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Bookstore propaganda fuels concerns about high prices

After paying tuition, room and board, and parking fees before the year begins, purchasing textbooks can be stressful and financially burdening. Textbook prices are always a complaint among students, and the options available often seem limiting.

An anonymous professor at the University of Miami recently approached The Hurricane with a pamphlet that was distributed to UM faculty by Follett, the operators of UM’s on-campus bookstore. Follett “hopes that [faculty]will encourage [their]students to purchase their texts through their campus store.” The pamphlet proceeds to list a number of reasons why the faculty should direct business to the campus store.

Follett specifically addressed both online competitors as well as off-campus retail competitors. In defense of their product compared to online options, Follett charged that online sources “tend to focus on the relatively few, most popular titles adopted nationwide.” They went on to say that “in many cases, used copies are not available.” However, out of ten randomly selected book titles currently stocked in the UM Bookstore, Amazon.com carries both new and used copies of all of them.

There is also a discussion raised about textbook value versus textbook price.

“No discussion of textbook prices is complete without mentioning textbook value, or -more importantly- student perception of value,” the pamphlet reads. “When a textbook is used in class and is an integral part of the learning experience, students in the course are less likely to find its price an issue.”

While most professors were reluctant to comment on the issue, one professor agreed that such statements could be construed as Follett trying to influence classroom academics for the benefit of increasing students’ perceived value on textbooks.

Cliff Ewert, vice president of Public Relations at Follett, staunchly supports their literature.

“Follett strongly believes in the academic freedom of professors, but if a book is selected for a course, we emphasize that it should be used in class,” Ewert said.

Students had much to say regarding the pamphlet.

“[Follett] does anything but strive to save students money,” Josh Borgschulte, junior, said. “Their assertions are absurd and nothing but a marketing ploy.”

Tiffany Bojerski agreed.

“They can charge as much as they want. They know we must buy,” Bojerski said.

A price analysis comparing Follett, Book Horizons – the college bookstore across campus – and Amazon.com, using five introductory textbooks, confirmed sentiments of the students interviewed. Whether new or used, Follett had the highest prices for all books but one.

Follett concluded the pamphlet by stating, “As your campus bookstore, we are asking [the faculty]directly to encourage [their]students to buy their materials from us.”

They then appealed to the University community by mentioning portions of sales benefit the University, which they assert can indirectly lower costs for students.

Don Donelson can be contacted at d.donelson@umiami.edu.

September 3, 2004

Reporters

The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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The Miami Hurricane is the student newspaper of the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Fla. The newspaper is edited and produced by undergraduate students at UM and is published weekly on Thursdays during the regular academic year.