Obscure online resources look to slash textbook prices

By Jill Disis

It is no surprise that the cost of college textbooks continues to rise year after year.

Prices on books have nearly tripled in the past 20 years, according to a 2005 study by the Government Accountability Office.

Most sales come from campus bookstores, the most readily available outlets. However, other obscure resources are available to students, many of which aim to lessen the blow experienced by those who need to buy otherwise exceedingly expensive hardcover books.

One such company that has been gaining steam on campus is the Illini Book Exchange, a free Web site organized and maintained by other University students.

Emeka Okekeocha, freshman in engineering, said he used the site this semester and spent about $400 on textbooks.

The format of the Web site allows students to buy and sell books from other students. The site has also partnered with the Illini Union Bookstore.

A less conventional method of finding books this semester is I-Share, the University library’s network connecting various libraries throughout the country.

“I-Share serves a little more than 800,000 registered patrons, students, faculty and staff, in Illinois,” said Tom Dorst, director of administration and planning for Consortium of Academic and Research Libraries in Illinois, the Web site that manages I-Share. “It’s very, very popular.”

However, I-Share is a service for checking out books not for purchasing them. Undergraduates can request books based on certain loan periods and some may be longer than others.

“It’s a shared catalog. If other books are loanable to students, then yes, a student can request them,” Dorst said.

Dorst added trying to get books for classes through I-Share is not the ideal way to go about it, but it is doable.

“Textbooks are a fairly lucrative publishing enterprise,” Dorst said. “The physical sales on campus have a monopoly, but online things have changed it a little bit.”

Other online resources gaining momentum vary from buying and selling books via Facebook applications, to using online retailers like Amazon.com or Half.com.

For students not concerned about having hard copies, Web sites like CafeScribe sell online versions of books for a greatly reduced cost over the physical version.

Still others like Chegg.com emphasize renting books instead of purchasing them – very much like a library putting books on loan.

Bookbyte, another option, places concentration on buying books through the Web site or through other student sellers. “If your college bookstore has the book you need, it’s the fastest way,” said Janet Quinn, the director of marketing for Bookbyte. “But if you’re looking to save money, you can compare with resources online. It can cut the total cost by half.”

Quinn said there are other lesser-known options as well, like purchasing older editions, international editions, and annotated or teacher’s editions of books for a smaller cost than a new or used book.

However, buyers need to look out for illegitimate Web sites, she added.

“Check to see if they have live customer service, so you know for sure if you can talk to a live body,” Quinn said. “And make sure to check if they have a money back guarantee.”