The business of ed-tech: Textbook shopping made easy

Site allows students to save hundreds of dollars in an efficient way

textbooks-online-shoppingDavid Miller knows that when a college student pays $30 for a textbook they had seen available for $200, they’ll never go back.

That’s the story of cash-saving deal students find regularly once they’ve scoured the web for the cheapest versions of books required for their various classes. It’s Miller’s site, SlugBooks.com, that brings efficiency to the process.

SlugBooks, launched in 2008 at the University of California (UC) Santa Cruz–where Miller attended college–has helped even the textbook playing field in recent years. A quick SlugBooks search will show a student where they can get the best price, even if it’s at their campus bookstore.

“Anyone who compares prices will see pretty clearly that there is a lot of value in doing that,” Miller said. “Most students only view their campus bookstore as the main source is because the fallacy that shopping online is somehow complicated or complex. … But a service like this makes it a no-brainer for anyone who uses it and saves a bunch of money.”

(Next page: Why not electronic textbooks?)

Miller said students’ propensity to only search the local bookstore for textbooks is not unlike students paying marked-up prices to eat at the campus dining hall instead of seeking less costly food outside of campus.

“It’s just right there in front of them,” he said.

SlugBooks data shows that electronic books are hardly a favorite among students looking to save money on textbooks at the start of each semester. Less than .1 percent of even consider digital versions of class textbooks since there’s hardly ever any cost savings, Miller said.

Ninety nine percent of SlugBooks clicks can be traced to used and rental textbook options.

The Campbell Biology textbook on SlugBooks, for example, is available for $35 as a rental, $56 for the purchase of a used book, and $85 as a digital rental. It’s also available in local bookstores for $172.

The rising cost of textbooks has become a pervasive issue in higher education over the past five years, as student advocacy groups have staged “textbook rebellions” meant to highlight ways in which students can avoid exorbitant book fees every year.

Textbook prices have risen by about four times the rate of inflation since 2000, according to federal statistics.

Seven in 10 student respondents to a Student PIRG survey said they hadn’t purchased at least one assigned textbook due to high costs. Of those students, eight in 10 said their grades would suffer without the necessary books.

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