Saturday, January 03, 2009

Is Amazon Cheaper Than Your College Bookstore?

The title of this Buffalo News article is a bit misleading - actually more than a bit. The article is not about online textbooks, it's about buying textbooks online. It points out something that I have noticed since I began teaching full time. College bookstores artificially inflate the cost of textbooks. For many semesters now, I have noticed that cost-conscious students always come to class the first week, find out what textbook we'll be using, how much we'll actually use the book (do I really need to buy the book?) and finally purchase the book online. seems to be a popular destination. Often this results in them getting the text a week or two late, but they always seem to be able to keep up. Maybe we should do a better job of identifying required and optional texts very early and making the information easily available. Even more important, as I've begun doing, encourage students to shop online for their textbooks. They may not always find it cheaper online, but don't we want our kids to learn how to comparison shop?

At a community college, a savings of $245 per semester could pay for another class or help keep kids in school for another semester. State report touts online textbooks
College students would save nearly 40 percent, or an average of $245 a semester, on the cost of their college textbooks if they shopped online, according to a new report from the state comptroller’s office.

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli is just the latest to weigh in on the rising cost of college textbooks, which has increased an average of 6 percent a year, or twice the rate of inflation, since 1986, according to the U. S. Government Accountability Office.

DiNapoli’s office reviewed the fall curriculum for several majors, at several State University of New York campuses, then compared the cost of the textbooks at the campus bookstore with the cost of those books found online.

In some cases, the saving was more than $245.

A freshman electrical engineering major at the University at Buffalo, for example, would have spent $733.95 on books at the campus bookstore compared with $417.42 online — a $316.53 savings, according to the report.

Similarly, a freshman sociology major would have paid $763.15 for books at the bookstore versus $510.50 online. That’s a savings of $252.65.

The report is online at

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