Bookstore needs to update shelves

By Editorial Board

Textbooks cause headaches for most students twice a semester. Prices are always too high and buyback rates are never high enough. It’s hard to justify spending $150 on the latest edition of a book required for a class when there is no guarantee it can be sold back next semester. It’s no surprise many students get books elsewhere—prices are almost invariably cheaper, even more so when considering Chicago’s sales tax.

The bookstore’s new Rent-A-Text program was an appreciated effort to help students with the financial burden of textbooks, but better offers exist elsewhere. Many websites offer similar rental programs with a wider selection of books for less money. Programs like Amazon’s book buyback don’t limit what books will be accepted based on the most recent edition or demand for the title, the way the bookstore does.

If there is any hope of getting more students to patronize the campus bookstore, it needs to stay ahead of the curve. Electronic textbooks are starting to take off, and student interest is growing. Instead of lugging around a giant book, the same information is available online or for download, often with the option to access for a certain period of time and at a fraction of a physical text’s cost.

E-books are also a more environmentally friendly option. Buying used textbooks is one way to be green, but not when students ship in single books from across the country based on the best online deals.

Columbia should encourage teachers to use the latest methods when distributing information to students. Likewise, the bookstore should explore the potential of e-books, subscription programs and renting or selling portable reading devices. If it can make competitive offers before other outlets it will attract more students.

If the bookstore is unable to change what it offers to better suit students Columbia should consider finding an alternative provider. Most college campuses have more than one bookstore. Considering the success of new initiatives like ShopColumbia, students tend to respond to a more local, independent presence on campus.