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Bookstore’s new return policy costs students

College textbooks are notoriously expensive; everyone knows that. Students do the best they can to anticipate and cope with stratospheric prices. But many students were surprised when they purchased textbooks this semester and found that the campus bookstore had sliced its return period in half, from two weeks into the semester to one. Friday was the last day before all textbook sales became final, and for many, this is an unexpected and very expensive inconvenience.

CMU’s bookstore already has a strong reputation for putting a burdensome dent in students’ pockets. This recent policy change has only compounded the opinion. Now, not only are the books expensive, but after only a few class meetings — when students are still working out their final schedules — the purchase becomes a marriage: till death (or bottom-dollar buyback) do us part.

Couldn’t a student just wait until his or her class schedule is finalized to buy books? Possibly, but it’s a gamble. Classes at CMU usually hit the ground running, and it’s in neither the students’ nor professors’ best interest for students to spend the first week or more of class unprepared, waiting to see whether they’ll get out of academic purgatory (a.k.a. “the waitlist”).

But, as always, there are two sides to this issue. It’s easy to demonize the bookstore for being an expensive part of the college experience. The truth is, though, that the bookstore is an independent business trying to stay competitive in a modern market. It has to rent its space from the University Center, buy books from publishers, pay employees, and so on. Students’ proclivity to treat the bookstore like a lending library — purchasing books, ordering them less expensively online, and then returning the bookstore books after their cheaper ones arrive — has put a significant strain on the bookstore, which pays high shipping and restocking fees in order to send unsold or returned books back to the publisher. Last semester, one publisher, John Wiley & Sons, charged the CMU bookstore $7000 in restocking fees alone.

Moreover, the bookstore is a valuable participant in the CMU community. According to Kurt Edwards, CMU Book Department Manager, after covering its own costs (such as bills and employee wages), the bookstore funnels its profits into the Student Activities Fund.

Still, the law of capitalism is clear: win over the consumer or perish. For instance, Amazon.com can offer savings of about 30 percent over bookstore prices. When the price of a single book can soar into the hundreds of dollars, serious savings add up. By that same token, the bookstore’s standard 25 percent markup makes already expensive books unbearably costly.

What, then, is the best solution? Don’t wait till the last minute to buy books. Shop around, buy used, and buy online. If you haven’t sorted out your final classes yet, check the local libraries or borrow from a friend. If you wouldn’t buy an outfit, wear it to a party, and return it the next day, then try to treat the bookstore with the same respect. By doing so, students will get the best deal, and the bookstore’s significant shipping and restocking fees will be eased, resulting in — you guessed it — lower prices and a more generous return period. Until that time, it will continue to charge an arm and a leg.