again government is the cause of the problem, not the solution.

if the government didnt have a near monopoly market on college education the free market would provide lower priced text books

Web sites fighting high-priced texts College students turn to Internet to trade books

Laura Houston The Arizona Republic Jan. 22, 2006 12:00 AM

Fed up when a college bookstore clerk offered him just a few dollars for a $30 textbook, Eric Rebich turned to a classified ad-style Web site where he could get more money for his used book and pick up his next set of books for less than at the campus store.

"I know there's a couple of $110 books I have to buy," the Arizona State University West junior said. "That's where the Web site comes in handy."

Rebich is one of thousands of college students nationwide trying to save money on textbooks by surfing student-run Web sites tailored for their campus.

Although Web sites such as and eBay have been selling used textbooks for years, these new local Web sites offer better odds of finding and selling books required by a particular campus' classes.

And since there is no middleman, students typically receive more money when they sell their textbooks, as well as better prices when they buy them. The Web sites are being developed partly in hopes of forcing publishers to lower their prices. But university officials say the money generated from university bookstore sales funds other student services, and they warn that a loss in bookstore revenues may force them to find the money elsewhere.

ASU West is the only public Arizona college so far with its own book-swapping Web site.

The site got its start when Arizona student organizers joined a 12-state coalition in the fall, creating a grass-roots campaign to put the squeeze on publishers and lower the prices of textbooks at ASU, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona.

For two decades, college textbook costs have risen at twice the inflation rate, according to the Government Accountability Office. Nationwide, college student pays an average $800 to $900 a year for textbooks.

UA and ASU Tempe are considering developing similar sites, said Serena Unrein, Arizona Student Association assistant director.

ASU West student Esther Paradones found a customer within a week to buy four of her books for about $150. The campus bookstore offered less than $100, she said.

A price to pay

While it may bring better book deals for some, students swapping among themselves might come at a price.

Students spent $31 million at ASU's bookstores last year, said Ray Jensen, associate vice president for university business services. More than 9 percent of that went to cover future construction costs and student support programs.

If students bought books elsewhere, in principle, that could shift the need for those dollars to come from elsewhere, Jensen said.

"If we get to the place where bookstores cannot be profitable, then we'll have to address that, but I don't think that's in the near future," he said.

However, book-swapping sites may not be good for students who drop a class, have or need less-popular books or have classes that require a new edition.

That's a problem ASU West student Hilary White had. She spent about $500 on five books. After one semester, she couldn't sell her two most expensive books because no other class used them.

Bookstores have return policies; the Web sites don't. Also, dozens of Web sites compete for the same students, making it difficult for any one domain to attract, maintain and build a customer base. Buyers are in short supply.

That's something that Mae Innabi noticed when she unsuccessfully tried to sell books on the ASU West Web site.

"If worst comes to worst, I'll just sell them back to the bookstore or put them on, whichever one sells the book and gets the most money," the 18-year-old student from Phoenix said.

The future

Arizona Student Association leaders point to Southern Oregon University's Web site program as a burgeoning success story.

Students at the Ashland, Ore., university log on to, a classified advertising Web site that serves nearly 100 universities and community colleges, Oregon student coordinator Alissa Cordner said.

"Students from the same campus can swap books back and forth without having to find an ad on a bulletin board or find a friend who took the same class," she said.

Nearly 13,000 books are listed on that site, compared with about 200 on the ASU West site. Association leaders believe the ASU West site will grow rapidly as word spreads.

ASU's Jensen, however, believes the battle over textbook prices may soon be moot. He foresees electronic educational tools overtaking college textbooks in years to come.

Book bundling - distributing books with CD-ROMs, DVDs and access cards that boost the price tag and usually make the book unfit to resell has already become a common practice. That method has also been attacked by activist groups as just another way to price-gouge students.

But if professors caved to demands for fewer frills in books, that would signal a return to "1950s, black-and-white textbooks, using old teaching methodology with no technology," said Bruce Hildebrand, Association of American Publishers executive director for higher education.

That argument, however, is weak to Arizona activist Unrein.

"Who cares if you have technology if you can't afford to use it?" she said.

Reach the reporter at or (602) 444-6924.

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