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Monday, May 16, 2022

SGA Debuts Textbook Exchange Website to Lower Prices

In response to a Feb. 15 email in which the SGA announced a new online textbook exchange, The Campus decided to investigate how less expensive textbooks came to top the student government agenda. Last fall Neha Sharma ’18.5 and Maya Woser ’18, co-directors for the SGA Educational Affairs Committee, conducted an all-student poll that found a high demand for cheaper textbooks.

“Last year when we came together as a committee, we brainstormed ideas that we had ourselves of what could be improved in the community and when what we had been hearing from other people,” Woser said. “The cost of textbooks was a major one that a lot of us in the committee had personally faced. The problem was so universal that we immediately knew that was something we wanted to focus on. We kind of just went from there.”

In the email, the student EAC introduced Texts.com as “an online campus-wide student textbook exchange website where students can post details about the textbooks they want to see.” The site allows users to search for specific textbooks and compare prices with other sellers, including Amazon and AbeBooks. Texts.com charges no fees for students to join or schools to use, and it functions like a marketplace where college students can buy and sell used textbooks.

The Texts.com website references a study stating textbook prices have increased much faster than other consumer goods. According to a 2012 study by the American Enterprise Institute, the average price of a college textbook has gone up 812 percent since 1978, and has doubled in the past decade alone.

Much of that increase, the website says, is ironically linked to used textbook exchanges such as Amazon and Chegg. Publishers earn revenue only from the initial sale of new books, and as new book sales have declined as used books become more available, publishers have increased prices and released new editions with minimal changes from year to year.

To combat the cost of new editions, the SGA Educational Affairs Committee met with Dean of the Faculty and VP for Academic Affairs Andrea Lloyd, Dean of the Library Michael Roy, and the chairs of several academic departments. They have encouraged departments across campus to agree to use one edition of a textbook for five years at a time. That way, students would be able to resell their books to other students rather than purchasing new books from the campus bookstore each year. The student EAC is also encouraging the library to buy more copies of textbooks for students to use while on reserve.

“One of the main reasons the library doesn’t buy textbooks right now is because the textbook editions keep changing so often,” Sharma said. “Especially language textbooks, were you don’t really need the latest edition because it’s the same thing you’re teaching every year.”

“They would be able to invest in a larger number of copies so more students would be able to access it,” Woser added. “Also, if they agree on a certain edition for a number of years, then students’ resale values are also easier. Otherwise you might by a book, then nobody needs it next year because everyone needs the latest edition so you can’t really sell it back.”

As SGA EAC co-directors, Sharma and Woser chose Texts.com after looking at what steps peer schools have taken to reduce student textbook costs.

Sharma said that Texts.com is currently being used at Bates, Bowdoin and Yale. She and Woser contacted their student governments to gauge their satisfaction with the site, which was positive. They then contacted a company representative for Texts.com, who provided information about which schools were using it and what their feedback had been.

So far, about 200 books are on sale at the College website, middlebury.texts.com. Sharma and Woser hope to launch a campaign near the end of the semester to let students know they can resell their books online.

In the meantime, the student EAC is considering several other funding plans to make textbooks cheaper at Middlebury. Sharma said these possibilities are all “very preliminary,” but they will all be independent of financial aid.

For more information, please visit middlebury.texts.com. The SGA can be reached at sga@middlebury.edu.


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