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Bargaining for books

The solution to unnecessarily costly textbooks: The Hunt. There are three main arenas in which to partake in the textbook hunt: the campus bookstore, other students’ ads, and online stores such as Amazon.

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By Jocelyn McKay (Contributor) – Email

Date Posted: September 20, 2011
Print Edition: September 14, 2011

With the return of the school year comes each students’ list of required texts. The task of buying textbooks, once a summer-time concern quickly suppressed with sunshine and slurpees, quickly becomes a fall financial reality check. The fact is that buying textbooks for courses is the reality of going to university.

The problem is finding the right books to buy at the least cost to you. Being a student at UFV is far from inexpensive. Tuition ranges anywhere from $200-$600 a course, not including additional fees such as Ancillary fees, building fees, U-Pass Student Union Fees, etc. Those students who do not pay to live on campus must commute, and for many this means the cost of a car and insurance, parking, and occasionally those quick-to-catch-you IMPARK tickets. Of the students with part-time jobs, many must reduce their work hours to allow time for lectures, labs and study. It is helpful then for students to find ways to cut back on the cost of required textbooks.

The solution to unnecessarily costly textbooks: The Hunt. There are three main arenas in which to partake in the textbook hunt: the campus bookstore, other students’ ads, and online stores such as Amazon. Each semester brings a new wave of bargain-dedicated students beginning their quest for the ever-elusive and nearly mythical ‘cheap’ textbook. These book hunters sniff with frustration through the bookstore aisles jotting down prices, roam UFV’s halls reading posters from other students selling used textbooks, and then surf the web to compare prices.

Students who use Amazon.ca to buy textbooks can generally find them cheaper than at the campus bookstore. For example, one can buy the Broadview edition of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales for $35 at the campus bookstore, or can order it on Amazon.ca for $22.95. Searching online for texts can also be beneficial because Amazon will suggest books in the same genre or by the same author as the texts you’ve added to your virtual ‘cart’. These suggested books can be useful as supplementary texts, but in buying them students spend more money, therefore defeating their purpose of bargaining to save money.

One must also take into account the shipping and handling time of ordering books through Amazon, which is usually 5-7 business days if selecting the standard shipping option. This becomes problematic when readings are due in the second week of classes, and means students must order textbooks as early as possible. There are faster shipping options such as Express shipping (3-5 business days), or Priority shipping (2-3 business days), but at additional cost.

Another thing to look out for when buying online is the seller. Amazon itself sells most books, but in some cases individual sellers offer cheaper books. These individual sellers do not offer the same quality guarantee or insurances as Amazon itself and are instead rated by past buyers using a five-star system. Despite the potential delays in shipping, there’s nothing more satisfying than signing the delivery person’s form and ripping open your order of cheap textbooks.

Especially during the first few weeks of the semester, the hallway bulletin boards are covered with home-made ads by students selling their used textbooks. Buying texts from other students is a noble idea as it gives you a discount as well as helps another student to afford books for their new courses. Some students even enjoy the hunt through flyers and ads for the specific textbooks they need. On the contrary, buying from other students means contacting them and arranging a meet that feels much like a drug deal; one invariably arrives first and must stand at the appointed place looking for their buyer in the ‘blue hoodie’, who then arrives with a wad of cash bound by an elastic band to trade for the ‘goods’.

If in the end Amazon doesn’t ship to your address without costly fees and other students only have last semester’s now outdated edition, one can always turn to the trusted, over-priced campus bookstore. The pros of buying at the bookstore are the assurance that they carry your text or will order it for you, that the current edition is always sold, the promise that the price listed is standardized for all students because haggling is not tolerated, and finally, that it really is the most easy to access as it is located less than ten minutes walk from anywhere on the campus.

My advice to students looking for bargain books is this: take your list of required texts and compare the prices from all three suppliers, and do so as early as possible to avoid shipping, handling, or student-seller delays. Happy hunting!

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