Little saved when purchasing books online

Many students are no longer surprised at paying $150 for atextbook at the campus bookstore. But what may be surprising isthat the bookstore’s prices for new textbooks are greatly similarto those of online competitors.

The Torch compared prices of 46 new textbooks from the receiptsof 26 students who shopped at the university bookstore to fiveonline competitors:,,,, and

Online shopping – which can result in considerable discountswhen purchasing books used – typically does not result insignificant discounts for new texts, The Torch found. Althoughthere are exception – Horton’s “Principles of Biochemistry” can bepurchased on for $58.55, nearly half the price of thecampus bookstore – most online orders do not result in substantial,savings. Only, a subsidiary of eBay that serves as anoutlet for small or independent retailers, consistently offeredpricing that was competitive to the bookstore’s on its newbooks.

Prices from the two major United States online retailers, and, did not deviate far from thelist price of the texts. A new copy of Wetzel’s “Limnology” sellsfor $75.95 at the bookstore, $85.41 at, $79.95 and, and $70.41 at “AlifBaa,” an introductory Arabic textbook, sells new for $37.95 at thebookstore, $39.95 at and, and for$37.85 at”

Basic book costs from overseas retailers, and theimporter, were routinely less expensive than thosefrom U.S. based sellers, but high shipping costs typically reducedsavings., for example, charges a $5.43 shipping chargeper order and an additional $7.25 per order and, unlike both majorU.S. retailers, does not offer free shipping within the UnitedStates., usually a more expensive alternative tothe bookstore, also did not stock most of the textbooks surveyed byThe Torch.

Overall, emerged as the best website for studentsintent on saving money on new textbook purchases. Unlike its onlinecompetitors, which sell books from centralized warehouses, half.comis a listing service. For a small fee, book distributors,independent vendors and bookstores can list their books on website. However, not all sellers on list theedition of the textbooks they offer and some old editions are soldas new books. If a textbook has recently come out with a newedition, it is generally a good idea to contact sellers to makesure they are offering the correct edition. Most sellers arelocated within the United States, which brings down shipping timeand costs, but because of the multiplicity of sellers, students arelikely to pay shipping and handling fees for each book.

Regardless of shipping costs, all online ordering results inwait time for the books to arrive. Students must decide whether thetime required for packaging, shipping and delivery is worth thesavings. In instances where texts are not required immediately fora class the decision is simpler, but in most cases the tradeoff isa few fewer dollars in exchange for a delay in the ability to beginwork for classes. Underlying all online ordering is the decisionwhether that delay is worth whatever amount of money might besaved. Though expedited shipping is often available, the extra costof faster shipping cuts into what money might be saved. The typicalwait – often a week or more even for domestic purchases – maysimply be too long for students who need to begin their homework assoon as possible.

The Torch’s findings on overseas ordering are inconsistent witha profile of the owners by The New York Timespublished on Oct. 21, 2003. The article – entitled “Students Find$100 textbooks Cost $50, Purchased Overseas – names bookcentral.comand as sources of significant discounts for newtextbook purchasing when compared to domestic prices. Its abstract,which begins “American college students find that their textbookscost far less overseas than they do in the United States,” is notsupported by The Torch’s smaller study. The Torch found no textbookunder $80 in the bookstore that could be purchased more cheaplyfrom an overseas retailer than a domestic one, and for everyinstance of large discounts (for example, Horton’s book, above)there was one of inflated pricing; Sverdrup’s “Introduction to theWorld’s Oceans” cost $56.78 more on than in thebookstore, and was not listed on In most cases,prices for new textbooks were similar to or slightly more expensivethan pricing from United States based retailers, largely due tohigh costs of shipping.

All textbook pricing for the St. John’s bookstore included itsfive percent discount. Pricing from includes shipping,which cannot be waived to orders within the United States. Pricingfrom and do not include shippingcosts, which can be waived on all orders of $25 or more. Conversionfrom GBP to USD was done by, at an exchange rate of£1 = $1.8166.