Torn by textbooks

Students should explore all options before buying and selling textbooks

Central Michigan University's bookstore announced plans to open another location downtown, next to the Global Campus operations, where it plans to perform the embroidery services once provided by the Student Book Exchange.

While we love to see our university’s bookstore thriving, we cannot help but feel the lingering effects of the vacant building sitting across the street from Warriner Hall – the one that used to house the SBX.

When SBX closed its doors over the summer, it shut down the main competition of the CMU’s bookstore. It eliminated the opportunity for students to bounce between the two shops in search of the cheapest prices. It left the CMU bookstore with full reign of the textbook business in our community.

And, as students know from their several-hundred dollar receipts, textbooks are big business.

Textbooks are a $16 billion-a-year industry in the United States. Since 1978, the cost of textbooks inflated 812 percent and will likely continue to rise, according to the American Enterprise Institute.  

Now consider how, within that same time period, the cost of obtaining a college degree has increased 1,120 percent, according to a 2012 Bloomberg report.

College students today are already saddled with more student debt than history has ever seen. Tuition and fees alone are enough to scare students away from higher education. Tack on another $1,200 for textbooks, as the College Board estimates the average student spends, and many are left to ponder the great question of our generation: Is college still worth it?

With or without the SBX, students are paying too much money for what many have called America’s biggest rip off. However, without another store to compete with, the CMU bookstore will likely be less inclined to be competitive about pricing.

To be clear, the publishers are the big winners here. The biggest companies – Pearson, McGraw Hill, Cengage and John Wiley – constantly promote their products to teachers. They also increase the frequency of new editions in order to make students purchase new, full-priced books. 

After instructors choose a book, the bookstore stocks its shelves and sells them at a mark up – anywhere from 20 to 25 percent more than what the publisher charged, according to CMU Bookstore Director Barry Waters.

We encourage professors to choose textbooks carefully and be especially conscious of prices before making their decision. Students spend too much money on books to only use them a handful of times during the semester.

Even more frustrating than spending loads of cash on books is being offered little to nothing when it come time to sell them back. The CMU Bookstore offers students only 50 percent of the new price at buyback, Waters said.

Before selling or buying books, we urge students to consider all of their options, many of which are now online. Price comparison websites like allows users to shop the Internet for the best deals.   

Even though the CMU bookstore might be the only textbook store left in Mount Pleasant, there is still a myriad of other options at students’ fingertips.