In the wake of a new term, students are once again turning to pockets, wallets, and checkbooks, only to find their funds greatly decreased. Book buying, the financial dread of all college students, has taken its toll, leaving most of us scraping the bottom of the barrel for necessities, entertainment, and off-campus dining. While the atmosphere of our quaint little off-campus bookseller, Conkey’s, may seem cozy, one cannot pass by the establishment without the prevailing thought: “hey—they screwed me over!” In short, establishments such as Conkey’s are taking advantage of students, and it needs to stop.
By locating itself within walking distance of a campus where most students are without a vehicle, Conkey’s has certainly created quite the monopoly. It is simply more convenient to walk a few feet down the street than to locate a car or a bus and schlep all the way out to the far reaches of Outagamie County to try to meet reading list requirements, only to be disappointed when they don’t have that Calculus II book you had been dreaming of buying on sale.
There are ample reasons as to why Conkey’s has been able to rise, flourish, and continue to suck the life out of students’ wallets. However, there are little thought-of options for the poor college student.
The internet has made available novels, aids, and textbooks for a fraction of the price (including shipping). While Conkey’s, or any other small bookseller at any other college, may charge $54.70 for the Norton Anthology of English Literature, websites such as www.half.com offer the same texts, albeit used, for anywhere from $7.55 to $22.30. Even a used anthology at Conkey’s doesn’t come nearly this cheap.
However, the problem is that until the new term begins, students are not made aware of what texts to purchase. The solution? Make available to students the reading lists at least a week prior to term commencement. Professors could post the lists online or scotch tape them to their respective office doors.
Another viable option would be the establishment of an online used book forum. Students could post the books they were willing to part with, a la eBay, and begin reasonably buying and selling amongst their peers. True, the success of such an undertaking would hinge on student participation and responsibility, but I think that the benefits would be well worth the effort. Let the apathetic continue to rack up the bills.
Posters at Conkey’s will be quick to tell you that it is not their fault that your art history textbook costs more than a king’s ransom. And it is probably true that textbooks are a low margin business, especially at the relatively small volume Conkey’s sells, but so what? Low margin, small volume businesses are an endangered species everywhere in America. How many local, non-franchise hardware stores have you seen open in the past five years? How many nationwide home improvement centers?
College students are the last group of people who can afford to be wide-eyed idealists and support a neighborhood bookstore just because it is local and traditional, especially when cheaper sources are abundant. It simply doesn’t make sense to buy from a store like Conkey’s.
Students shouldn’t have to spend $200 dollars or more every time they cross Conkey’s threshold for academic purposes. It is ridiculous to force knowledge into the category of “commodity,” which is exactly what these establishments have been doing for years. Texts must be made more economically available to students, either by the lowering of prices by Conkey’s or a student-led rise of internet purchases. It is time for this financial exploitation of students to end, and if that can only be achieved by forcibly abandoning the “cozy” off-campus bookstores that we know and love, then so be it.