Selling back textbooks a market in flux

One of the greatest strains on students’ wallets occurs at the beginning of every semester when they have to buy books. More devastating, perhaps, is the moment when students attempt to sell them back, only to find that they receive a mere small fraction of the original price.

Between the Vassar bookstore, Belltower and Amazon, it can be difficult to decide which option will reap the most rewards and there are a number of factors that determine where a student can get the most money back for their books.

According to Manager Paul Maggio, the bookstore’s ability to buy books is centrally dependent on whether the course will be offered the following semester, how many sections there will be and if professors will assign the same texts.

“If the book which is being used now is being used in the fall we will pay you 50 percent of what you paid for the book,” he explained.

He continued, “Say there’s five sections this semester, but there are only two sections in the fall—I would only buy enough [books] for the two sections. I can’t buy them.” Conversely, he said, if there were only two sections offered this semester, but five to open up next semester, the bookstore would be able to buy back everyone’s books.

In order to be able to accurately gauge the need for these books, of course, it is necessary for professors to communicate to the bookstore what texts they will require for their students.

“When I last checked in on Friday we had about 14 percent of the book orders in from all of the faculty. I’m hoping that by the time we get to May, before students leave, I’ll have at least 25 to 30 percent of the book lists,” said Maggio. An awareness of professors’ plans for their curriculum allows the bookstore to buy back books in an informed way.

Moreover, however, the prices at which the bookstore can buy back books fluctuate based on demand beyond the scope of Vassar’s campus.

“You’re getting what they call national demand. And that is anywhere from 0 to 20 percent of what the value of the book is. So you buy a $100 book you might get 10 bucks, three bucks, or nothing,” said Maggio, highlighting the hit-or-miss aspect of selling back books.

Though Belltower boasts the convenience of students never having to leave their dorms in order to make these transactions, they too are subject to basic principles of supply and demand.

“The most important factor is the scale to which the book is used. Science, math, and psychology textbooks normally make a hefty amount because they are used nationwide and do not change too frequently. However, students can make up for this with the quantity of books they are willing to sell back,” said Byron Todman Jr. ’15, a Bell Tower employee.

Maggio agreed that students with textbooks can certainly receive more money than those who are trying to return novels or other paperback texts—a common grievance for students in the humanities rather than in math and science courses.

He said, “Bio, chem, economics—they use core-required books. [Chemistry] books are $300 and boom! You sold that back and it’s a 150 bucks. So, generally kids are getting between 75 and 150 dollars.”

Todman maintained Belltower might still offer more cash back and eliminate some of the more tedious troubles which often arise when selling back to the bookstore or the hassles of shipping prices and listing fees of Amazon.

He said, “First of all, we do not discriminate against where your book is from. Second, because the transaction is on the spot and in cash, you do not have to wait for a sale or give a chunk of your profit to a middle-man for listing fees.”

Ultimately, a student’s best bet is to explore all of the possibilities and be strategic in the way they sell different texts.

“With novels, it may be more profitable to sell directly to a friend who has the same class later,” said Todman.

Maggio encouraged students to do price comparisons if they are not fully convinced the bookstore is giving them the best offer. Though it requires more effort,  it has the potential to be fruitful.

He concluded, “I always tell them and some kids do this come to us—there’s no price—write all of the [costs] down and go to Amazon or Belltower and compare what you’re going to get for them.”

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