The end of final exam season can be a time of excitement for college students looking for a break after a semester of academic rigor. But it can also be a time of extreme frustration when students discover they will not be receiving as much cash as they had hoped for from college bookstores for the textbooks that may have strained their bank accounts at the beginning of the semester.
"I would pay $150 for a book and get $25 back for it," says Caroline Radaj, a senior at the University of Wisconsin—Madison. "And I wouldn't ruin it; I wouldn't smash it; there would be no pages missing."
For students who have been careful about maintaining a new textbook's pristine condition, it can be discouraging when a bookstore does not value their efforts by offering more money in return, Radaj says. "I just feel like they're not really repaying students back in a fair way."
[Read about how to get your college textbooks cheap.]
Chad Stith, campus evangelist for the textbook rental site BookRenter.com, says that many students mistakenly think the condition of a book is a major factor in what a bookstore offers.
"[Students] feel as if they don't write or highlight in the book, it may be worth more," Stith says. "The reality is: that's simply not true. Any of the books that come back through buyback are expected to be used."
Stith notes that he's "shocked every year" when students are surprised by how much money they receive during buyback season. "The fact is, [students] just don't know how it works," Stith says. "Knowing a few things about how the process works can help them make better decisions."
For students who are using campus bookstores for buybacks, here are a few tips that may help you get more cash for your textbooks:
1. Know the facts: Most students who buy a book brand new would understandably expect to receive a higher offer from bookstores come buyback time—and typically, 50 percent of the price for a new book is standard. But, Stith notes, if book publishers are planning to release a new edition of the book, that would prevent bookstores from offering a higher price or even purchasing students' older editions.
"Even though you're buying the book brand new, the copyright date of the book may be several years old," he says. "It [may not be] this year's edition of the book."
Students may be able to predict whether a book will be repurchased by a bookstore, says Kathy Missell, store director at the University of San Diego Bookstore.
"If a book has been used consistently by the same department over a number of years, there's a good chance that book is going to be bought back," Missell notes. "If it's a brand new edition, there's a good chance it's going to be bought back."
[Discover four ways to get textbooks for free.]
2. Bug your instructors: Professors have a major impact in how much students receive for their textbooks during buyback season, Missell says.
"What determines whether a student gets a higher value or not really has to do with whether that school is going to be able to reuse that book," she says.
Missell acknowledges that the bookstore at USD begins soliciting professors well before the end of the semester to determine which textbooks will be used during the next semester. She advises students to ask their professors whether they will be reusing—also known by bookstores as "readopting"—the same book the following semester.
"The more that a student can work with their professors to say, 'Hey, make sure you get your adoptions into the bookstore,' the more likely a student is going to get the 50 percent value of that book," she says.
A "really good college bookstore" will typically know about 75 percent of the information they need from faculty members by the time buybacks start, BookRenter's Stith says, but "the problem comes when the store does not know about a textbook being reused on campus."
"And when that happens, [bookstores] have contracted with a major wholesale company that assigns a value to a book," he notes. "Instead of getting paid half of what you paid, you're getting maybe 15 [percent] or 20 percent."
3. Get to buyback early: When bookstores are aware that a textbook will be reused, they typically set a quota for the number of books that will be purchased during buybacks, Stith says. For those students who can arrive earlier in the buyback season, they will have a greater chance to receive a higher price offering.
"As you are done with a book, show up at buybacks [because] sometimes, those quotas are hit and bookstores are not able to offer a higher price any longer," he says.
4. Explore your options: During buyback season, all bookstores handling college textbooks may not be offering the same prices for a given book.
"Based on the information that's available, one store may know a book is being used next semester while another may not," Stith notes. "It's certainly a good strategy to shop and see what everyone is offering."
When students begin discussing where they're getting the best offers for their books, Stith suggests sharing this information with bookstores. "That bookstore may match the price," he says.
Off campus, there are numerous websites that allow students to sell their books. Sites such as Amazon, eBay, and BookRenter put the power in the student's hand to decide how much he or she wants to charge for a textbook.
[Learn more about digital textbook services.]
Wisconsin student Radaj says that after going through book buybacks the past three years, she will be posting her books for sale online for the first time.
"I kind of want to see what I can get out of selling them online," Radaj says. "Bookstores are making money off these books no matter what—whether they buy my books back or not."
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