During the first weeks of classes students can often be heard lamenting over horrific textbook bills as they make liberal use of those familiar orange credit cards. With the advent of the Internet, however, new markets for purchasing and selling books at lower prices have opened and are increasingly used by students.
The USG-sponsored Bookline (www.princeton.edu/usg/bookline/) – created by USG Senate delegate Dave Thom '96 during his final year at the University – is an online market for students to buy and sell their used textbooks. As the Web page proclaims, this USG service eliminates the middle man and lowers prices substantially.
Students looking to sell their used textbooks usually receive more than they would by selling the books back to the U-Store. Furthermore, according to several student postings, Bookline offers potential buyers discounts of up to 50 percent off U-Store prices.
Since recent updates and revamps to their Web page, USG president David Ascher '99 estimated that Bookline has received at least 1500 hits since last week, the beginning of second semester. "Bookline is wildly successful," he said. "I wish that even more students used it, but the ones that do, find it enormously useful."
USG Web Team member T.J. Mather '99 said Bookline represents the cutting edge in University used-book marketing. "This is really one of the most successful sites anywhere," he said. "Some places maintain long lists of available books, but ours is the most user-friendly system."
First, Mather noted that the books are all listed by title, as well as by course, which enables students to find books more quickly. Additionally, "the capacity to edit and delete ads makes it more user-friendly," he said.
Students who use Bookline express satisfaction with this market-based system. Jossie Diaz '99 said she was pleasantly surprised by the massive email response she received within two days of posting an ad for a chemistry book she was trying to sell.
"It saves time to post things on Bookline rather than to trek to the U-Store. It is infinitely easier to sit down at my computer and write a little ad than to schlep all my used books to the U-Store to sell."
Diaz has also used the service to buy books and saved a significant amount of money.
"It was cheaper than buying used books from the U-Store by at least $10 to $15 per book," she said.
U-Store Textbooks Manager Matt Johnson said though he could not provide actual statistics, he did not think Bookline has affected sales. He also added that since the U-Store is not trying to make a profit, it does not matter how popular Bookline becomes.
"As far as sales go, I haven't seen a slowdown," he said, "Anyway, it wouldn't worry me because I am more concerned about seeing the students' and professors' needs met."
Rising U-Store prices
Professors, though aware of high textbook prices, often do not have lower-cost options when choosing course materials. Economics professor Uwe Reinhardt said that textbooks are often uniformly priced and many professors do not consider their cost when deciding what materials to use.
"When I heard that the (ECO 333) textbook was $90, I was shocked," he said. "But I wouldn't stop using it because a different one would probably be more."
Chemistry professor Maitland Jones voiced a similar sentiment. "All the books are within $30-$40 of each other," he said. "I don't think that $100 per year is an unreasonable cost."
Both professors noted that since their students have never voiced complaints about textbook prices, they have never considered them a problem. "We do not sense the price sensitivity as professors because no student has raised the issue in 20 years," Reinhardt said. "If we knew that you cared, we would be more mindful."