SG senator wants bookstore to lower textbook prices

A Student Government senator is giving the USF campus bookstore an ultimatum: find a way to sell textbooks for less, or SG will launch a resolution to inform students of more budget-friendly places to get school supplies.

At Tuesday’s senate meeting, senator Christopher Biemer proposed a resolution that said the University bookstore is the “single most expensive place to purchase textbooks for use in USF courses.”

“Until the campus bookstore begins to serve students’ best interests, SG at USF will make an effort to inform incoming students about other means with which to procure their course materials at more manageable costs,” the proposed resolution says.

The resolution is still being constructed and has no deadline for completion, Biemer said. He said he wants to take as much time as possible in drafting the resolution.

“My fear is that people will interpret it as attention seeking, and that’s false,” Biemer said. “I want this to effectively benefit students by reducing the costs of their textbooks.”

The campus Barnes & Noble has an exclusive management contract with USF, meaning all remaining profits after the bookstore staff are paid go directly to the University, Biemer said.

The University receives approximately $2 million a year from the bookstore, said Grace McQueen, store manager of the USF bookstore.

Off-campus bookstores are more affordable because they do not pay a commission to a university. They choose lower markup prices on books that are purchased from the same publishers as the ones in the campus bookstore, Biemer said.

To make a profit, retailers mark up the original cost from publishing companies.

While all publishers are obligated by federal law to sell textbooks to stores in the United States at the same price, Barnes & Noble is responsible for creating its own markup prices, which are negotiated with the University, Biemer said.

Biemer said that because he has limited knowledge of textbook costs, he wants to get as many “experts” involved in the project as possible.

“The resolution as it stands sort of targets the bookstore, which would be University policy,” Biemer said. “But after digesting more and more information, it seems like the most effective way to lower textbook costs practically is to go after publishers, which would require changes to state law or enforcing standing state laws.”

Before Biemer’s presentation at the senate meeting, McQueen made a presentation addressing textbook costs.

“I want to make sure that all of the information the senate has to debate about the issue, if they so choose, is complete,” McQueen said.

Some new textbook prices were higher at the USF bookstore than Gray’s bookstore, which is located off Fletcher Avenue and Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

For Introduction to Psychology, a new textbook costs $145.70 at the USF bookstore and $132.60 at Gray’s. A college algebra textbook costs $179.30 at the USF bookstore and $171.60 at Gray’s and a textbook for American History costs $90 and $81.90, respectively.

Because the University makes a large profit from textbook sales, McQueen said a dramatic loss in revenue could lead to negative consequences for the University, such as the end of some student services and programs.

If a large number of students stopped purchasing textbooks from the bookstore, it would have to drastically cut its advertising and donation budget, McQueen said. The bookstore spends $20,000 per year on advertising, she said.

Aside from the profit given to the University, the bookstore donates $30,000 to student scholarships and $17,000 to student organizations and programs each year, McQueen said.

McQueen said the bookstore would also have to cut back on the number of student employees. It is the largest student employer on campus, she said.

“I really think the purpose of the bookstore is to be here on campus to service the community,” McQueen said. “And if a large portion of the community decides that they don’t want to use its services, then that’s a loss for both (students and the bookstore).”

There are efforts being made by other organizations to lower textbook prices on campus, Biemer said.

One such organization is the University’s Textbook Affordability Committee (TAC), a council made up of students, faculty and administrators that is working to lower the costs of textbooks for students.

The TAC, which was created in April, discussed textbook rental and electronic books, among other things, as possible means to lower costs, McQueen said.

Biemer said the resolution was sent to the SG Committee on Community and Government Affairs on Wednesday. The committee is an avenue of communication with the student body for matters on the state and national level, he said.