Kalamazoo, Mich.– Late on a Monday, Western Michigan University student Erin Kennedy and her two roommates crowd around the kitchen table. They pass a book back and forth as they each take notes.
Their exam is in the morning and one last review is in session for the three roommates who share the same class and book in an attempt to save money.
The price of textbooks has been a topic of discussion for college students for years, but how students handle the cost in a new digital day and age is rapidly changing.
“I did it all the time (in college), we didn’t buy books at the bookstore. We would put little notes up on the bulletin boards and buy used books. It was way cheaper,” said Western Michigan Professor Kathleen Propp.
Buying used books has been common practice for years, Propp said, but as the world has begun to advance digitally, the textbook industry has begun to change.
In the last two years, new techniques have been used to try to cut costs for students. Student can rent books or a reduced price.
When textbook rentals were first adopted by Western Michigan University in 2010, the school took a bit of a financial hit, said Director of WMU Bookstore Terry Hudson.
By buying a certain number of books in the first year of the rental program, the university would be left with hundreds of leftover books and forced to take the hit, Hudson said.
But it only took the school one year to solve this problem as they now rent the books from publishers and are able cut the costs of having left over books.
With this new strategy, textbooks are more frequently being rented from students.
“I would say easily more than half of the students that I have seen rent,” said Gian Rivera, a bookstore cashier at Western Michigan University.
Being able to rent books has helped students buy books when the prices are “outrageous,” Rivera said.
“In my years working here I have seen students spend over a grand on just four books,” Rivera said.
But as textbook prices seem to be at an almost unreasonable price for students today, Hudson said otherwise.
Since 1974, Hudson has been involved with the book purchasing process at Western Michigan .
“Prices for textbooks have always seemed high,” Hudson said.
The university does not dictate the prices, but in fact the publishers that sell these books, Propp said.
With the ability to sell books back and rent books, students still have the ability to get the books they need for prices they can mostly afford.
“I always buy books for every class, but now I rent as many as I can. It saves a lot of money” Kennedy said.
But an even newer medium looms on the horizon for textbooks in this digital age.
“E-books are coming. And they will be here fairly soon,” Hudson said.
Books that are electronically available are quickly becoming an option for students who do not want to buy full price textbooks. However, some think it may be coming too quickly.
“I don’t think students are ready,” Hudson said.
As students would be forced to switch to computer or tablets to obtain their textbooks, Hudson thinks it could cause many problems.
The problems of piracy, purchasing computers and tablets and even lack of outlets in classrooms are all problems predicted by Hudson.
With the reduced rate of buying books electronically, students will initially find it much cheaper to buy them, however, this won’t last long, Hudson said.
As publishers make the switch to all-digital, they will again bring the prices up from what they originally were, Hudson said.
Some professors sayd they do not worry about how students get their books, but just if they get them.
“I don’t care if they are reading it in the library, the key is just that they don’t skip reading it,” Propp said.