How not to buy a $25 CD/coaster

Are textbooks good bang for your buck?

Credit: 
Illustration by David Missio

The same thing happens every year.

Come September, students flock to the Campus Bookstore and leave with what seems like enough books to start a small library. But while carrying heavy books is hard on the arms, some students leave wishing their wallets weren’t so light.

According to an ongoing Canadian Campus Retail Associates poll available at the Campus Bookstore website, campusbookstore.com, 72 per cent of respondents believe that new editions of textbooks are published as part of a “shameless cash grab designed to eliminate the use of used books.” Chris Tabor, the Campus Bookstore’s general manager, said these results must be taken into context and interpreted carefully.

“We have to be careful not to take it too seriously,” he said. “This is a daily poll. It is not statistically valid ... [the results] do not represent only Queen’s students.”

He said the samples aren’t randomly selected—participants responded voluntarily and from universities across Canada. The low number of respondents—152 for one question—also produces a large margin of error.

Nonetheless, the results are revealing. The age-old advice to new students to wait a week and check the course reading list before purchasing a book may ring true in this case: once they have a new edition, only 15 per cent of respondents say they use more than three-quarters of the book, while another 40 per cent say they use “so little I am upset that it was made a required reading.”

Fifty-four per cent say they don’t benefit from the CDs that accompany some textbooks and are “irritated at the ploy to raise prices,” while another 21 per cent say accompanying CDs “have some value as a beer mat/coaster.” Further, 40 per cent say the elements contained in the Textbook Value Pack are “not worth the money or the weight,” while 48 per cent say they feel “certain the extra money it cost me was of great value to the bookstore and publisher.”

Tabor said the poll feedback doesn’t surprise him.

“It does support what we’ve heard in the last few years,” he said. “These are concerns, complaints that we’ve been listening to for some time.”

The Campus Bookstore was founded almost a century ago by two engineering students who wanted to create an affordable alternative to Kingston’s downtown book stores. Since its inception, the book store has been run by students, under the supervision of the Queen’s University Engineering Society Services Incorporated (QUESSI). In the spirit of its mandate to serve students’ interests, the book store is entirely not-for-profit and generally strives to price textbooks seven per cent below the publisher’s recommended price.

Tabor said the store still does everything it can to help students find the books they need at the cheapest possible price.

“Customer satisfaction is a primary concern,” he said. “Your student bookstore has been working [to keep prices low] since 1909.”

Tabor said the Campus Bookstore is anything but a monopoly. The store encourages customers to shop around in order to find the best value for their buck.

“Where there is a competitive alternative, we make that known,” Tabor said. He noted that the website of the Campus Bookstore provides customers with competitor’s prices, such as Amazon.com and Chapters.

He also said the Campus Bookstore takes several other initiatives to help students. For example, the bookstore’s website provides a buy-back service in which the Campus Bookstore will buy certain used books when the school year ends. This happens most often for introductory textbooks used in popular first year courses such as calculus, chemistry, economics and psychology. The website also hosts a classified section in which students can advertise used books that they would like to sell.

In addition, Tabor said the Campus Bookstore links to free online copies of well-known books, such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Tabor said it is unlikely the Campus Bookstore can do anything further to lower prices and that the poll had a different goal.

“Its primary purpose was to bring people to the site and provide some alternatives where they can find lower prices,” he said.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.