Letters: Director of CSU bookstore responds to ‘textbook monopoly’

Guest Author

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  This is a response to a previous opinion column which can be found here. 

Dear Collegian,


I will be the first one to admit that textbook pricing is high, and that we have seen steady increases over the 20 years that I have been at CSU.  I also recognize that students have to make tough decisions when it comes to textbooks, and that they sometimes opt out of buying books because of the cost of the books.  With this in mind, the CSU Bookstore does everything we can do to keep costs to student as low as possible.  Sometimes we are able to reduce book costs substantially.  Sometimes all we can do is offer a rental for $5 less than the purchase price.

Here are some things to know:

Last year the CSU Bookstore saved CSU students over $4,722,000 through used book sales, rental book options, end of term sell back (buyback), lower priced versions (loose-leaf, softbound, old editions), and our comparison shopping tool (see attached Collegian ad for details).

Student textbook spending decreased last year (second year in a row) to $579 for the year (textbooks only, no supplies).  See attached AAP press release dated 8/24/17.

Textbooks are sold in a free market.  All one has to do is do a Google search on an ISBN to come up with numerous buying/renting options.  We try extremely hard to be price comparative with the internet (sometimes we do well, sometimes we do not).  What we do offer that other vendors do not offer are:

  • The ability to see the book in advance
  • No waiting (for most books)
  • The ability to charge to your student account
  • A convenient location
  • The promise that it is the correct edition the instructor is using
  • Full refunds through the CSU add/drop period
  • Excellent (hopefully) customer service
  • Support to CSU

$300 textbooks are not common.  There are far more of them than there should be, but only .008% of the textbooks at CSU are over $300.00, and we have priced all of those below retail to help defray the cost to students.

The CSU Bookstore offers every accommodation possible for students.  In fact, we offer more options than almost any other bookstore in the nation.  It is uncommon for a college store to offer all of the programs that we offer, including:

  • Used books
  • Rental books
  • Alternate formatted books
  • Electronic books
  • Lower priced books

The CSU Bookstore offers one of the most robust buyback programs in the country. Buyback pricing is set based on need, usage, and national (internet) pricing of the book.  If a book is reused the following semester at CSU, the buyback price is up to 50 percent of the current retail price, whether the book was bought new or used.  That means a book that retails new for $100 is bought back at $50.  We then sell the book used for $75 (or less) .  So, a student who bought the book for $75 and then sold it back for $50 only spent $25 for the book.  That is 67 percent of the price they paid.  Granted, that is the best case scenario, but it is also a frequent scenario (in addition to the storing buyback program, the CSU Bookstore is a national leader in used book sales).  I also know all too well the worst case scenario (having earned two college degrees and having purchased many books).  That is to buy the book and then be told the edition has changed and that the store is not buying it back.

As for “skyrocketing prices,” yes, textbook prices have increased faster than many other items, and yes, when a professor requires the newest edition of a book, there are few used book options.  However, in today’s online retail environment there are always purchasing options.  We do not hold a monopoly.  In fact, today more than ever, students have options outside of the Bookstore.  Book requirements are made public three to four weeks before the start of classes.  This information is easily obtained through the Bookstore’s website, www.bookstore.colostate.edu, or through www.textbooks.colostate.edu.  These two sites will show all books required for CSU students and classes.  Our site even has a price comparison tool that compares our prices to Amazon, Alibirs, and VitalSource.

As for ethics, I agree that requiring a student to purchase a book that you authored can raise eyebrows, but I can tell you that CSU requires all instructors who do so to fill out a conflict of interest form.  I also know that many of these instructors either do not accept a royalty on books sold at their institution, or they donate the royalty to their department or to a scholarship fund.  If you have an instructor who uses their own book, you might ask them (discretely, not in front of the class) about it.  You might be surprised to learn where the funds go.  If you wrote a book on a college subject, wouldn’t you think it is the best book out there, and wouldn’t you want to use the best book available in your classroom?  CSU has many world renown professors and researchers who have written excellent textbooks on the subjects they teach.


As you can tell I am passionate about this subject, and I am proud of what the CSU Bookstore does to keep prices as low as we can. Hodge hit on some great points. Editions change frequently, sometimes with very little content change. Instructors require you to buy a book that is not highly used, or effectively used (one of the biggest complaints that we receive).  Not enough copies are available at the library, and check out times are limited, and so on. 

Let me tell you where we are going with textbooks.  This semester over 8,000 students will be using textbooks delivered directly to their Canvas account at CSU.  This ensures they will have materials from day one.  They get to use the materials free for two weeks, and then they can decide to keep these materials, or to go and find them on their own.  If they keep them, they are charged to use them.  If they “opt out” they are not charged.  The advantage to the student is a pretty significant savings.  Remember your Comp 150 course?  Students will pay $51.75 for books for this class.  If purchased in print version the cost would have been $136 for new books or $105 for used books.  The advantage to the instructor?  They can see who is keeping up with the readings, what questions students have as they post to the community board, and what areas they may need to readdress or go over again in class.  There are some drawbacks, and we are still learning how to make this work best for all students, but it is pretty promising.  This semester alone the savings are estimate to be over $200,000 for these students.

John Parry

Director, Colorado State University Bookstore

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