Do campus book stores price gouge?

To see just how much, if any, the local campus bookstores inflate their prices on textbooks, I compared the prices on the books I need this semester at the two campus bookstores (University Bookstore and Follett’s) and two online retailers (Amazon and Barnes and Noble).

Of course, this is hardly a good statistical sample — it’s neither randomly selected nor large enough — but it does reflect my experiences for this semester and probably extends fairly well to the general case. Doing so is left as an exercise for the reader.

The following table lists the new- and used-book prices offered by the four retailers for each of the three books.

Book UBS Follett’s Amazon B&N
New Used New Used New Used New Used
Comer & Fossum, Operating System Design: The XINU Approach 84.50 64.80 84.75 65.50 83.00 21.01 83.00 60.75
Silberschatz et. al., Operating System Concepts, 6th Ed. 100.50 77.20 110.25 85.00 81.56 25.00 98.75 N/A
Cormen et. al., Introduction to Algorithms, 2nd Ed. 100.50 77.20 95.28 73.50 80.00 45.98 80.00 N/A

NOTE: The used prices listed for the online retailers are the cheapest ones offered for that book in that site’s used book marketplace at the time that I checked their web sites; the online store technically only acts as a middleman between the buyer and the person actually selling the used book.

What conclusions can we draw from the above table?

  • Buying used books online can be significantly cheaper than buying used books on campus. However, when buying them on campus you get to inspect the books before purchase, instead of relying on feedback ratings and the seller’s word to avoid getting scammed.
  • Buying new books online is cheaper than buying new books on campus, sometimes significantly so; for example, Introduction to Algorithms is more than $20 more expensive at UBS than on Amazon.
  • Buying new books online can even be cheaper than buying used books on campus; for Operating System Concepts, compare Amazon’s new price ($81.56) with Follett’s used price ($85.00).
  • Both campus bookstores have roughly comparable prices. At least, neither store consistently has better prices than its competitor over this sample.
  • As for the online retailers, Amazon looks like it may offer better prices than B&N in some cases, and for this sample, is never more expensive.

Again, this data only represents a single case study and may or may not accurately reflect a more extensive comparsion between on-campus and online bookstores. Nevertheless, it does support the common-sense idea that on-campus bookstores will charge higher prices for textbooks than online stores will. Plus, by purchasing books online, you can avoid paying sales tax and even shipping fees if you don’t mind waiting long enough.

3 Responses

  1. I had the same experience with CS406′s book. For a bit over $25 I got it new from Amazon while others paid in the $40-$60+ range at bookstores. I’ve also had good success with half.com

  2. My books caust more than yours all together…that doesn’t seem fair.

  3. *cost. My bad, I wasn’t thinking…

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