New textbook exchange site helps students ‘defy’ publishers

College students spend more than $900 annually on textbooks.

After a bachelor’s degree, a law degree, and a business degree, Derek Haake estimates his total textbook costs at around $20,000 — and now he’s hitting back at the publishing industry with a website that could slash college students’ book costs.

Haake, of Akron, Ohio, launched the site in April, creating a forum for students hoping to sell their textbooks for more than a few bucks to peers looking to save cash on used books.

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Using BookDefy’s software, students can privately list their used textbooks. Other students – once they find the book they’re searching for – can privately message the seller and arrange a textbook swap at local businesses and campus hangouts designated by BookDefy, which is free for college students.

“One of the things that kept plaguing me was the high costs of books,” Haake, 32, said of his time in higher education. “Instead of sitting around and complaining I wanted to get out there and do something about it. … I want to turn this whole parasitic industry on its head and do something good for college students.”

Haake said BookDefy has about 100 members so far, and he expects that number to rise when the site begins its marketing campaign later this year.

BookDefy appeals to both book buyers and sellers because the site gives students a way to get “much more than what the bookstores will pay, but still less than the bookstores charge,” he said.

Meeting locations are in safe, public places arranged around college campuses, and the site is looking for more “exchange partners” to give students more meeting options.

Haake calculated the $20,000 in book costs by adding costs from every semester from the beginning of his college career, and tacking on interest since he used student loans to pay for books throughout his time at the University of Texas at Arlington and the University of Akron.

The steady rise of textbook costs was a financial drag on college students well before the economic downturn of 2008, Haake said, but it was the plunge into national economic turmoil that exacerbated the unaffordability of books that students have to buy every semester.

“I think the economy is a catalyst that has people trying to do something about it,” he said. “The problem has always been there, and now everyone is pinching pennies, so it’s only gotten worse.”

Increasing textbook costs have given rise to a host of websites offering alternatives to students unwilling to shell out $1,000 a year for books – the national average, according to federal statistics., launched in 2008, serves about 5,000 college campuses with a library of 3 million textbooks. And serves more than 6,400 college campuses, saving students about $500 a year by renting texts instead of buying them at market price at the campus bookstore.

National concern over the escalating price of students’ books has even impacted federal law. The College Textbook Affordability Act was included in the Higher Education Opportunity Act passed by Congress in 2008.

The textbook provisions—championed by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill.—kicked in last July.

While colleges and universities are now required to monitor professors and book publishers to ensure they’re abiding by the new rules, Durbin said he would push for passage of another bill that would award competitive one-year grants to colleges, professors, and publishers to create open textbooks available for free on the internet.

The Open College Textbook Act probably won’t be debated in Congress until next year, said Durbin, who spoke during a July 21 conference call arranged by the Student Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), a Chicago-based organization that advocates for college students.

If institutions fail to enforce the new textbook laws, Durbin suggested that students should take their complaints beyond campus.

Student resentment about the high costs of textbooks was highlighted in a survey conducted by BookRenter last year.

Students rank textbooks among their leading wastes of money and the “biggest scam” in higher education, according to the survey.

The survey also shows that educational costs impact most students’ school choice, and some students aren’t proud of the ways they have earned money to pay their tuition, buy textbooks, and stay in school.

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