Priced Out: Students use varying purchasing methods to combat rising textbook prices

Outrageous. That's what Alexis Malen calls textbook prices at the Central Michigan University Bookstore.

“I bought my nutrition book directly off the McGraw (publishers) website,” Malen said. “I want to say the book cost me about $80 and the bookstore price was over $100.”

Since 2002, the price of college textbooks has increased 82 percent, according to a 2013 report on college textbook costs issued by the Government Accountability Office. In response, the outcome has been weighing heavily on students' wallets for more than a decade.

To purchase her books at lower rates, Malen, a Sterling Heights senior, looks at less expensive options. With the kind of savings offered by online sellers, those options are well worth the extra effort.

Malen uses or, if they have what she's looking for, checks the Student Book Exchange, located at 209 E. Bellows, to find her textbooks.

However, after looking elsewhere for cheaper prices, Malen can't get away from the high cost of books. So far she has paid $200 for rented textbooks for her four classes this semester.

For students like Joe Julet, a Berkley senior, going online and getting a cheaper price isn't enough to save a buck.

Julet writes down the bookstore's prices for materials he needs before comparing them with sites such as, or

“I find I save at least 50 percent on what I would be paying at the bookstore,” he said. “My science book for this semester was $200 and you could rent it from Amazon starting at $45.”

When the semester ends, he uses a site called to sell back his books. He's waiting for at least one check, worth $25, while having received another for $30 after selling back books he used last semester.

A new trend

Other price comparison websites, such as, lay out book buy-back prices from sites such as Chegg or Amazon so the student selling their books can gauge the best price for their books.

“Whereas most price comparison sites allow you to look for one item at a time, BigWords lets you put all of your books in the 'Bookbag' at once and looks at the combination of all the stores we look at, taking into consideration coupons and shipping,” said Jeff Sherwood, BigWords CEO. “You can put your book into the search engine and it will show you the highest possible price for your book anywhere on the internet.”

As a 1995 graduate of the University of Southern California with a degree in business, Sherwood said purchasing textbooks was always cumbersome, even with the early advent of the Internet aiding the process along.

“There wasn't any good place to buy textbooks,” he said. “Sometimes you had to scan online for two hours to buy books. They had very lousy availability for used books, most were new. There was a monopoly on bookstore prices.”

Shortly after the turn of the century, many sites sprung up as places to buy new and used textbooks, but few sites were developed to solely compare prices.

“By 2001, there were plenty of online stores to buy books at, but there was not a good site to sift through the different prices,” he said. “That's why I wanted to make a price comparison site to help students to get the best deal possible.”

This week, 150 people from Mount Pleasant visited, 85 of whom had never been to the site before, he said.

A statistic the site cannot track is whether or not a customer actually followed through on a purchase of a textbook from a site listed on BigWords.

Michigan ranked seventh overall in the U.S. for the amount of people visiting the site in 2013, Sherwood said. Despite the sites growing popularity, he keeps true to the reason why he started the website in the first place: cheaper prices for student materials.

“My primary job at BigWords is to find the cheapest copy of a textbook,” he said.

Not only are students looking for cheaper ways to get their textbooks, even the federal government recognizes the need for lower book costs.

Since 2010, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008, included a section on lowering the costs of college textbooks.

"The purpose of this section is to ensure that students have access to affordable course materials by decreasing costs to students and enhancing transparency and disclosure with respect to the selection, purchase, sale and use of course materials," the provision said.

With this first step in major college textbook price reform, Julet said college textbook price reform should occur, be consistent and work for the benefit of the students and their education and future.

"I just want to save more money," he said.


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