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The Student’s Guide to Textbooks

By Lexi Carder 

As midterms draw near, the thoughts of next semester arise. Classes. Textbooks. Money. Professors. Are all thoughts that students have before registering for classes. Textbooks should be the least of your worries, the reality is that they are not.

Textbooks play a key role in a student’s college experience, mostly because professors require you to have one in order to complete their class. A 2014 report by the Public Interest Research Groups found that two-thirds of surveyed students had skipped buying or renting some of their required course materials because they couldn’t afford them. So why are they so expensive?

It takes a village to create a textbook, as it does when you create anything. According to a digital media company called Vox, when students buy a textbook, they aren’t just paying for the pages, they’re paying for the research, editing, production and distribution of the book. And when a book comes with an access code, they’re also paying for the development of and access to all kinds of supplementary materials. College bookstores charge students the same amount that a publishing company charges them for a book, and they make their money through commission that goes straight into bookstore scholarships.

WVU Parkersburg’s bookstore is owned by Barnes and Noble Education through a contract with WVU Parkersburg. They provide access codes, e-books, physical books and electronic resources like Bartleby and Cengage Unlimited to students. They cater more to academic books, but they do have a small splash of trade books that students can enjoy. An incentive to use the campus bookstore is that they have enough books to supply every student in a class with books. They also price match; however, it is limited to textbooks and you can only use Amazon, no third-party sellers or BN.com. Also, rather than going into the bookstore, you can price match through the WVU Parkersburg bookstore website

There are so many opinions on the debate between e-books and print books, but what it really comes down to is student preference. Whether a student likes to have a physical book in front of them to read for a STEM course or an e-book that they need snippets of to take notes from for a humanities course, there is a stark difference just like every student is different. 

E-books are usually less expensive than their paper counterparts, and come with font flexibility, making reading easier. Thousands of e-books can also be stored on a single device. Print books have the feel of a book that many readers love, and they are easier on the eyes since there’s no eye strain that comes with an electronic device or e-reader. On the other hand, paper books can be difficult to carry around, especially hardcover books.

“It depends on the student,” Sarah Robinson, WVU Parkersburg Bookstore Manager, said. “Nontraditional students tend to choose physical books over digital because that is what they are accustomed to.”

“I like physical textbooks because I can take notes directly with the text, I can highlight the text, and it’s a constant reminder to read the material. I also notice that e-books strain my eyes more and I tend to get distracted while being online,” Andrea Watson, a sophomore in Elementary Education said.

A good thing to note is that textbook publishers say they’re aware of students’ difficulty affording books and are making strides toward affordability.

“Right now, the market is going through a reset,” Scott Virkler, a McGraw-Hill executive, said. “The prices of textbooks themselves spun out of control over the last ten or fifteen years. About three or four years ago, around 2015, prices started to come down significantly. So, we’re at a point now where, on average, for a semester, taking a full course load, the course materials are costing around $240 to $250.”

There are a few options to get your money’s worth, such as buying used or digital, renting, waiting until syllabus day to see if you need the book or just reselling if your only option is to buy new. Just make sure you get your textbook if it is needed because they are an important part of the learning process.

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