For several years I met this time of year with my hair on fire. Eyes blood gurgling red from obscene pressure and stress. Those weren’t the days. Mercifully they won’t be coming back anytime soon. Six-thirty a.m. to ten p.m. at pedal on the floor speed, eyeballs being forced back and mushed to liquid against the contours of my sockets; crushed like a freshly picked and ripe muscadine. Pots of coffee and the acid smoothness of a Red Bull tall boy accenting the passing of time. Youthful faces looking toward the concept of life’s possibilities juxtaposed with the hollow face of a man or woman suddenly struck down by the empty nest syndrome. Oh, and when these folks laid their weary eyes on me that typically meant $350-$750 was coming out of someone’s pocket or bank account and into my cash register. But what the hell, I was nice about it. I told the truth which I now offer to those of you venturing off for collegiate adventures.
I operated a textbook store, a failed one, but still, in my mid-twenties I ran a small business, and I know a thing or two still about that niche market. Word of advice #1: if your school has a Barnes and Nobles College Bookstore, stay away from it unless you must have officially licensed gear. No matter how good the deal is they are fucking you. There is no doubt about that. The more expensive the book, the deeper the screw job. If they are charging $130, you should be paying $110 or less. They will tell you they’re the cheapest, but they only meet that standard if you provide everyoneelse’s prices.
#2: Beware of renting. Sure if it’s regularly an $8-$10 book, and you don’t believe you’ll want to keep it, then rent the damned thing. Otherwise in the long run you’re getting screwed. Here’s some numbers:
On face value it works but only up front. You see it costs the store more to have a book than they charge you to rent it. They have to rent a book out twice to make a profit, which means they will only rent out books that will be used more than once. Knowing that means at the end of the semester the odds are you’ll get about $50 for that $100 book (but don’t wait until the end of exam week go sell your books on day one of buyback if you can). Of course you never buy a new book, unless you have no choice at all. So if you bought the used book you paid about $75, then you got $50 back at the end of the semester. $75-$50=$25 which is less than the $45 rental. Also if you spill something on that book they’re going to charge you for the cost of the new book. As always any deal that seems to good to be true is.
#3: research the books you’re teachers want. Are they cheaper on Amazon or Half or Abe, and the seller is well-regarded, then get them there. Be wary of sellers with a small amount of reviews, that means they are probably amateurs or at the very least there’s a fifty-fifty toss-up on the transaction running smoothly. You don’t know who you are dealing with. If the difference is only a couple of bucks go with the person who’s got a high amount of positive reviews. Those are usually businesses selling the overstock online, so you know they are a professional experienced seller. Yes they fuck up, mistakes happen, but most of the time it’s a smooth transaction. Also, don’t be the person that doesn’t read the seller description, and then get mad when you find out the book is a piece of shit. Most of the time they’re listed as such.
#4:Be kind to the bookstore employees, this is a completely shitty time for them. They deal with a large amount of wholly ignorant people who also treat them like shit as if they are to blame for the cost of the textbook. The store doesn’t choose the book, your teacher’s do. The stores don’t choose the retail price, publishers do that, and publishers, major textbook publishers specifically, are rotten crooks. They push out unneeded new editions and then sell the professors on it’s “enhanced” features. The professors, especially department chairs, enjoy the publisher rep schmoozing, and decide their department must have that new book! The publisher reps need the stores to order new books as opposed to used ones, because they make dick on a used copy of their book. Publisher Reps hate it when a student can get a used copy and save money.
So don’t shit all over the people behind the counter. It’s not their fault. Understand that for the folks running off-campus bookstores, this month makes or breaks them, and they are working 15 to 18 hours a day to make their nut. August is the textbook worlds Catalina Wine Mixer. Your problems as a college student pale in comparison to the stress these people are under. Don’t be a dick. On top of that the temp workers at the store are probably your classmates. They’re just trying to make a little money, and they are working for several hours in the store and going to class. So have some compassion.
I know buying textbooks sucks, but get over that part, it’s a simple reality. Just be a smart consumer. Would you buy a car without researching it first? Would you buy a laptop without comparing various prices first? Textbooks are no different from any other expensive purchase. As Tom Hanks in A League of Their Own says, “Use your head, that’s the lump that’s three feet above your ass!”
Now stop being such whiny little pricks and read the books, you may learn something, which is why you took out that massive loan that will glare over your shoulder like the reaper for the next twenty years in the first place.