Response to: Outrageous textbook prices

Photo by Johanna Falzone

Flagler College student Jessica Fashant wrote an opinion article chronicling her troubles with purchasing textbooks. It was written for Brian Thompson’s Opinion Writing course.

This is a response to that opinion article from Trevor Smith of the Flagler College Bookstore.


I think (and hope!) our Flagler student employee was smiling at you out of friendliness; no one here works on commission.

I agree with you: $200 for a textbook is a lot. Fortunately, of our 500+ titles, only a dozen or so are priced that high (as a sidenote: when Bob Smith began managing the Flagler Bookstore in 1978, the books that were $20 were outrageous). To combat high prices, we try to provide “used” books, which are at least 25% cheaper than new ones. Half of our inventory is “used,” and we are working with several new sources to increase that percentage.

We also work closely with the faculty to make sure we order exactly what they want their students to use for class. When we’re told old editions are acceptable, we try to provide them; however, over 95% of the faculty do prefer to use current editions. Occasionally, students are required to purchase and use a non-returnable workbook to complement the textbook. We are unable to sell the workbooks “used” and can’t get them individually from the publisher. In Christy Castelli’s case, the text and workbook are packaged together by the publisher for $69.

The cited $900 per year for textbooks is misleading because it doesn’t take into account the Buy Back money (and, yes, I’ve heard the “but I only get $3 for my $100 book!” before…). We give up to 60% back for individual books, but overall, students get approximately 1/3 of their total book costs back. So that $900 per year becomes $600 (or $300 a semester). Still a lot, but total yearly college expenses at Flagler are $20,000. College books- if you buy them all- end up being 4-5% of total college costs. Typically, “entertainment” is a higher percentage cost for students.

Publishers would love for e-books to catch on. So far they haven’t. Publishers can only sell a textbook once per edition but they can sell an e-book for $90 anywhere from 4-8 times, depending on when a new edition comes out.

Renting books is usually not worth it, either. If, for example, you buy a book for $100 from the Flagler Bookstore and sell it back for $50, it costs you $50. Or you could rent that same book for $60 (less money up front!), ship it two ways and wonder all semester if you’ll be charged anything extra. It typically only makes sense if a book is going out of print.

I want to stress that we keep our prices as low as possible and give as much as we can back for books. We have to. We are a small, independent business competing with the World Wide Web. Most importantly, we have an obligation to Flagler College, its faculty, and, above all, its students.

I hope this letter leaves those students a little more enlightened to the complexities of the college textbook business. We would smile bigger selling you a “used” book at an affordable price.

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