From August 28-30, the Associated Students of Madison held its fourth book swap, moving $35,000 and 2,700 books, half of which sold.
The book swap is intended to save students money on both ends of the bloody textbook process—buying and selling. At the swap, students can buy used textbooks from fellow students at cheap prices and turn a decent profit if their books sell.
ASM priced books at 65 percent less than the same book new at the University Book Store and 10 percent less than the used price if the University Book Store did not have a new copy. According to ASM, this saved students $10,000 over State Street book store prices.
Enter: reality. Not enough students bring books to be sold at the book swap, so the selection is poor, though the swap increased in volume by three and a half times since the spring semester swap. Some required texts are not available at the book swap, but only new at bookstores or online.
Although students can make a killing if their books sell, there is a good chance that they will be picking up books, not cash, after the sale.
If more and more students drop off books, but do not buy books at the swap, the program will become known as a disappointment.
The sale price should be dropped slightly so as to remain competitive with the ever-alluring Amazon.com and its rock-bottom prices. Combining the cheapest possible price and the convenience of having a book in hand without waiting days or weeks for shipping is a recipe for success, all while sticking it to the bookstore.
The next step in expanding the book swap is adding days to the sale. This semester, there was one day exclusively for dropping off books one day for purchasing books and one day for picking up unsold books or cash. ASM should allow books to be dropped off on the same days as sale days and increase the number of days students can buy books. One day is not enough for book shopping, especially for students who are busy or out of town but still want to check out the savings.
Kurt Gosselin, ASM student council secretary, suggested starting a website that would allow students to check available books and prices at the swap, and perhaps even order online. Such an addition could cut down on the number of required volunteers, increase the swap's popularity and streamline the swap process.
ASM has to try new techniques
The swap is just part of a broad cheaper textbook campaign currently coming under focus within ASM, according to Jonah Zinn, chair of ASM's Academic Affairs Committee. The group hopes to reduce the cost of textbooks. They realize that high costs are not just caused by bookstore markups, but manufacturers and other players with bargaining power. Hopefully the group is up to the difficult task of finding ways to affect pricing on a scale that helps students.
For a program in its toddler years, the problems the book swap has are predictable and fixable. If the swap continues to improve incrementally while incorporating new ideas, it could someday cut deep enough into the profits of overpriced bookstores to bring real competition to local textbook sales. That's something students can cheer to.