $300 on books, solution manuals and resource guides. It is never pretty to watch, but much more troubling is that instead of seeking out alternative supply lines, students have grown to accept the swarming bookstores, steep prices and despotic backpack policies. Thankfully, with a few administrative changes and a more open-minded student body, this agonizing bi-annual ritual can be made much more pleasant.
The most pressing problem with the current system is financial in nature. Steep markups on textbooks have been burning holes in the pockets of unsuspecting students for decades. Understanding the characteristically narrow scope of textbook consumers, publishers have used inflated shelf prices to squeeze every last dime out of the inelastic appetite for course materials on campus.
Accompanying the price gouging is a laundry list of all-too-common inconveniences — everything from congested shopping to premature book sellouts. With conditions inevitably worsening, as in any market, cheaper and competitive supply sources have sprouted up. With countless websites competing for student patronage, the online marketplace for books, both new and used, has proven an affordable retreat from the on-campus Ulrich’s cartel. Other inexpensive swapping sources like the Student Book Exchange held at the Union, are also readily available for budget-weary students.
With tuition rates rising to all time highs, the University must remain sensitive to the additional cost students are fronting for their credit hours. Professors should be encouraged to post a course’s required texts on the Internet as soon as orders are sent in. With the additional time, students would be able to research different book dealers and compare prices over vacation time, be it summer or winter. And if professors really wanted to go out on a limb, they could save students $50 and the painstaking wait at Excel by offering course-packs online.
The proliferation of web-based textbook warehouses and trading forums, market forces can do their share to erode the status quo system of narrow options and inflated prices. With some help from administrators and conscientious professors, the student body could adequately capitalize on these alternatives.