CORVALLIS — At least one thing is outpacing the increasing cost of college tuition: textbooks.
With this in mind, retailers — including Corvallis’ own Oregon State University Beaver Store in the east wing of the Memorial Union — are using new online and mobile technology to help students score the best deals.
This term, the nonprofit OSU Beaver Store launched a new price comparison feature on its website, www.OSUBeaverStore
.com, which provides prices of the store’s new, used and rental textbooks. It also features prices of new and used textbooks from other retailers, such as Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and independent retailers that sell through online marketplaces such as Half.com.
The store is one of only a handful of university bookstores in the nation with this feature, which was designed by Verba Software.
If a student does find a book cheaper somewhere else, that’s OK, said the CEO of the Beaver Store, Steve Eckrich. But more times than not, he said, the student will find a deal with the Beaver Store.
“If students see our prices compared to others, they won’t mistakenly make the assumption that we aren’t cheaper,” he said.
For example, consider materials for OSU’s 100-level chemistry course: A new copy of the required sixth-edition “General Chemistry” textbook costs $158.40.
Students can purchase a used copy from the OSU Beaver Store for $115.20, or from other retailers for between $85.99 and $186.31 plus shipping, which isn’t factored in for non-Beaver Store books.
While the cost may or may not be lower, if students buy from the Beaver Store, they can get a full refund within two weeks of the start of the term if they need to make any returns. And as a nonprofit, the Beaver Store can put its profits toward a 10 percent discount for students.
“When we compare ourselves to other businesses, we’re extremely competitive,” Eckrich said.
The store also developed a free application for Android and Apple phones that quotes the buy-back price after the bar code is scanned with a smart phone’s camera or when its ISBN number is entered manually.
Eckrich said buy-back prices depend in part on whether professors choose to use the same title and edition in future terms. If books won’t be used again at OSU, the store buys them back to sell to a third-party wholesale textbook buyer, although the students typically receive quite a bit less.
In addition, the store’s new rental option potentially can save students money; an 85-day rental of “General Chemistry” costs only $54.31. Orders are conducted through a third-party website, but books are picked up and returned at the on-campus store.
Eckrich hopes these options and the help from technology put a dent in the amount students have to pay for textbooks.
A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office found that textbook prices rose by 240 percent between 1986 and 2004, compared to 72 percent for college tuition and fees.
Textbook and materials costs vary across majors, but a lot of OSU students feel the crunch.
Sophomores Kali Rhodes and Amanda Sutton, who purchased books at the OSU Beaver Store on Tuesday afternoon, estimated they each paid between $300 and $400 per term last year for textbooks — between $900 and $1,200 for the year.
“This little book cost $100,” Sutton said, holding up a 306-page book for her 100-level communications course.
Even with the new options in place, higher education textbook retailers don’t have much wiggle room when pricing books.
Typically, textbook publishers set prices and market to professors; if a professor decides to require the textbook for a class, stores have to comply.
“We have to buy from the publisher that the professor selects,” Eckrich said. “What we can control as the retailer is the markup.”