There are at least three enduring constants in the universe. One is death. Unless you’re one of Tolkien’s elves, eventually everybody shuffles off this mortal coil. Another is taxes. Everybody has to pay them… unless of course you have a very good tax lawyer. The third remains constant regardless of whether you’re just an elf or an elf with a very good tax lawyer. Yes, you guessed it – getting screwed over when you go to sell your textbooks back.
This has always bothered me ever since I started college way back in the last century. Everybody’s been through this at least once. You go to the university bookstore pay an obscene amount of money for books you probably wouldn’t normally be caught dead with unless you were suffering from insomnia. After the end of the semester, you go to the window, ring the bell, and in short order find yourself bent over the figurative barrel. That’s if they buy back your books at all.
Take my own experience from the other day when I sold back several books. For one I paid $21.95, another $107.25, and another $80.00. For the first book I received $5.00, the second book $31.00, and the third book $19.00. This works out to be between a 70% – 76% depreciation. Now then, I grant that textbooks will cost more than other kinds of books since they’re on specialized topics with much lower sales volume. I will also grant that regular usage deterioration will cause a decrease in value, so it is appropriate to get less than the initial price back at sell back time, but not at that rate.
I used to be of the mind that this was a free market issue – demand driving price, etc. But it really isn’t. If the market were free, we’d have a choice to buy a book on that particular topic that might be significantly cheaper than the textbook. We don’t have that choice – we have to buy the book the professor chooses for the course. The bookstore should be honest and not act like their prices represent a value purchase. If they’re going to do us like that, they should at least kiss us first.
Scott Wacholtz is a senior majoring in Computer science.