Before you grumble about the University Bookstore when you see the price total of your textbook shopping spree, you may want to place the blame somewhere else.
According to Shelley Nowlan, manager of the UNB Bookstore, textbook prices are set by the publishers and the UNB Bookstore makes “very little” profit off textbook sales.
“We have so much handling to do—and of course, we don’t include shipping in the price of our books so we have to cover all of that,” said Nowlan. “We are governed by the university as far as [profit] margin goes. The initial prices are set by the publishers, not by the bookstore.”
This doesn’t change the fact that textbook prices are notoriously high—it’s not uncommon to spend over $200 per book—and this causes financial concerns for many students already dealing with tight budgets.
“It’s a heavy financial burden, so I have to be very careful about spending on groceries and other things,” said Rachele Phinney, a third-year Psychology major.
“I think that the books are definitely overpriced, considering students are the target market. I had to buy two psychology textbooks that cost over $255. I took two classes this summer and my textbooks were around $200 apiece.”
UNBSU created textbook price campaign
It’s an issue that is not going unnoticed by the UNB Student Union. In an effort to raise awareness on the issue of the high textbook costs, the UNBSU is moving forward with a textbook pricing campaign.
The campaign, a joint effort between the UNBSU the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) and the New Brunswick Student Alliance (NBSA), began last year with the purpose of making university more affordable for students who have to buy textbooks and other expensive educational resources.
The campaign is divided into three phases, with the aim to be having the university adopt ‘open educational resources’—online teaching materials that are cheaper or even free. For the first phase of data collection, the UNBSU asked students how much they paid for textbooks this term.
“We’ve had about 331 respondents, spending an average total of $138,000 on books, which is alarming,” said UNBSU president Herbert Bempah.
The second phase of the campaign involves bringing the data to the UNBSU council.
Bempah is hopeful that this data will be enough for the council to approve a plebiscite, the third phase, which is essentially a yes/no poll of the students.
“From this data, the Student Union will be able to form an official position statement on where we stand on open education resources,” said Bempah.
If students are supportive of open educational resources, then the campaign will be presented to the UNB senate in order to consider the adoption of these resources.
According to Bempah, the Student Union wants UNB to “explicitly support open education resources—and to promise that they’re going to work on it and to ensure that it becomes a reality here at UNB.”
The Student Union won’t be working on the textbook campaign alone. They’ve begun to form a partnership with UNB Libraries.
“Essentially the libraries [have] all the information and expertise on what open education resources are,” Bempah said. “We’re essentially compiling all our data on the issue and the problem, and the libraries complementing and supporting us.”
Dean of libraries, Lesley Balcom, said that UNB Libraries is looking forward to working with the Student Union.
“We can work with the [Student Union] to explore the potential of open educational resources at UNB,” she said. “We have relevant expertise with respect to publishing on-demand and copyright that can help support any UNB initiatives with [open educational resources].”
Textbook availability also an issue
While the cost of textbooks alone causes stress for students, students also encounter the issue of not being able to buy the books they need at the bookstore because they are out of stock.
Lauren Cruikshank, professor of Media Arts and Cultures at UNB, says one of the biggest challenges is just making sure there are enough copies at the bookstore.
“Some years, we have trouble getting [books] in on time—by the publisher maybe, or something’s backordered; or the bookstore, I know, too has a challenge on their hands on how many copies to order given the enrolment in the class. Sometimes, the enrolment in the class will jump after the order has been made.”
Many UNB students have experienced trying to get books, only to find that there are none in stock.
Yet Shelley Nowlan, manager of the UNB bookstore, said that there are many factors that affect whether the bookstore will have enough books in stock.
“It really depends on when the book is requested. If a book has only got so many in stock, the publisher will send that amount and then they’ll back-order the remainder—which is sometimes why textbooks come in in different shipments,” Nowlan said.
“So we could get all that the publisher has in stock to start, and then they’ll send the remainder of what we asked for when they become available.”