When Alexis Fitts ’08 picked up her English syllabus with a 20-book reading list, she was so appalled at the price of a brand-new book that she spent valuable shopping-period time finding the cheapest listings on Amazon.com and other Web sites, perusing the Yale Bookstore’s “used” section and contacting other students via YaleStation Books before finally collecting all her texts.
Increasingly, Yale students are turning to used book vendors to meet their professors’ demands, and YaleStation Books, a searchable online listing of students who want to buy and sell old texts, hopes to provide a central resource for bargain-hunters.
Even before shopping period is over, 3,100 books have been listed on the site and $12,000 worth of books have been sold. Will Tsui ’08, director of YaleStation, said that 3,900 books were listed for sale during the entirety of the spring semester last year, and that the already high numbers this fall are unusual. He said the site, run by the Yale College Council, usually sells more books in the spring since students generally take books home over the summer and may not bring them back in the fall.
YCC President Steven Syverud ’06 said the fact that YaleStation does not take a cut of the selling price adds to its appeal.
“It’s a simple idea — eliminate the middle man — but the savings really add up,” Syverud said.
He credited the surge in YaleStation traffic to the closing of Associated Student Agencies’ used book agency and more advertising, including a campus-wide e-mail. The retail value of the books on YaleStation Books is $112,000, as compared to the $79,000 students are selling their books for.
At the Yale Bookstore, a Barnes and Noble college bookseller, 20 percent of the textbooks sold this year were used, as compared to 10 percent in previous years, general manager Neil LeBeau said. He said the Yale Bookstore buys used books from students for 50 percent of their value at purchase and sells used books for 75 percent of their retail value. The company has a smaller used book business than comparable college stores and is committed to expanding its selection of used books despite several obstacles, he said.
For instance, the Yale Bookstore can not buy back books from students until it receives a book list authorized by a professor detailing required and recommended texts; if he does not receive a book list until after finals week of the previous semester, LeBeau said he will have trouble finding students willing to sell their textbooks.
“If I had a majority of the books [for the spring semester] by Thanksgiving, I could go about putting dollars back in students’ pockets,” Lebeau said, explaining that he had received only 60 percent of professors’ book lists for the fall by Aug. 15, despite the fact that many professors teach the same course year after year.
In addition, some professors’ written objections to stocking used books and publishing gimmicks, like frequently updating books — LeBeau said publishers sometimes change editions between the fall and spring semesters — and shrink-wrapped packages with textbook “extras,” preclude him from offering a larger selection of used books.
Though the Yale Bookstore’s Web site offers a “Reserve Books” feature that will allow students to search used books for their courses, the function has not been promoted and only around five students a semester use the feature because shopping period makes demand volatile and hard to meet, LeBeau said.
“You shop eight classes, buy the books for six and wind up taking four,” LeBeau said. “Then you try to reserve books at midnight and come in here at 9 a.m. and want them picked and packed.”
Fitts said she purchased one of her English books on YaleStation Books because the in-person transactions — the site provides sellers with buyers’ contact information and the two arrange to meet and trade — circumvented the long waiting period of buying online.
“It’s just quicker, since they are in close proximity and the selection of books is a little more catered,” Fitts said. “You already have work, and it’s hard to get things quickly and cheaply.”
According to Tsui, the in-person swap is one of the primary attractions of YaleStation books.
“You don’t get screwed like on eBay,” Tsui said.
Tsui said the YaleStation administrators have received no complaints about the used books service, although a database notes students who rescind offers of purchase. He said the YCC could hypothetically bar repeat offenders from the site.
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