Renting, swapping cuts book prices for students

Anna Bisaro

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As lines stretched to the back wall of Norris Bookstore Monday afternoon, the air buzzed with conversation about the high costs of college textbooks.

These conversations are common in the bookstore, General Manager Jerry Jacobson said.

“We’re not eavesdropping,” he said, “but we really do listen to see what we can do.”

This year, both the bookstore and a new service, the Associated Student Government-sponsored Book Swap, are offering cheaper ways for NU students to obtain those costly textbooks.

Along with about 350 other Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, the Norris Bookstore is offering a rental option to students this year. Students can rent and return books at the end of the quarter for less than half of the retail price of the book. Beck’s Book Store is also offering a new rental service this year.

“I don’t need to worry about what to do with it after,” Weinberg sophomore Jonathan Gobrial said. The price of the rented book from Beck’s dropped to $30, Gobrial said.

At Norris Bookstore, students can save just under $100 on a new book, “Macroeconomics” by Robert J. Gordon, if they rent it for $81. The used price for the book is $135.

Not every textbook is available for rental. Some publishers release new editions more frequently. Books with longer-standing editions are more likely to be available to rent, Jacobson said.

If books are returned with too much highlighting or writing or have been abused, the bookstore will charge students a fee, he said. Still, many students have opted to rent textbooks this year, both in-store and online.

Norris also offers more than 100 electronic book titles, so students can read their textbooks on a computer, also for less than half of the retail cost. Jacobson said the popularity of electronic books will continue to grow in the coming years.

For students who are willing to put a little more effort into the process, ASG’s Book Swap is a service that helps match students looking for textbooks with others that are selling the same ones. Once the students are notified that a trade is available, it is up to them to set up the exchange.

Weinberg junior David Caratelli and McCormick junior Stephen Suellentrop came up with the idea for Book Swap in a Sargent Hall dorm room two years ago. After only five days in service, there were 150 users and 300 books registered on the website, said Weinberg junior Kate McGarrahan, the program’s marketing director.. About a quarter of those students had already found a match for their textbook using the site, she said.

“A lot of upperclassmen have said it seemed like this was the perfect fit for Northwestern textbook needs,” McGarrahan said.

Available exclusively to NU students, Book Swap tracks users for suspicious buying and selling activities and is currently working to create a list of suggested prices for books to help prevent potential scams, McGarrahan said.

Because it is so new, some students are still having a hard time finding the book they need on the site. Weinberg sophomore Benjamin Branfman said he could not find the book he needed, and the site did not allow for quick acquisition of a book he needed right away. Instead, he said he had to “bite the bullet” and pay the price at Norris for a new biological psychology book that cost him $194.

“We just try to do the best we can to make sure we have the books for the students that they need,” Jacobson said. “We hope we are successful with that.”