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Bookstore swindling

Jennifer Kursman
By Jennifer Kursman
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday, November 26, 2003
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Stop textbook price-gouging by buying from overseas retailers

After Thanksgiving, we only have a few weeks until - gulp - finals. Academically, the only thing to look forward to at the end of the semester is the possibility of selling our loathed books for a profit. Then it's back to the bookstore to drop another wad of cash and do it all over again.

Textbooks at the UofA Bookstore and at college bookstores around the country are ridiculously expensive. By shopping online at overseas retailers, such as, students can usually save 50 percent or more off the American sticker price. For example, the New York Times reported last month that the book "Lenhinger Principles of Biochemistry, Third Edition" costs $146.15 at, but at the UK's site, the same book costs $63.48. Even when the shipping cost is added in, the savings are still substantial. Furthermore, having books delivered to your front door cancels the "convenience factor" of going to the UofA Bookstore. With these advantages, there is no sane reason to buy books at an American college bookstore.

Students already burdened by tuition hikes are sick of paying more than double for their books, and lawmakers are taking notice. Last Thursday, House Representative David Wu (D-OR) proposed legislation that asks the General Accounting Office to investigate the price discrepancies, including: The exact amount of money necessary to make a textbook, how much the new editions have been revised and the economical significance of such drastic price differences.

Most importantly, he wants the GAO to answer this rhetorical question: Why aren't American stores lowering their prices to compete with foreign retailers? Because corporations want to milk as much money out of us poor college students as they can, of course. And as long as we keep shelling out, they will keep their prices high. So one easy solution is to simply buy from a different source.

But other students shop at the campus bookstore because they want to support the university through their purchases. In this light, shopping overseas suddenly seems like treason, a crime against one's college. Failing to support your college's bookstore is like chipping away at the value of your degree, some students argue.

There is a way to address both concerns. The UA should start buying books from foreign retailers so that students can contribute to the university while paying a lower price. After all, if wholesale books cost less, there's no reason for a price spike - except greed. Several colleges around the nation have put this idea into practice. The Times also reported that Tom Frey, the owner of Purdue University's bookstore, and Bob Crabb, the owner of the University of Minnesota's bookstore, have both been buying from British Amazon and other eastern retailers.

Cameron Johnson, a spokesman for Mr. Wu, told the Michigan Daily that price discrepancies "suggest there may be some sort of price gouging going on." In other words, American retailers are charging students the maximum amount that they wager we'll pay.

Well, the flip side of living in a country based on capitalism is that revenues are determined by demand, not just supply. If students would organize together and act jointly, we could wield enough pressure to make our textbook bills dramatically lower come future semesters. Students should urge the UofA Bookstore to buy books from foreign retailers and sell them at a lower price, or else threaten to buy directly from the foreign retailers.

Brian Banton, another spokesman for Rep. Wu, told me

yesterday that Mr. Wu's legislation, if passed, could take effect immediately as a "stand-alone" bill, or the bill could be incorporated as an amendment to the Higher Education Act. "Students shouldn't have to pay more for textbooks just because they are American, " he said.

Mr. Wu's bill, if passed, could help to make textbooks more affordable to students. But Congress is known for taking its sweet time when it comes to changing the laws of the land. In the meantime, students should be taking matters into their own hands.

Jennifer Kursman is a biochemistry freshman. She can be reached at

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