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From the time UND fired Rebecca, who got the best prices for books, prices have skyrocketed. There was a huge resistance to UND changing over to Barnes and Noble. Contracting with Barnes and Noble meant a huge cut in benefits to bookstore employees. The following was printed in the Herald:
UND students suffering sticker shock
High prices for books upsetting
UND students sang the financial blues Wednesday as they stood in long lines waiting to shell out as much as $450 for an armful of textbooks.
Almost in one unanimous voice, the students said they're gouged by high prices for books they're required to purchase. To them, someone's making outrageous profits at their expense.
"I have five classes and I spent almost $400," said Liz Wilson, a sophomore. "That's outrageous. And then, for the teachers who want you to buy three or four books, that's outrageous."
Shopping with a friend in UND's old University Bookstore in the Memorial Union, aviation senior Mark Phillips said he thinks there are shenanigans in the way textbooks are priced and in how new editions seem to appear each semester.
When a publisher issues a new edition of a textbook, the bookstore won't buy back the old book. The bookstore won't buy back books it can't sell, so the old editions become almost worthless to the students who are stuck with them.
"When they change editions, you always have to buy the new book even if it's the same book," Phillips said.
Without a doubt, textbook prices are too high at UND, said Student Body President Berly Nelson, who added: "It's a big issue. It's always a big issue this time of year."
He said some students elect not to take certain classes because expensive books are required.
"That's wrong," he said.
Don't blame store
Nelson said he was assured by Barnes and Noble officials that they wouldn't raise prices this year. Barnes and Noble contracts with UND to run the bookstore.
That assurance from a large nationwide company doesn't help ease the pocketbooks of in-debt students, but local Barnes and Noble managers say high prices aren't the fault of the company.
The company marks up textbooks and other products in its store 25 percent, but through a contract, it gives UND 12 percent of that 25 percent markup, amounting to about $750,000 last year.
The markup is the same on used or new books.
Barnes and Noble has contracted with UND since January of 1999.
"Now that we're Barnes and Noble, does that mean prices of textbooks are going up?" said Michelle Abernathey, the bookstore manager. "That's not true. We try to listen to the student concerns about pricing. We sympathize with them, but the thing is (textbooks are a value)."
She said to help students with the high cost of textbooks, Barnes and Noble is trying to educate students about its buyback programs. As long as the textbooks are still used by professors, the store buys old books for 50 percent of their original cost.
In a breakdown of textbook costs provided by a college bookstore association, publishers nationwide take the biggest chunk at 66 percent.
Bookstore operating costs are 13 percent. The authors receive about 9 percent, freight takes 3 percent and the remaining 9 percent goes to the school, according to the national statistics. UND's 12 percent take exceeds the national average by 3 percent.
Of the publisher's take, just over 7 cents on the dollar is profit. There are just not big profits in the textbook market, according to national statistics.
"It's important to know that a percentage of each textbook goes back to the university," Abernathey said.
Because it owns the bookstore building -- including the new Sixth Avenue store it will occupy in October -- the university uses a portion of its 12 percent to fund building costs, and it sends the remainder to its regular budget.
From that money, UND gives student government about $10,000 a year to spend on student issues.
Technology has opened alternatives to traditional textbook buying. Some online textbook sellers advertise savings of up to 40 percent. But the National Association of College Stores sued one of those providers and there are now specific guidelines about advertising claims, said Laura Nakoneczny of the NACS.
Student Body President Nelson said student government is also looking into the issue. It plans to form a committee of students to make recommendations about possible bookstore alternatives.
It doesn't have enough funds now, but a possible solution is for student government to buy books and rent them to students. A Web site for UND students to trade and purchase old books also is possible.
"We're going to try and push for a Web site," he said. "We can have postings for students who can say, 'I have this book. I will sell it for $30.'"
Grand Forks Herald 08/31/2000