Q&A on Textbooks

Q&A on the Textbook Industry

What's the big deal about Rentals?

Rentals offer a great new option for textbooks. By renting, you can save up to 50% off a new textbook. The first semester we offered rentals we had 20 titles available to rent, the second semester we offered143 titles, and this past semester we increased it to 192. We offer both new and used textbooks as rentals so more students have access to lower prices.

Here is a little background on how textbook rentals work. Once we have the list of required books from professors, we run it against a list created by our rental partner, Nebraska Book Company. In order for a rental program to be successful, the textbook needs to be used for multiple terms. Nebraska Book Company has compiled a list of textbooks which they are relatively sure will be reused next term either on our campus or others. We match Calvin's books to that list and offer those as rentals.

When you visit the Textbook section of the Campus Store you can easily determine which books are offered as rentals by looking at the course tag. It will list the New, Used, and Rental prices. Rental books will also have a bright sticker on their course tag to indicate that they are rentals. Just take a book to the register and our system will prompt the cashier to ask if you would like to rent the book. If you do, we will ask for your Student Miscellaneous card to identify your rental in case if you don't return the book. During finals weeks, just return the book to the store like a normal return. If you decide to keep the book, the store charges you the difference between the list price and the rental price—plus a small handling fee.

The Campus Store is excited to offer this program for our students and will offer as many titles as possible.

Why are textbooks so expensive?

Believe it or not, there are some logical reasons. Some of them are:
·  Because many textbooks have extensive illustrations, they must use a higher quality and more expensive paper stock.
· Most textbooks require significant copyright permissions, not only for borrowed material, but also for illustrations. If you have purchased a course pack with readings you know how expensive an inexpensive looking course pack can get—primarily because of copyright charges.
·  Most large publishers are unionized, not only for production, but also for transportation.
· Unlike a bestselling novel, textbooks have a very limited shelf life and buying public. There is a fierce competition among publishers to convince your professor to choose their title. It is estimated that 1 in 5 copies of a text printed is a complimentary copy that goes to instructors. These get wrapped into the cost of the other 4 copies. Of course, the good news is that most of these find their way into the used book market.
·  In many cases, textbooks have to be constantly updated to remain current. Publishers might do this more than they need to, but this is beyond the store's control.

What's the benefit of doing buyback?

Textbook buyback can be one of the most confusing parts of the textbook process for students. At different times of the year (mostly at the end of a semester) we invite our partnering company, Nebraska Books, to come and buy books for the Campus Store. They also buy for themselves to distribute to other colleges, but only at wholesale prices. Before generating our buyback list for books that will be reused at Calvin, we assess if a book is going to be used again, how many we have on hand, and if it is in our best decision to buy a book again. Keep in mind that if we buy a book from you, we can't return it if it doesn't sell.

During buyback, buyers will often say to you, "Calvin isn't buying these but I can offer you wholesale at..." This means that we have assessed that it isn't in our best interest to buy the book. Instead, Nebraska Books will look at the demand across the country for the book and make their offer accordingly. Since it is wholesale, it will often be for much less than you might expect. If you have a book that you know that your professor is going to be reusing again and you sell it back before our quota is full, you will often get a very decent amount for the book.

Why do you mark your books up so high?

This is surprisingly a misconception. Most textbooks are sold to the campus store at a "net" price. In other words, we are billed for how much the book costs us, but there is no selling price listed. The store sets the selling price. Also with most textbooks purchased at net price, the quantity ordered doesn't affect the cost. One copy will cost the store $50. If we order 300 copies the text will still cost the store $50 each.

With our present markup on net pricing, a $50 text would sell for $66.50. That profit margin must also help to cover labor costs and shipping costs, not only for the inbound texts, but also the costs of returning any leftover copies. In comparison, the new John Grisham novel sells for $29 retail, but the major retailers probably get a 50-60% discount on the large quantities they purchase, and maybe negotiated for free shipping on at least their initial shipment.  If a text does have a pre-existing retail price the store will sell it at that price, but not higher.

So how does Amazon or Barnes & Noble sell the same textbook cheaper?

Publishers tell us that they do not sell the books for less to Amazon or Barnes & Noble, which means that online retailers actually lose money on textbooks. They can cut their losses by limiting the number that they sell at discounts, but they also use lower textbook sale prices as a way of capturing your e-mail so that they can continually deluge you with ads. Now they have your e-mail address and a way of contacting you as long as you own that e-mail. They'll be nice about it, but they've got you right where they want you.

Why do you return the books before the semester is over?

When we buy from different textbook venders, they have varying return policies. Many of them only give us 90 days to return the books for a full refund or with a 20% restocking fee. If we try to send them back late, they will send them right back to us and we will be out the shipping costs. In order for us not to end up with books that will never be used again, we sometimes have to return books in the middle of the semester. Unfortunately, this requires for you to plan ahead and buy the books you need while they are available. However, should a book be out of stock, we can always do a special order for you.

Why aren't all of the books used?

After we determine what books we need to buy for a semester, we create a Want List. We then send this list to different vendors. We start with the vendors that offer used books. They let us know how many books they can sell to us. After we go through all of our used vendors, we then move on to new. Thus, how many used books we have is determined by how many books our vendors have to offer us. It all depends on the market conditions: the age of the book, the number printed, and relative demand throughout the country.

Who profits from textbook sales?

For us, there are many costs that go into supplying textbooks for students. Shipping costs, labor, and the expense of the books all are paid first from textbook sales. After that, any profit that we make goes directly back to Calvin College since we are, and always will be, a nonprofit store.





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