Students can find discounts, relief from long lines by shopping online
September 1, 1999
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Freshmen Loan Nguyen, 17, and Lady Dianne Decena, 17, staggered through the crowded bookstore at the University of California at Berkeley last week, each gripping one handle of a shopping basket.
Six heady books for an English class and thick textbooks for French, calculus, and human physiology were weighing them down.
A few aisles away, Naomi Lee, 18, and her friend Elizabeth Ng, 18, carried just slips of paper to write down the titles of required books that they would later plug into the Internet and have delivered directly to their home.
As colleges begin the new academic year, a growing number of technology-savvy students are shunning that age-old tradition of fighting the lines at campus bookstores. Instead, they are buying their textbooks online.
Convenience is part of the appeal, but the main reason for the growing popularity of Internet textbook sales is low prices. On average, students spend $275 each term on textbooks, and they are looking for ways to reduce one of the biggest out-of-pocket expenses of the academic year.
Several startup Internet textbook companies have emerged in the past year, eager to tap into the college market. And campus bookstores, once secure in their market dominance, are setting up Web sites of their own to fend off the unexpected competition.
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”I see business being hurt dramatically in the next decade,” said Rob Strong, manager of the San Francisco State University bookstore, which started selling its textbooks online just last week. ”We have not yet seen a drop, but we expect to see more of a ding this year. We have to act now.”
Last spring, only about 5 percent of students bought college textbooks online, according to Eric Weil, managing partner of Student Monitor, which studies the market. Weil said the number of students buying online could rocket to as high as 50 percent this year.
Big money is on the line. Students at two- and four-year colleges across the country spend an estimated $5.3 billion annually, according to the National Association of College Stores.
To get the word out, the startup textbook sellers are blanketing campuses with student representatives, barking out promises of savings and handing out goodies pasted with company Web addresses.
One distinct disadvantage of ordering textbooks online is that shipping costs can eat away at discounts, and returns can be tedious. Most sites require buyers to repack the books and pay for return shipping.