Textbook FAQ

Answering Faculty Questions and Saving Students Money on Textbooks

Frequently Asked Textbook Questions

Why is there a March and April adoption deadline for classes that don't begin until late August or September? 

Even though classes don't start until the fall, the best time for us to purchase used books, both on campus and nationally, is when classes end in the spring. Then, national demand for used books far exceeds the supply, and inventory sells quickly, so we have to conduct our national used books acquisition as early as possible.

Also, having your texts on our buyback list enables us to pay the best prices, and therefore, keep textbooks cost down for students. It also keeps the books in the local market for resale and from being sent to a used books distributor.

Finally, we need to communicate with faculty when books are out-of-stock and when editions change. Book information is increasingly more difficult to verify now that there are so many bundles and ancillary components. And, in general, we find that instructors are more difficult to reach over the summer.

How do you decide how many to order?

We use estimated enrollment numbers, as well as our sales and enrollment history, in determining how many copies to order. There are many factors that may impact the quantity ordered. Sell through – a measure of how many students in a class historically buy the texts – is an important factor. We also consider increased online competition, as well as the number of used copies on campus that the students might exchange among themselves, and the type of materials adopted. For example, custom published materials usually enjoy higher sell through. Then, age of the edition is also a consideration, since the longer an edition has been around, the more alternate sources students can find, including buying and borrowing from a friend.

I send the information in on time, yet you still run out of books. Why?

As noted above, the number of texts ordered is based on many considerations, such as current enrollment information from the registrar and the history of sales for the course in prior semesters. While our goal is to have a book for every student enrolled in your course, plus a cushion for the unexpected, occasionally we may run out of books. Sometimes enrollment exceeds our estimates. Sometimes the publisher is out of stock. And sometimes we simply make mistakes. Any one of these issues can cause us to run out of inventory and create a shortage.

What do I do if there is a problem?

We try to determine how many students still need books and then immediately order them for next or second day air delivery. We realize that being without the required text is a serious issue for students and for you, and when that happens we get the book as fast as possible.

What is the difference between a textbook and a trade book? 

Textbooks are specifically designed for academic instruction and classroom use, while trade books are marketed to the general public and are likely to be fiction, reference, or books for general reading. Some trade books are adopted for course use.

Why do textbooks cost what they cost?

Briefly, textbooks require a larger investment to write, involve greater peer review, call for more comprehensive editing, and cost more to produce than general trade books. The textbook publisher's development costs are substantial, as are the cost of illustration, four-color printing, and durable bindings. Textbooks are usually produced in smaller print runs, limiting economies of scale, and their edition is increasing limited. Finally, marketing costs for textbooks are significant and are a definite factor in textbook pricing. Examination copies are expensive, as are the text bank, ancillaries, and faculty support materials that have increasingly become the norm in this market.

What is an examination or desk copy?

Examination and desk copies are not the same thing. Publishers provide examination copies to faculty so they can review them for possible adoption in their courses. Publishers provide desk copies to faculty members who have adopted a book and are using it in their classes. Normally, publishers will provide these books on a no cost basis; however, the publisher's marketing expense for these "free" copies is added to the cost of the book.

What is the ISBN?

The ISBN is the International Standard Book Number, which is unique to every book. It identifies the publisher, country, author, title, and edition of a book.

How are textbook availability issues resolved with publishers?

As soon as a publisher notifies us that a book is unavailable – whether out of stock, out of stock indefinitely, or out of print – we first search the national wholesale market to see if we can secure enough copies. If we cannot find the needed quantity, we will immediately contact you to discuss the situation so that you can make an alternative selection, if possible.

I've used the same text for the last three years. Can't you assume I'm going to use it again?

It is important for us to have your confirmation, because courses change, as do editions – about one-third of the basic texts change edition each year. However, you do not have to wait until the adoption deadline to let us know, and if you are sure you are going to use the book every time the course is taught until it does change editions, we would welcome notification in advance. We will probably still seek your confirmation each term because we don't want to risk a problem.

When will books for my classes be on the shelves?

Our goal is to have every book on our shelves approximately 4 weeks prior to the start of classes; earlier if possible due to the increasingly large number of students that reserve their books.

Some students don't sell their books back, so when is the early adoption deadline important?

Even if your students don't sell their books, it gives us a chance to locate used copies from national wholesalers. And, for those who would like to sell back their books, we want to offer the highest possible prices.

I've been approached by a publisher to consider a "bundle" or "package". From the Bookstore's point of view, what is the thing I should consider before making the decision?

When evaluating a bundle or package, first consider how you will use the components to enhance your students' learning. If you intend to make the additional components an integral part of you curriculum (for example, by assigning work that requires access to a particular website that is part of the package), then a bundle can represent an excellent price and educational value for your students. However, if you don't plan to refer to or assign work requiring bundled components, then the stand alone text – which is easier to acquire through book buyback and from used book wholesalers – will likely save your students money.

If I adopt a textbook that requires students to have a "pass code" to access content, does that mean that the student cannot buy a used book?

