Friday, June 01, 2007

RBO Confusion

RBO Confusion

Things that confuse me today:
  • Why textbook companies don't just buy into the used textbook business.
  • Why my campus bookstore refuses to buy back books just because there's a new edition out -- even thought the old edition is still available and I've ordered it.
  • Why there aren't solar panels on a/c units. Seems to me that the times one is most likely to use a/c are also the times when those solar panels would work best.
  • Why, if we're trying to conserve energy without hurting the economy, we don't require greener building practices. Unless 'hurting the economy' is some kind of code for, 'people will have to spend more on things and so they'll buy less crap they don't need and then the people who make and sell the crap will be out of work.' Except wouldn't more people be needed to make and sell the things that go into green building? and if we gave incentives to people and companies for green remodeling, then wouldn't that employ people, too?


Kelly in Kansas said...

I for one am glad that the textbook companies don't buy into the used textbook business. The used market gives no money back to the authors (many of whom are our colleagues).

Follett's and Barnes and Nobles own most college bookstores. I don't have any problem with student-owned book stores (great project for business majors) reselling but I do have a huge problem with the economics of the used book industry because while short term you may be saving some money, in the long run (and that's becoming shorter and shorter), you are only adding money to the pockets of what many term "corporate greed." If you look very closely at the margins of the used book market, you'll see they often make more profit off a book than the original profit after you take out author royalties and production costs.

Finally, used book sellers add no value to the books.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

You're right about all of those things, but I'm more concerned at the moment about my students being able to afford the books. I also hate that my idea of production values is so different. I don't care if the books are glossy, with two-columned pages and pretty colours. I;m sick to death of textbook splits that are too heavy to stand on the shelves on their own. And all the nicely shaded primary source inserts? The students just skip them, because they're stuck in the middle of the chapter. Personally, I tell my students to bypass all of the bookstores and go on e-bay or sell to each other. If the books weren't going into new editions every couple of years, I'd feel more compassion for my colleagues, but considering that there is no survey text I've ever met that makes substantial changes in content -- and often still repeats the same old chestnuts about the MA, edition after edition, my sympathies are not as strong as they probably ought to be. I don't feel the same way about monographs as I do survey texts, though.

Mike said...

The used book market is inevitable unless the pubs come out with a new edition every year, or the old ones self-compost.

I work for a company that sells used books, and I can lay out several steps in the process where we add value:

1. At buyback, the student can get money back for a book that's not being used locally, because we serve a national market.

2. Many of those books will never be resold, but we're able to even those risks out over a large group of students, so that instead of one student getting $50, it's ten students getting $5.

3. Before the big wholesalers brought computerized pricing, traveling brokers did most of the buybacks, and the prices they gave students varied widely based on wholly arbitrary criteria, such as who had the lowest cut top. I've heard the stories.

4. Large wholesalers mean that bookstores can get used and new books from a variety of publishers (including very small ones) from a single point of contact, making it easier for faculty to use whatever book they want and still provide students with the inexpensive books they really, really want.

Finally, I'm curious how you're figuring the margin on used books. Sure, if you look at what the wholesaler pays at buyback and what the student pays in the fall, that looks like a huge margin. But we have to pay the people at buyback, plus their travel expenses, plus various other expenses, then ship the books back to our warehouse, then store them. Only some of them will sell, so the profit margin gets thinner right there, plus we sell them to the store, not the student.

With all those factors, the profit margin on books is much, much lower than it is on sweatshirts, pens, ipod accessories, etc.

Finally, a note on "corporate greed". Yes, our owner has a nice house. And a fantastic collection of modern art. And he gives a lot of money to various causes, including universities like your own. But most of that "corporate greed" goes to employ over a thousand people.

Some of those do it because they've got a house payment, or a car payment, or they're working for the summer to save up for their fall semester. Most of us, though, are working here instead of somewhere else because we like serving students, and we like that we're contributing to their educations. Yes, we're making a living doing so, but I seriously doubt you sign your paycheck back to the university at the end of the month either.