Hitting the books

The old saying goes that knowledge is free. The textbook it comes in is a different story.

Oswego State students complain that they’re shelling out more for textbooks this year than last and that the College Bookstore could be overcharging.

According to the Oswego State Web site, students are spending around $350 each semester on textbooks. But most are not happy with that amount, and do not think they are getting what they paid for.

"For what I’m getting, it’s very overpriced," Adam Marinelli, a senior, said.

Others agree, and it is their desire for lower prices that has sustained Kraftees, a local textbook business in the city of Oswego.

"The school store sells the same book as Kraftees, but at triple the price," Marinelli said.

"Oswego State students consistently comment that our books are very competitive with online prices and are sometimes substantially lower than the on-campus book store," Kurt Pomerenke, Kraftee’s store manager, said.

That has been the case for senior Tom Potrikus; he has been buying from the local bookshop since his freshman year.

"I usually buy from Kraftees because they’re a little bit cheaper," Potrikus said. "I’ve had a couple of times when I’ve gone into the College Book Store and there’s a $20 difference."

Susan Raby, manager of the College Bookstore, said her staff tries to stock as many used books as possible to for students. But often there is only a fractional markdown from the price of a new book—then students have to worry about keeping the tome in one piece, as whole pages may be falling out of the book. Marinelli said that has been a problem for him in the past.

The Book Store lauds their pre-pack program, through which students can have all their books boxed up and delivered right to their door. For convenience, it’s probably the best option. However, students who pre-pack are unaware of both the title they will receive and what it will cost them. Yet college promotional materials state that pre-packers will receive priority on used volumes.

"I think we’re convenient," Raby said. "Time has value too."

Another gripe students have is the cost of the newer editions. When publishers release a new edition every few years it inevitably destroys the resale value of someone’s older used copy. It also forces the next semester’s students to pay full price for the new copy, in which there may only be a few, minor changes.

"We discount used books depending on edition, source and supply," Raby said. "Most of the time new editions come out needlessly."

But whether students shop at Kraftees or the College Book Store, it’s likely they have seen a big cost costs can be jarring, especially with a recession keeping teenage unemployment unusually high. Mary Austin, a senior, said she’s noticed a dramatic upshot in prices recently.

"Prices have significantly gone up, but the quality of textbooks has too," Raby said.

The problem is information. Students have no idea which books will be required of them when they enroll in a course and have no way to find out until they receive a syllabus or visit the bookstore. It catches many students flat-footed.

A new law, the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 seeks to remedy the situation. According to the legislation, any college that receives federal aid should make a list of textbooks needed for courses available to their students prior to registering for those classes.

The list should allow students the chances to see which textbooks are needed in different courses and give the approximate prices of the textbooks, both new and used. Oswego State does not yet have such a book list, but is in the process of creating one for students for the 2010 fall semester, according to Raby.