January 18, 2012

Bookstore unable to compete with online shops

Next to final exams, it is perhaps the most dreaded and inescapable part of an academic term: purchasing textbooks.

With nine courses per year, some Knox students spend as much as $1,000 per year on textbooks alone. Walk through the campus bookstore, and it is easy to see how.

Among the most expensive textbooks for winter 2012 include, Prescott’s Microbiology for Professor Matthew Jones Rhoades’ Biology 333 course ($212.35) and Principles of Marketing for Professor John Spittell’s Business 235 course ($225.95).

“I never buy my textbooks in the bookstore because they’re really expensive,” junior Evan Feeley said. “And I don’t think people should buy from there. It’s exploitative.”

Feeley is not alone. Many students see prices in the Knox bookstore as unreasonable and instead search the Internet, where they can rent or find less expensive prices on their textbooks.

“More students are using the Internet at a minimum to at least make sure the prices they’re getting at the bookstore are good,” Jeff Cohen, CEO of Campusbooks.com, said. “For the student who’s a little more savvy and looking to save some money, they’re going to find that the Internet provides a good opportunity to save.”

Those who still purchase textbooks from the bookstore often do so when a specific edition of a book is not available online. For others, it is just a matter of convenience.

“I waited until the last minute to buy my books and it was right there,” sophomore Carmen Carabello said.

Carabello, also an employee at the bookstore, estimated that only half of Knox students buy their books from Knox.

The Knox bookstore sells two kinds of books: trade books and textbooks. Trade books are intended for general readership — a novel or an autobiography — whereas textbooks have a limited consumer base.

Bookstore manager Craig Conolly said most students do not understand the economics behind textbook pricing, which is influenced by publishers marketing their textbook to professors and size of the book.

“There are companies online that sell books for less than we pay for them. We just can’t compete with that,” Conolly said. “There’s a perception in general that we’re the big bad bookstore. But if you really look at who students are dealing with, they make us look like mom and pop bookstores.”

He noted that because the bookstore is owned and operated by Knox — whose $34,110 tuition is among the highest in Illinois — spending money there supports the college.

“Price probably shouldn’t always be the bottom line for students,” he said.

Matt McKinney
Matt McKinney is a senior majoring in creative writing and minoring in journalism. His experience with journalism ranges from a year as co-sports editor for TKS to an internship with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he used his Spanish language skills to report a front-page story on changes to federal immigration policy. He has also written for The Galesburg Register-Mail and Knox’s Office of Communications. Matt is the recipient of the 2012 Knox College Kimble Prize for Feature Journalism and two awards from the Illinois College Press Association, including a first place award for sports game coverage. He is currently interning virtually with The Tampa Bay Times and will pursue his master's next year at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.


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