Letter to The Editor

 

 

Alan M. Dershowitz

To The Editor:This letter is in response to John Kelly’s Letter to the Editor, in last week’s issue of the Maroon-News regarding the Bookstore’s textbook pricing and buyback policies. Kelly’s article provides an excellent opportunity to outline the student benefits generated by the Bookstore’s Textbook Buyback program and to correct the generalizations and inaccurate information contained in his letter. In the spirit of our service commitment to Colgate students and faculty, I am pleased to respond.The Colgate Bookstore offers a professionally-run Textbook Buyback program during finals week each semester. This service provides students with cash for textbooks where they do not wish to keep in their personal libraries. In his letter, Kelly suggests that we buy books from our students at prices dramatically below wholesale: “[When you] receive $30 for the book you bought for $120 you are losing $90”. This is incorrect. If I may borrow his phrase, let’s do some “simple math”. If any faculty member adopts a title for use during the following semester, we pay students half of the new book price on that title, even if the student bought a used copy. For example, if a student purchases a used biology book for $75.00 and we get a faculty request to use it again, a student selling that book to the Bookstore would receive $50.00 (half of the new price). Thus over the course of one year the price of a new $100 book is reduced to just $25 through buying used books and participating in Buyback. Kelly argues that “[the Book Exchange] could save students thousands of dollars.” What he fails to mention is that the Bookstore is already paying students in excess of a quarter million dollars a year in savings as a direct result of our Textbook Buyback ($248,163.75 in Buyback dollars in 2004 and $8,014.53 redeemed in Buyback discount coupons).Kelly uses the following scenario to explain how the Book Exchange works: “If…one student sells the books to the other for $60, the seller gains an extra $30 and the buyer gets $40. Together the kids are beating the market by more than $70.” This example is misleading in that it implies that student to student textbook purchases always net lower overall costs for textbooks than the Bookstore’s buyback. While the Bookstore sets its prices at or below industry standards, documents annual savings to students on our website, and employs a staff of professional book buyers to assist students and faculty with textbook issues, the Book Exchange’s website includes a page of lengthy disclaimers outlining the many services they do not provide for their customers. The Book Exchange operates on an “as is”, or “buyer beware” system. Students who sell to each other can charge any amount they wish; it is up to the buyer to decide if the price is fair. More important, it is the buyer’s responsibility to know which books faculty will require during the following semester. One of Colgate’s greatest resources is a faculty that is deeply committed to scholarly pursuits and the expansion of knowledge. Faculty choose the texts that they use in class based on intellectual content, not the future resale value of a book. If a student purchases books through the Book Exchange and a faculty member eliminates the book from the syllabus, the Book Exchange does not offer a refund on the purchase. It is the student’s responsibility to resell the book if possible. In the same situation, the Bookstore would provide a full refund to the student for substitute books and a guarantee to provide the correct book in new and used editions if available.There are specific situations in which we cannot purchase texts for 50 percent of the new book price, and it’s important for students to understand why this happens. If we do not receive textbook adoptions from faculty prior to Textbook Buyback, we lack the data necessary to make educated buying decisions for the next semester, which often precludes us from buying back certain books. Custom published books, textbooks in old editions, and books bundled with ancillary items, such as CDs, study guides, and online content access cards, typically have short shelf lives since faculty often update these materials as the course content evolves. It’s simply not cost effective for the Bookstore to buy back titles that will not be used again. But rather than offering students zero dollars in these cases, we have partnered with the Nebraska Book Company, the nation’s largest used book wholesaler, who buys any textbook listed in their extensive buying guide at prices between 5 percent to 33 percent of the retail value based on current market demand. We also work closely with faculty across campus to determine if they plan to use specific textbooks two semesters or more from the current term. If so, we speculate how many titles we will need to fill this future demand and purchase these books for [email protected] more than our wholesaler would pay. Lastly, the Bookstore donates any books that students can’t sell back, such as out of print books listed at “No Value”, to charitable organizations around the world. The sale of textbooks in the Bookstore generates income for Colgate, which the university channels into the general fund for use in many areas, including support for a variety of student-based activities and programs. Our Textbook Department’s number one goal is to ensure that our faculty and students have the course materials they require when they need them and at the best possible prices. We strive to secure our textbook adoptions from professors earlier each year in order to offer as many used books as possible and to pay students more money during Textbook Buyback. We use the lowest standard margin in the college bookstore industry when setting prices on new textbooks. In short, we do everything possible to meet or exceed the needs of our customers while maintaining a successful business for Colgate. Our Textbook Department staff is available seven days a week to explain specific supply and demand scenarios that students may encounter during Textbook Buyback. Students may also visit the Bookstore’s website at www.colgatebookstore.com/buyback for additional details about our Textbook Buyback program.

Leslie Green Guilbault Director, Colgate Bookstore