April 8, 2005

Can you believe I'm ahead of the curve?

I never thought I could be one of the cool kids. According to this article on CNN, 14% of college students bought or sold textbooks online in 2004. My first thought was that the number seemed low, especially since I started buying at least some textbooks online way back in the dark ages of 2001, and we did our best to keep Janet out of the bookstore entirely this year, thanks to ebay and Amazon. As I thought more about it, though, things began to make sense. Janet talked about kids in her class whining about the bookstore and talking about how expensive it is, while she was thinking they should just go back and log in for cheaper books. It's obvious that these kids (mostly undergraduates, but not all) had not even considered getting the books anywhere but the campus bookstore or one of the bookstores lining the street across from campus. I should mention here that N.C. State undergraduate students have proved time and time again these past two years that they are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. Trust me on this one, I've been a lab assistant at N.C. State and Messiah for kids the same age, and the people in the Messiah physics class were way, way smarter as a whole than the kids in the intro to electrical engineering lab I had here in Raleigh. That said, I can see why the number of people buying onine is so much lower than I'd have guessed: it just doesn't cross the students' minds.

I think part of this has to do with who is buying the books. I bought all my own books when I was in college. Sure, the tuition and room and board is all paid in advance by loans and scholarships and whatnot, but the book purchase is one where you have to go to the store/web and plunk down actual money that seems more real than some ethereal tuition fee. That made me more conscious of how much I was paying for these books, and thus after a better deal. For many students, they just put the books on the parent's credit card, buying $300 of brand new books they won't read each semester. This happened at Messiah, and it happens here at NC State, especially since the cost of education here is so much less. There are a lot of kids whose parents just take care of everything, and maybe they work a few hours for some beer money. I'm not saying there's a problem with this, I'm just saying that it might help explain why these kids have no desire to search half a dozen websites to get the best deal on textbooks.

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