Controlling Textbook Costs

Date Published: 
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The average amount a typical student at a four-year public university spends on textbooks is about $47 less than it was four years ago, $655 as opposed to $702. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) credits the decline to used book and book rental programs1. Barnes & Noble at UNC Charlotte has had both for years. In fact, our campus bookstore was among the first in the UNC system to offer a textbook rental program.

Publishers set textbook prices. This limits what university bookstores can do to impact textbook affordability for students. But there are actions we can take together to help control costs. 

How faculty can help control the cost of textbooks

  • Inform the bookstore about adoption decisions on or before adoption deadlines2, to allow enough time to plan for rental rents (as books adopted for the following term will be shelved as used books to save students up to 80% of the original price), buy-back (as books adopted for the following term are bought back at 50% of the original price), and to source used books in order to increase the likelihood of offering more used books (at a 25% discount) to students.
  • Consider costs of books and packages before making an adoption decision. Be aware that you may be able to negotiate prices with publishers. Ask the publisher how much the bookstore will be charged, and then make sure that price is honored.
  • Consider adopting stand-alone texts instead of “bundles” so students can rent up to an 80% savings or sell back at 50% and buy used at a savings of 25%.
  • When adopting a “value format” from a publisher (e-book, loose-leaf version, etc.), consider the impact on students not being able to rent (saving them up to 80%), or sell back a book at 50%, and not being able to buy used books (saving 25%). The bookstore can help you run the numbers to determine which version is most cost-effective for students.
  •  Inform students on the first day of class about their textbooks; or better yet, send an email prior to start of class. Let them know when a book is “required” vs. “recommended” and tell them how the book will be used. Will it be used in class, for homework or testing only? This helps students understand the value of their investment, and reduces the dissatisfaction many of them feel when they purchase an expensive book but do not use it in class.
  • If enrollments are large enough to make it cost-effective, consider a “customized” version of a text that may eliminate chapters not covered and may reduce costs.
  • Avoid “bundles” that contain items such as access codes, readers, etc., that you do not plan to use in class. While often billed as “free,” these items may add costs and may add to student frustration over being required to purchase items that they do not use, or being prohibited from choosing a used book.

What Barnes & Noble at UNC Charlotte bookstore currently does to help control textbook costs:

  • Your campus store offers a comprehensive textbook program that includes a variety of formats and processes aimed at affordability. We leverage relationships with more than 7,000 publishers to help faculty select from an extensive catalog of affordable textbooks and reference books – including rental, digital, and used formats – to help students save up to 60% on textbooks and achieve success in the classroom.
  • Textbook Rental Program: With more than 80 percent of titles typically available to rent, our students will have access to the industry’s leading textbook rental program. Our rental marketplace pricing and buyout programs offer a great opportunity for students to save money without compromising their educational experience. Students can purchase textbook rentals in-store or online; highlight text and make notes on pages; keep books until finals are over; and return books at the bookstore or through the mail.
  • Digital Textbook Program: We offer a robust, academically relevant digital library. Digital offerings are designed with convenience in mind, allowing students to purchase and access books immediately. And, to optimize the digital textbook experience, we offer an exciting new digital reading experience, YUZU.
  • Used Textbooks and Cash for Books: We obtain a large percentage of used book inventory for our students through our multi-channel buyback option known as Cash for Books. At the end of each semester, Cash for Books allows students to return their unwanted textbooks back to the bookstore for up to 50% cash back off the new textbook price. We closely review our school’s course information to identify those materials that may be used again..
  • Unbundled Textbooks and Custom Texts: We also offer several alternative textbook options that can help our students save even more money, such as bundled, unbundled and custom texts. While some bundled textbook packages include print and technology options that enhance the student’s learning experience like DVDs, study guides, online access and workbooks, others include additional course materials that may not be used in the classroom. When possible, we carry both bundled packages and the individual components, so that students can choose the option that works best for them. Many faculty members choose to create custom texts using select content and other materials. Custom texts address course-specific needs and objectives, allowing students more flexibility in their course material options.
  • Lower Margin on New Textbooks: Back in 2009, Barnes & Noble at UNC Charlotte agreed to lower their margin from 23% to 18%. This is the lowest in the state and among the lowest in the country.
  • Price Match Guarantee: Barnes & Noble at UNC Charlotte offers a 100% price-match guarantee vs. local competitors.

How students help control the cost of textbooks:

 Be informed and know what you’re getting. When price shopping, make sure you’re comparing “apples to apples.” For example, is the used book you’re about to buy online the correct edition? Did your professor order a book with a bundled code?

Have more questions? Just ask! Send questions via this contact form, and we’we will make sure it gets to the person who can best answer.

Bookstore staff person stacking textbooks in preparation for Fall semester

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  1. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2013/01/why-are-college-textbooks-so-absurdly-expensive/266801/
  2. Fall, Summer 1, Summer 2 due date is in March and Spring adoption due date is in October

Thanks to Cheri Griffith, manager of Barnes & Noble at UNC Charlotte and Greg McCambridge, Auxiliary Services Licensing and Bookstore contract manager, for providing content for this article.