UCI Bookstore Reveals Pricing Myths

On March 3, the Associated Students of UC Irvine Campus Affairs Program held a textbooks town hall meeting to facilitate discussion regarding textbook distribution and pricing.
Leaders of the Department of Student Affairs, the California Public Interest Research Group and the UCI Bookstore, as well as members of the faculty, expressed their opinions, concerns and solutions to high textbook prices that affect both the students’ economic situations and academic interests of the professors.
One concern among the majority of UCI students is the pricing of course textbooks. Many books are priced well over $100, causing some students to become dissatisfied with professors who choose such course books, and with the bookstore for selling the text at such a high price.
Lindsay Hopkins, statewide cordinator of textbooks for CALPIRG, explained that many professors choose a certain course book because a committee recommends it to them. However, the professors may be unaware of how much the textbook will cost for students.
‘Many books are chosen by committees,’ Hopkins said. ‘Those who teach [out of] the book don’t necessarily choose it. Many professors may not know that the books they assign end up totaling $150 just for their class.’
In regards to students spending more money to buy new editions of textbooks that contain few revisions from older editions, Hopkins stated that professors might be unaware of the differences between textbooks.
‘[The professor] might not have been fully disclosed as to what was different from the old textbook to the new textbook when he made the decision to switch [editions],’ Hopkins said. ‘The book was either chosen by the committee and he didn’t have a say in the matter, he was only part of the committee that chose the book, or he didn’t get a [long] amount of time to look at the text before he chose it from the committee.’
Dan Dooros, interim executive director of student affairs, affirmed Hopkins’ statement and added, ‘The decision [as to which course books are chosen] is not the bookstore’s to make.’
Dooros also said that the UCI Bookstore does not mark up the prices of textbooks in order to make a profit.
‘As part of the university, the bookstore is a nonprofit business,’ Dooros said. ‘After expenses are paid, cost of goods sold, wages, benefits, rent, utilities, et cetera, the bookstore profits equal three cents for every dollar sold.’
Students like Brian Nguyen, a second-year political science major, were glad to learn that the bookstore was not making profit off of book sales.
‘I would be upset if the bookstore personnel were using the profits for personal interests,’ Nguyen said.
A question arose at the meeting as to whether the bookstore can order certain course books in paperback rather than hardback in order to save money.
Hiromi Ueha, acting director of the UCI Bookstore, said that the bookstore does make the effort to obtain textbook editions that are most cost-effective for the students. The problem, however, lies in the fact that many of these books are not offered in the United States.
‘A lot of times, books, such as math textbooks and ICS textbooks, are not offered in paperback in the United Sates,’ Ueha said. ‘They’re usually international editions that we do not have access to. Where paperback is available, then we buy more of those books.’
Due to the fact that many students find it more appealing to sell their textbooks online rather than through the bookstore, the committee proposed creating a ‘buyback hot list’ to inform students which books are in demand and offer a premium for those books, an idea which resonated with many students.
‘I like the ‘premium’ idea,’ said Sheilamae Reyes, a first-year sociology major. ‘It would benefit both the students and bookstore. The bookstore would still make its profit while the students would also benefit from the savings.’
Another issue discussed was the selling of books back to the bookstore when a certain course is not offered the following quarter. In such a case, the bookstore buys the book for a lower price than if the course were offered the coming quarter.
Dooros said that it would be in the economical interest of the student to sell the book at a later time when the course will be offered so that the student can get more money. However, it is also a gamble because the course might never require that certain text.
‘This is a strategy, an option, if you will,’ Dooros said. ‘The upside of keeping the book is if the department readopts it in the future, the bookstore will buy it back at a much [higher] price than the wholesaler will. However, the downside is if the text becomes obsolete [due to the production] of a new edition, then the wholesale price becomes zero.’
The panelists also discussed the policy of not allowing returns on books that have been taken out of their plastic wrap, or that are returned without their complete packaged bundle, such as CD-ROMs.
‘It’s actually not the bookstore but rather the wholesaler that does not accept the books since they are not in original state,’ Ueha said.
The general benefit of selling books back to the bookstore was discussed as well. When a student sells a textbook back to the bookstore, both the student and the bookstore save money. If the students were to sell all of their books back to the bookstore, the bookstore would buy the books back for 50 percent of the new-book price, rather than the used-book price.