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Students search beyond the bookstore for bargains

  • Story Highlights
  • Students bargain shop for textbooks online and at off-campus alternatives
  • They also look for student book exchanges to cut costs
  • Students spend an average of $500 a semester on textbooks
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By Joshua Molina
Special to CNN
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CNNU campus correspondent Joshua Molina is a senior at Brigham Young University. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based.

PROVO, Utah (CNN) -- This school year, many college students will break the tradition of buying their textbooks at college bookstores.


Even on Labor Day, the BYU Bookstore experiences a large volume of textbook customers.

With the opening of Internet stores and other alternative sources for buying textbooks, students have more options.

Although students apparently save money on their semester-to-semester purchases, not everyone agrees this trend will benefit students.

Tom Hirtzel, textbook manager at the Brigham Young University Bookstore, believes that in the long run shopping at alternative textbook stores can have adverse effects on university life.

"The money students spend in bookstores isn't leaving the campus," Hirtzel said. "The money students spend at college bookstores goes back into the university. It funds campus activities, and supports the students that are employed at the bookstore. That's something that not a lot of people talk about."

The BYU bookstore employs about 300 students every year. The bookstore only makes a three to four percent profit and all other revenue goes into paying their costs, Hirtzel said.

But David Monk, co-owner of Beat the Bookstore, an alternative textbook franchise, disagrees.

"So you're saying that we should provide privileges to a few students at the cost of the many?" Monk asked.

You won't see any school shirts or bumper stickers at Beat the Bookstore. This and the fact that their book stock relies primarily on buying books from other students means they can sell them at cheaper prices than college bookstores.

Yet the most common alternative source for textbooks, which cost an average student about $500 a semester, continues to be the Internet.

Sites like, and offer a convenient and fast way to get all your textbook shopping done in a few minutes, but they too have their drawbacks.

"I did it once because it was so much cheaper than the bookstore," said Sabrina Huyett, a BYU student. "I ordered from It stressed me out, though, because my book didn't arrive until after reading had already been assigned."

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There is expedited shipping, but the price of that can be up to $18 a book, leaving a textbook costing the same as buying it from the bookstore.

Also, if books need to be returned, the student pays even more shipping fees. Therefore it can be more convenient for some students to do all their transactions at their college bookstore.

"I buy [textbooks] from my college bookstore because I am not a very organized person," said Natalie Neal, also a BYU student.

"The bookstore's never had a monopoly on anything but convenience," Hirtzel said. "You could always go to Barnes and Noble and do it or go to the publisher directly, but we provide a convenient way to do it all. The only thing we can't compete on is price, but we're fairly competitive with our used books."

But what if you could avoid all "middle-men" and buy used books directly from your classmates?

Students have been doing this for years, but it's never been very organized. But now some universities have Web sites for students to get in contact with each other and buy and sell books to each other independently.

"I often buy through the BYU book exchange," said BYU student Andy Hall. "I like this site because it's from fellow students, who tend to be friendly, and you can pick up the book directly without waiting for shipping. The prices are way better than the bookstore."

College bookstores are planning their own initiatives to keep their customers.

The BYU Bookstore has created a VIP club, where students who buy from the bookstore get special offers like selling back their books a day before the general public. This ensures that they are able to sell their books before the bookstore's quota is met.

Also, the VIP students can receive 60 percent back for their books, as opposed to the 50 percent back everyone else receives.

So whether a student is looking for convenience, to save money, or just to avoid the hassle, incentives are the hot seller when shopping for textbooks. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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