The UNM Bookstore has actively worked to reduce textbook costs in recent year, the average price dropping from $88 to $69 per book, according to Bookstore Director Carrie Mitchell.
The Bookstore’s business practices have undergone a number of changes to increase affordability for students, including where it purchases textbooks from.
“Before there were standard margins in the college bookstore industry,” Mitchell said. “We have thrown those out and now look at what is a more competitive price, whenever we are able. We also source from more market place vendors than before.”
Some UNM students use a similar strategy of shopping around for their own textbook purchasing needs.
Adrian Flaco, a freshman biology student, said he uses both the bookstore and online outlets to get his materials.
In order to find the best deal, Flaco said he uses the Bookstore’s price comparison tool. Mitchell said many students who use the tool ultimately decide to shop at the Bookstore.
“Students go on our website, select the books they are needing and the tool then compares our prices to Amazon, Chegg and several other sites,” Mitchell said. “The statistics show that 70 percent of students choose the (UNM) Bookstore to order their books.”
The facility has also increased the number of books it offers as rentals for students who don’t plan to keep them beyond the semester.
“Rental book prices have been very competitive with many online sellers. Of course we can’t compete with someone selling one title here or there. We have to buy in large numbers, and those aren’t always at the level of a one off,” Mitchell said.
According to Student Monitor - a website which aggregates data and research from higher education institutions across the country - more students across the country rented textbooks or purchased e-books during 2015-2016 than in the previous year.
However, UNM students were already heavily relying on e-books, Mitchell said.
“UNM students have been a big user of e-books for many years,” she said. “When we first started to get more titles a few years back, UNM students were number two in the country for using e-books,” Mitchell said.
The Bookstore has also catered to the preference for online materials by creating the program Inclusive Access. Since its inception, the program has has saved students an average of 47 percent on course materials.
“We work with an instructor and the publisher to get an e-textbook with the adaptive learning tools for each student in a class. The students in the class get access to the e-book and tools from the first day of class, without paying for the course materials,” Mitchell said. “After the third week of class, students in the Inclusive Access class are given the opportunity to opt out of using the course materials.”
Students who opt out lose access to the online materials, while the rest of the students are charged a reduced price, she said. The Bookstore has also added the option to order books online and pick up in the stores.
“That business has increased tremendously. We hire more people to pull orders and get them ready in a short amount of time,” Mitchell said.
This fall the Bookstore is introducing a new software platform to give faculty better access to information about course materials, which will also have a database of open education resource material, she said.
“When they are selecting a course material for their class, it will tell them if there are more affordable course materials they could select. Each course material will be given an affordability score,” Mitchell said. “This will help us measure our progress, as a university, on making course materials more affordable.”
UNM Bookstore works closely with faculty to make sure they have the correct course materials.
“If something is wrong, we make it right,” Mitchell said. “We care so much about the students and I think it shows. Our work to decrease the prices has been received extremely well.”
Still, some UNM students are dissatisfied at how much lighter their wallets are after buying start-of-term materials on campus.
Andrea Abeita, a graduate student in the College of Education, said she buys most of her books through Amazon because of the large selection of new and used materials.
“I’m really frustrated with the Bookstore, in general,” Abeita said. “I feel like they’re really overpriced and I’ve had a lot of issues when I have gone there of them either not having books that I need for my course, they don’t have them in yet or they don’t have enough copies of them.”
Abeita was also unhappy with changes in the physical organization of the Bookstore.
“It was really easy before. You went to a class area, you found all the books you need for that class and now it’s ridiculous. You look up every single textbook, which might be 20 books for a semester, and now I have to look up 20 different authors,” Abeita said.
Ruby Packer, a sophomore history major, said she has never used the Bookstore, instead opting to shop online because the prices are usually better.
“I feel like if I knew the costs that went into producing the book I would think they’re reasonable, but since I don’t I think they’re unreasonable,” Packer said.
According to Mitchell, 65 to 70 percent of students shop at the Bookstore.
“The UNM Bookstore is not in business to make a profit like other bookstores. We make enough money to pay our expenses, salaries, building, University support and then the rest goes back to the University,” she said.” ”
Our focus is on students and their success, as well as supporting faculty and what they need for the students.”