The price of a textbook should not cause students stress at the beginning of a semester. Yet this stress is often a reality for students purchasing $100 textbooks at the Barnes & Noble Georgetown University bookstore.
The bookstore, the only university-sanctioned textbook provider on campus, is complicit in limiting access to textbooks by setting exorbitant prices relative to other online vendors. To prioritize student needs, the bookstore should loosen its price match policies and decrease prices of books over which they have a monopoly.
As this editorial board has noted, textbook prices have, in recent years, become a significant financial burden for students across the country: 85% of current and former college students report being financially stressed by the prices of textbooks and course material, according to a 2018 study by education provider Cengage.
In the 2018-19 academic year, students were estimated to have spent around $1,200 for textbooks and other course supplies, according to the College Board.
Georgetown students are not immune to this burden, and many go to great lengths to avoid purchasing textbooks. When the Center for Multicultural Equity and Access hosted a free textbook co-op, students began lining up for textbooks at 7 a.m., two hours before the event began, according to the CMEA’s Facebook page.
While the bookstore is obviously not the sole culprit behind high textbook prices, professors’ assignment of expensive books plays a major role. However, some of the bookstore’s policies and practices, especially its reluctance to price match competitors, contributes to cost burdens for students.
The bookstore’s price match policy is constricting, causing many affordable online vendors to fall outside the criteria for price matching. For a book purchase or rental to be price matched, the same edition and format must be sold and distributed by Amazon or the Barnes & Noble website, according to the bookstore’s website. The bookstore therefore cannot match prices from third-party vendors who sell through the aforementioned websites.
The bookstore also does not price match rentals of new books, meaning a student cannot price match a rental book if the bookstore is sold out of used copies.
While students certainly have the option of buying books from vendors that are not eligible for price match, that option carries academic drawbacks. When students need books in the first weeks of class while facing the uncertainty of the add/drop period, waiting for long shipping times of some online vendors is infeasible. In order to complete assignments on time and participate in class discussion, students’ only option at times is the bookstore.
In addition to its restrictive price match policies, the bookstore also charges steep prices for books over which they have a monopoly. For example, the intensive beginner Spanish class uses a textbook edition specifically printed for Georgetown. At the bookstore, the text is only available for purchase at $128.80 for a used copy. The generic edition not printed for Georgetown of the same book is rented by Amazon for $12 per semester and is sold for cheaper by some vendors.
While it undoubtedly costs the bookstore more to procure and sell Georgetown-specific textbooks, it can, at a minimum, make the book available for rental at a lower price.
The bookstore should not continue to exploit its convenience to profit from inaccessible prices. Instead, it should do its part to ensure textbooks are available and affordable.
The bookstore should recognize that it is causing steep financial burdens for students and start playing its part in making textbooks accessible by more generously price matching its competitors.