Online information shrinks campus bookstores

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A student strolls through the aisles of the University Co-op, Monday. Though competition from online competitors and rival bookstores is high, the Co-op remains the most attractive option for students looking to buy their books quickly.

Photo Credit: Gabriella Belzer | Daily Texan Staff

Campus bookstores are fighting textbook wars as e-readers, online supplements and digital copies of textbooks, increase competition and shrink bookstores at UT.

BookHolders has the lowest listed prices for used textbooks for three core classes required by UT, according to data collected by the Daily Texan on four UT bookstores.

Austin Textbooks had the second lowest prices, followed by the University Co-op and West Campus Books. BookHolders works differently by offering an advantage program that co-signs customers as sellers of their books. The store sells the co-signer’s book to other students instead of actually purchasing them, meaning that the listed prices could be misleading since the lowered prices also reflect money lost by students.

From 2000 until 2005 the University Co-op was the only bookstore on campus. It remains the most popular destination for people trying to find recently updated books quickly, said Spanish junior Jonathan Hernandez.

“Sometimes professors tell us that they want the most updated information in their books, so we have to buy these new editions that only the Co-op has,” Hernandez said. “Professors try to find cheaper editions, but they take weeks to come in and you have to come here and buy the books since you don’t want to fall behind two or three chapters.”

When the Co-op isn’t able to stock a book, necessity brings students into other stores where the needed text is available, said economics junior Ramses Elserwy.

“Usually the Co-op has everything I need, but only Austin Textbooks had the new edition that I had to have for class,” Elserwy said. “I figure the books are always going to be expensive. If you need a book, you got to do it.”

The increasing availability of books on Amazon and other providers means that the cheapest deals can now be found online, said business and pre-pharmacy junior Christine Dinh.

“The Co-op is first because I know they’ll have the books I’ll need, but then I’ll go online,” Dinh said. “Usually my friends are willing to sell their books for cheap, but I think that Amazon has the best prices.”

The movement towards buying books and digital publications online is shrinking the market for campus bookstores, said Austin Textbooks owner Ken Jones. He said he was surprised that other stores are trying to compete and expand in a market that is dwindling.

“In five years my store and all the other stores will be gone because the industry is changing,” Jones said. “There are incredible amounts of online competition, professors are putting information online, and there are more packets of information coming out than we can keep up with. I see the writing on the wall.”

However, the diminishing role of bookstores does not necessarily mean that students will get better deals, Jones said.

“One thing that kids don’t really know is that books have a margin in them ­— that’s how bookstores make money,” Jones said. “With Amazon you have a paradigm shift. They have no margin and the prices work like a stock market. You check the prices of books two months from now and you’ll be surprised to see how much they’ve dropped. The publishers make more money like that.”

 Printed on Tuesday January 24, 2012 as: Technology creates challenges, booksellers fight to compete