Today was a vacation day for me. I had the pleasure of taking my son to Purdue for an orientation visit. All went well, but now that we're dealing with two kids in college at the same time I'm focused on getting the best deal I can on textbooks. The world of textbook retailing is indeed interesting and intriguing...
If you pay attention to the Amazon bestseller lists you've no doubt seen the sudden appearance of a variety of textbooks at the start of the fall and spring semesters. Just like the rest of us, students are looking for the best value and Amazon generally offers the richest discounts.
As we walked around campus today it was impossible to miss the "special offers" and other deals the campus bookstores were pitching to get your business. One chain "sponsored" the orientation event, which just proves (once again) that institutions of higher education aren't afraid to slap a corporate logo on something if it means making a quick buck; can't they find a way to fund their budgets with these skyrocketing tuition rates?! One of the other stores didn't sponsor the event but had employees outside accosting you with their deals as you walked by. Honestly, it felt like those guys on the street corners in Vegas with their "show" cards.
What really set me off today though is the secrecy that surrounds the required textbook list for each course. Again, students are quickly learning that the campus store probably doesn't have the best price. As a result, the campus store's websites aren't all that forthcoming with the list of required books.
But what about the school's website? Here's an example of a first-semester Calculus course at Purdue, MA 161. All the relevant course details seem to be there...except for the textbook information! Shouldn't the school's website play Switzerland in this and treat all resellers the same by including the required textbooks on the course page? I've looked high and low on their site and I can't find the information. I've got a message in to Purdue's Registrar to get their "official" position on this and I'll let you know if I hear anything back on my inquiry.
To be fair, we're likely to buy some of the books online and the rest at the campus stores this year. Timing, availability and other issues make it challenging to do all your textbook shopping at Amazon, for example. And while I love browsing through the campus stores, they need to adjust their whole why-to-buy message, just like the bigger brick-and-mortar chains. Walking through the stores today I got a sense that I wasn't the only one thinking about a better (and cheaper) online alternative.