Students can usually buy the pass code separately, but the cost may negate the savings of buying a used book. Separate pass codes will (usually) be sold by the Bookstore only if the publisher offers a price low enough to allow us to sell the used text and pass code together and still provide some savings to students. An increasing number of publishers are doing this, although not for all titles. Also, if we cannot sell the used book at a price that makes sense for students, we will not buy it back for resale. In such a case, we will pay on the price offered by a national used books wholesaler.

I've been approached by a publisher to consider a "custom" textbook. What are the pros and cons of this textbook format from the Bookstore's point of view?

Custom books allow you to select only the materials that you plan on using in your course – usually only a portion of the regular textbook. Because students pay only for what they actually need, custom books may prove to be less expensive. In addition, if you re-adopt a custom book for multiple terms, students can enjoy the same saving as on traditional textbooks. And, when you use a custom edition, you do not need to worry about changing your textbooks immediately when a new edition is published. However, because only students on our campus use the custom edition, we are limited in our acquisition of used copies. With traditional textbooks, we can access the larger used book market, in addition to our local market.

What questions should I ask a publisher's rep to get at the key issues related to the price of a textbook? 

  • How much will this book cost my student? Remember, though, that when asked for the price of the text, publisher's sales representatives frequently quote the cost of the textbook to the Bookstore- that is, the net cost. The net cost does not include the Bookstore's markup, which reflects operational expenses and other costs of doing business. However, if you know the net cost, we will be happy to estimate the retail price your students will pay.
  • Is the textbook available by itself or sold only as part of a bundle?
  • What online resources are available to students with the purchase of the text, and are those resources available to anyone, or only to students who buy a new copy?
  • When is the next edition going to be released?

I've heard a lot about digital versions of texts being cheaper than printed texts. What can you tell me about this? 

Digital versions of textbooks may save students money up front. Additionally, some publishers now offer students the ability to purchase chapters as they go – a sort of installment plan. However, students' ability to print the text is often limited, and digital textbooks sometimes "expire" after a certain period of time. To calculate the savings digital texts represent, the cost must be compared to the net expense of purchasing a used copy of a printed textbook, then selling the book back during buyback. Often a student comes out ahead by purchasing a printed copy, then selling it when the course is over. Also, many students continue to prefer learning from a book they can touch, highlight, and carry around in their backpacks, as opposed to one accessible only by computer. When both print and digital versions are offered by publishers, the Bookstore will usually try to make both options available to students and let the students choose which option they prefer.

Used Book Buyback

If an adoption is not sent in on time, will buyback prices be affected?

Yes, only books that we know have been re-adopted are bought back from students for up to 50% of the new price until we have as many copies as we think we will need; non-adopted books are bought back at a national market price.

How are buyback prices determined?

If a book has been re-adopted for use in a subsequent semester or term and we need the book for our inventory, we will pay students up to 50% of the new price. Books for which we have no adoption information will be bought back at national market price – generally between 10% and 30% of the new price – which is based on the popularity of the book, along with supply and demand. Old editions and out of print books generally have little or no buyback value.

Why do you emphasize textbook buyback?

It is the best opportunity to make textbooks more affordable for students. It allows us to give students as much money for their books as possible, but more importantly, to secure as many used copies as we can in a market where there is a limited supply.

How are used textbooks priced?

Used books are priced at 75% of the new book price. For example, a new book priced at $50.00 will sell for $37.50 used.

What happens to non-adopted books that are bought back?

Non-adopted books are shipped to a national distribution center where they are sold to bookstores that do have adoptions for the books. Books that become old editions or go out of print are often sent overseas thorough one of several reputable charitable organizations.

Of the used books that are sold in the bookstore, what percentage is bought back form our students?

Of course it depends on the discipline and other factors, but in general about half of the used books on our shelves were bought back from students. The rest are obtained through a process that involves locating and acquiring used books from used book distributors.

Online Book Sources

Why shouldn't I send my students to online sources so they can save money?

We are convinced that the best way for students to save money is to buy used books from our store and then sell them back at the end of the term. The savings are substantial – up to 75% off the price of a text bought new and not sold back.

However, we are aware that some instructors advise students to buy from online bookstores. While this may save students some money, buying from these sites may also lead to unintended consequences. Our industry's research has shown that students usually end up buying from numerous individual suppliers who contract with online stores to sell their books. Consequently, service and order fulfillment time can be inconsistent, unpredictable, and inaccurate. Refunds and exchanges can also be problematic.

When business is directed away from our store, it makes it harder for us to secure all the course materials adopted by all faculty, including foreign editions, association publications, small press titles, and custom course packs and bundles. We don't focus just on the large adoptions and ignore the more time-consuming, less lucrative titles, as online retailers are able to do. As your bookstore, our job is to acquire all required books, regardless of nature or origin, and we will do everything possible to have all of the materials you need, in the right quantities, at the right time.

Also, we provide value to our school in many additional ways – from the financial contribution we make back to the institution and to our students, to employing people in the community, including students.

The bottom line for us, if you will, is that we need your adoptions on time so we can obtain the right books for the first day of classes, address problems in a timely fashion, pay students the best prices for their used books, and provide the used books students expect and demand. Together, we can make textbooks more affordable and accessible for our students.