Why is the bookstore so expensive?

Darvin Nelson and Emily Echevarria

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The UNF Bookstore. Photo credit Emily Echevarria.

It’s a world all of its own– a place that has everything you could possibly need. Out of mascara? Need a notebook for your 8 a.m. class? Or maybe even a snack, or a new shirt? It exists in its own dimension, apart from reality, in a place where it’s acceptable to pay an arm and a leg for a bottle of water.

It is also the only place Bookstore Authorizations work for students with financial aid, with the only other alternative being to wait until refunds are released to purchase materials.

With the spring semester just a few weeks underway, students have all had to deal with purchasing textbooks and supplies, on top of their tuition payments. Students often complain about the hefty price of books, and according to Business Insider, the price of textbooks rose 67% between 2008 and 2018. 

According to the National Institution of College Stores, students spend an average of $655 on textbooks annually. In fact, the College Board recommends that students budget $1200 per academic year for textbooks and class materials. When factors like tuition, meal plans, and dorms are added, the price of attending college can seem steep.

Many students find ways to avoid the hefty textbook fee by renting books or buying them used. The UNF bookstore advertises these options as well, putting, “Are you ready for classes? Rent your textbooks and cut your costs!” on the front page of its website. But is the bookstore really helping students cut down the cost of an education?

When you walk into the Bookstore, it seems as though it has everything you could need. Sketchbooks and paint for the aspiring artist, snacks for the starving student, and all sorts of UNF apparel. Their prices, though, are much steeper than their competitors. 

For example, the textbook “19th Century European Art” by Petra Chu, a book required for one of UNF’s many art history classes, is sold brand new at the bookstore for $178.25. If that sounds steep, the bookstore offers a way to save money. You can buy the book used for $133.75 instead, or save even more by renting for only $77.18. 

 

This may sound like a good deal, but the bookstore’s alternatives offer even more competitive prices. Amazon sells the same textbook for $144.48 for a new copy, and rents it for only $25.99. At Barnes and Noble, a new copy of the textbook is $146.66, and a used version is $108.74. From the popular online textbook store Chegg, a new copy of the book is $137.49, a used version is 88.99, and the rental price is $26.49. If you want to bypass bookstores entirely, you can buy the book straight from Pearson, the publisher– for only $127.99. 

This situation with overpricing is not just limited to books. Candy, backpacks, and all kinds of academic supplies are sold for a high price. 

At the bookstore, you can buy a 2.5 ounce container of Pringles for $1.69, but you can buy the same container at Walmart for $1.00. If you’re really hungry, you can buy a 5.2 ounce container of Pringles for $1.44, cheaper than the smaller one at the bookstore. 

UNF Bookstore 2.5 oz can of Pringles. Photo credit Darvin Nelson.

Bookstore price for a 2.5 oz. can of Pringles. Photo credit Darvin Nelson.

 

Walmart price for 2.5 oz Pringles can. Photo credit Darvin Nelson.

 

2.5 oz can of Pringles at Walmart. Photo credit Darvin Nelson.

For a Texas Instruments TI-3OX calculator at the bookstore, it will cost you $19.99. You can buy it at Walmart for $12.97. 

The UNF Bookstore sells this Texas Instruments TI-3OX calculator for $19.99. Photo credit Darvin Nelson.

Walmart sells the same Texas Instrument calculator for $12.97. Photo credit Darvin Nelson.

A pack of five-count Ultra Fine Tip Sharpies in assorted colors at the bookstore is $7.49. At Walmart, it costs $6.44. 

So why exactly are these items more expensive from the UNF bookstore, and how are the prices decided? When we asked the bookstore to comment on how they price textbooks and merchandise, the answer was unclear. 

“The UNF Bookstore works hard to keep course material prices competitive to drive student access to the right materials at the right time,” a representative from the bookstore commented. “We help students save by offering a variety of affordable choices like rental, digital and the largest selection of used books in the industry.”

The bookstore is operated by Follett, a company that runs almost 1,200 campus stores and 1,700 online stores. “We’re helping make college more affordable with huge inventories of used and rental textbooks as well as year-round buyback and price match programs,” it says on their website. 

Each semester, faculty decides the course materials and work with the bookstore to “identify cost-saving opportunities like bundles as well as rental and digital options,” according to the Bookstore. 

The UNF Bookstore pointed out that it does offer a few programs to help students save money, like the Textbook Buyback program, where students can sell their course materials back to the store for cash. Additionally, the bookstore holds 2-Day Sales throughout the semester for students to purchase merchandise at a discount, and partners with UNF Athletics to put coupons on the back of basketball game tickets to use on a single clothing or gift item. 

Follett also offers programs aimed at affordability, including its ACCESS program. This program provides students with all of their required course materials as a part of tuition and fees and saved UNF students $177,000 during the Fall 2019 semester, according to the bookstore. 

“Considering what’s next, Follett is dedicated to delivering new affordability programs to ultimately drive student access and success,” said the Bookstore. 

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