online books: they’re cheap, fast and cool …. why (not)?
By biconews On 22 Feb, 2000 At 05:00 AM | Categorized As Archives | With 0 Comments

By Heather Lazusky

With college life there are a few “definites” for students as they return and settle into the new semester. One, it is assumed, is the bookshop scene the first week of classes, in which each student will need to stand in at least one huge line to purchase textbooks while at least one person complains about the overpriced nature of the textbooks. Or will they?

If they follow a recent trend in bi-co book buying, it is possible that they would opt to buy their textbooks online in an attempt to circumvent the long lines and the perceived high prices of the Bryn Mawr and Haverford bookstores.

Online booksellers stake the claim that, because of their virtual location and unique business, they can sell books at discounted prices. The website of Varsity Books.com states, “Because we’re on the Web, we don’t have the high overhead costs of your bookstore. We … pass those savings on to you. The site also maintains that while VarsityBooks does not sell used books, it does vend new books at prices “that are similar” to used book prices.

Bryn Mawr senior Jessica Ball recently bought a used book from Textbooks.com for her Drexel/Penn class. She feels satisfied with her shopping experience. The book was “significantly cheaper,” she explains, “because I could apply my Student Advantage discount to an already discounted used book. I spent $69.84 on a book that retailed for over $90, according to the site.” Overall, Ball is pleased with Textbooks.com and “would definitely buy more books on-line,” adding, “I think it’s great that I have options [other] than the bookstores. That way, I am not trapped into paying what they tell me.”

In buying from Textbooks.com, Serena Black (BMC ’00) had a somewhat different experience. Black and two friends purchased a textbook for their Bryn Mawr class, paying around $60 for a book that they believed to cost $100 in the bookstore. They thought they were getting a real bargain, “but then it turned out that there is a second textbook that is $100 and the one we [wanted] is in the bookshop for $65,” Black explains.

She says the experience taught her that “the bookshop, despite how overpriced things seem, is relatively fair.” Black concludes that. “Overall, it was not a bad experience, but I think that I would support the bookshop in the future.”

While both Ball and Black were able to find their books online, not all students have the same luck. When Joshua Dunetz (HC ’00) went online to try to find a textbook for a biology class, the book was back-ordered, Julie Summerfield, the manager of the Haverford Bookstore, informed Dunetz that the book might take over a week to arrive if she were to order it from the publisher, while Varsitybooks.com guarantees three- or four-day delivery. When Dunetz went online, however, the book was back-ordered there as well. Dunetz signed up for BookPager, a service that notifies patrons when the book is available.

Three weeks later, Dunetz is still waiting to hear from the company about the status of the book. He says, “Luckily, I asked Julie to order it for me, and I got the book [through the bookstore] weeks ago. If I had waited, I might not have gotten the book before my class is over,” which is within the next two weeks.

Students rounding up books for other classes have run into similar problems. Students in History 202 at Bryn Mawr, for instance, needed to purchase six books, but only three of six were available on any of the three sites (VarsityBooks.com, Textbooks.com and Amazon.com). The outcome was a total savings of $5. Ordering and shipping fees for books from two sites then added $9.90.

A student would save $4.90 over the final online price by purchasing the books in the bookstore.

Although it is possible to find online book savings in some cases, the process of searching for the best price often necessitates comparative shopping and quick decision-making. At the beginning of the semester, books sell out very quickly, and it can take weeks or even months to restock.

If a book is needed by a certain time, the bookstores may offer the better option on a back-ordered book, as they offer assurances unavailable on the Internet. When the bookstore orders a book for a student, it holds it for that student for at least a few days. Online requests for back-ordered books carry no such guarantee. Once the company receives the book, they message those with Book Pager, but they do not guarantee that the book will remain in stock if the patron waits in placing the order. In the world of online textbook hunting, there is a first-come, first-serve policy.

Although acquiring a book on-line could turn out to he cheaper than at the college bookstore, it may have a higher price when it comes to both shipping costs and time spent. This calls for careful research and prioritizing when it comes to getting books through the new, but not necessarily improved, world of online book buying.

SIDEBAR: Online books: A Guide

This year more than ever the online book market has begun to threaten the traditional bookstores for reign over the publication market. While several physical stores has [sic] turned their attention to the web, most of the new players are strictly online ventures. Here are the leaders in both categories:

Amazon.com

The biggest of the players, its founder, Jeff Bezo was recently named Time Magazine’s Man of the Year..[sic]

Barnes&Noble.com

The bookstore powerhouse is putting its massive inventory online.

Textbooks.com

Without the marketing budgets of the two leaders, Textbooks.com is nonetheless slowly making headway into the market.

VarsityBooks.com

Another online-only business, VarsityBooks.com is aiming directly towrds the college market.

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