Online book buying shifts students away from local stores

Originally published in The Daily Iowan 7/09/2009

UI students are looking for cheaper alternatives for buying books, and the University Bookstore has seen a decrease in sales.UI graduate student Tim Hau said he likes saving money but prefers to have a book in his hand as soon as he shells out the cash. Still, he often checks to see if he can purchase textbooks online cheaper.

“The $20 to $30 differential makes a big difference,” said Hau, who tries to purchase books online but his professors’ demands often force him buy from the University Bookstore.

From 2003 to 2008, the number of books and course packets sold by the store fell by 28 percent. During that same period, however, the sales increased by $237,876.

UI spokesman Tom Moore said inflation and the prices of books — which are set by publishers — helped offset the drop in sales due to students turning to lower cost alternatives.

Even with cheaper offerings online, the convenience of local stores still appeals to some students.

UI senior Kelsey Den Adel said she prefers the University Bookstore because it’s easier; she only went to Beat the Bookstore, located in the Old Capitol Town Center, once because the university store was out of the book she was looking for.

UI senior Chris Garza said he never shops for his books online because he enjoys the stability of shopping local.

“When I go to the bookstore, I know it’s the book the professor wanted,” he said.

Recent UI graduate Emily Eide said she usually tried Beat the Bookstore before she goes to the university store.

“It usually has a smaller selection,” she said. “But it’s worth a shot.”

Beat the Bookstore owner Eric Schmitz said his store has experienced steady growth over the years, which he attributes to students looking for better deals.

“We pretty much guarantee our prices are the cheapest,”

Prairie Lights Books, 15 S. Dubuque St., co-owner Jan Weissmiller, who orders some books for classes, said she hasn’t noticed a difference because the majority of books it carries are novels for English classes.

Even though book sales have gone down in the past few years at the University Bookstore, technology sales have remained steady.

Technology department manager Chris McCollam said the store benefits because it offers software at a student discount that is cheaper than most online outlets.

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