More Bang for Your Books

As fundamental to the college experience as top ramen and weekly all-nighters, course book buyback is an entity both loved and despised by students everywhere. We end the quarter happily with a few bucks to pad our pockets but continue to complain since the amount we receive in no way equals that which we actually spent on our books in the first place.

It makes no sense that we receive so little for such an expensive necessity, and it was not easy to figure out why that’s so. The UCI Bookstore staff was a little less than helpful in clarifying any of my concerns, but after being put on hold many times and transferred twice because “We don’t know” a number of things about buyback policies, I was finally able to piece together the mechanics of the whole ordeal.

As it turns out, two different groups run our campus book buyback. A UCI Bookstore phone representative tells me they will buy your books at any time during the quarter at the Customer Service desk.

At the beginning and end of the quarter, a wholesale book company comes to Ring Road for them.

The UCI Bookstore is decidedly not out to gouge your wallet. It is non-profit business, so all of their remaining funds are given to programs in the department of Student Affairs. The prices they charge for their books are determined in a very straightforward manner, which I found right on their website.

You can sell your course books to the Bookstore for a fixed 50 percent of the book’s original price, even if you have highlighted and written in it. The only thing barring payment is liquid damage. If you want to know what you’ll get before you sell, their website now offers a handy price check. Just enter the book’s ISBN to see the offer. Of course, they note (not surprisingly) that book values are subject to change without notice.

You will get the best prices from the Bookstore during finals week. At that point faculty have requested books and the store staff knows what’s in demand. To get the full 50 percent, make sure you’re selling a book wanted for the following quarter. For example, I know Quantum Mechanics is only offered spring for physics, so I would sell my book at the end of winter. Of course if you wait you run the risk of encountering the dreaded new edition, which depletes any demand at all.

I can’t say much about the wholesale book company. One of my Bookstore phone representatives very mysteriously said, “We’re not allowed to talk bout them,” while another said it was hard to know anything definitive since they change frequently.

In general, the wholesale companies buy books that are in much lower demand than the ones the Bookstore keeps, so the prices they offer are usually 10 percent to 30 percent of the original price of the book. Their expenses, which include labor and equipment as well as transportation of the books from our site to storage facilities, are also much higher than the Bookstore’s.

These are not the only places to sell your books, though. For those willing to risk mailing them, Bookfinder.com will actually compare the amount that a variety of online companies are willing to pay. The highest offer I got for my Quantum Mechanics book is $58.78 from Amazon.com in the form of a gift card (all of the other sites offer cash). This is just under 40 percent of the cost for a new book.

You might try selling your course books to friends. The most you can reasonably expect to get is the price of the used copies in the Bookstore, but if you really want the cash and aren’t they type who can sell binoculars to a blind man, your prices will need to be competitive. As in really low.

There is a recently formed Facebook group UCI Textbooks that serves as a place to sell course books to peers. Discussions list books selling for around $20 and $30. Ironically, the page administrators purport to be frustrated the “microscopic amount of money” you receive at buyback when these prices in no way compare to the 50% of the original price that you really get from the Bookstore.

Of course you can always impress your roommates and visitors by supplementing your primarily trash and trinket filled shelves with the scholarly works. Maybe you’ll never need to know how to solve a differential equation again, but the fact that you could if you wanted to is pretty sweet.

If you really do want the cash though, put your preconceptions aside. The UCI Bookstore offers the best buy back deal, and neither they nor the wholesale companies are out to cheat you.