Students have options when looking for books

Tuesday, August 21, 2007 | 11:19 p.m. CDT; updated 12:54 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Marissa Sharkey is book smart. At the start of each semester, she carefully notes the prices of MU’s University Bookstore products like a meter reader taking down plates.

The MU junior doesn’t want to spend a dollar more than she has to. And, with a vast virtual store at the end of an ethernet cable, she says it’s not necessary. Sharkey looks to Internet outlets like and Amazon to beat the bookstore’s prices. Eighty percent of the books Sharkey gets for class are bought online.

Michelle Froese, MU’s public relations manager for student auxiliary services, says a typical undergrad in the U.S. will spend between $500 and $600 a semester on books. But for a major in health-related services and engineering, the tab will be closer to $1,000.

Despite Internet shoppers like Sharkey, Froese says University Bookstore hasn’t seen a decrease in business.

“If you do your research, you may be able to find that stellar deal. We’re very comparable to most big online sites, especially with textbooks,” she says.

Many other students let the school do the searching through the MU Early Bird program.

Sophomores Emily Farris and Jennifer Whitehead are two of the more than 8,000 enrollees who would rather bypass the Internet for Early Bird’s silver-plate service.

“I’ve never really looked online. I figured it’s easier this way. You can sign up and they have it all ready,” Farris says.

Freshman Jake Strickland uses the Early Bird program to reserve textbooks, which, he says, are used and cheap enough to let him skip the Internet.

“We don’t even need a class schedule. They just give their student ID, name and e-mail, and we charge (the books) to the student account,” says Rachel Reed, a seasonal employee at the bookstore. This year, 8,068 students have enrolled — the most ever, Reed says.

While the Early Bird Program gets the bookworms their books more quickly, there are still MU students who are more concerned about the bottom line.

Freshman William Neriz says he’ll compare prices between the Internet and the bookstore, and if the difference is more than $20 for any class, he’ll go online.

The biggest drawback for going on the Net, students say, is waiting for delivery.

“Our bookstore is more expensive than the online store. But, it depends on speed — the online store takes longer than the bookstore,” says Donjae Jung, a graduate student.

Amy Prieto, a senior health-sciences major, says that next semester, she’ll be ahead of the curve in ordering her texts. But, for now, she’ll be at the bookstore.

“I need them for Monday.” She adds, though, that “health-sciences textbooks are a bit ridiculously priced.”

At Beat the Bookstore on 904 Elm St., owner Scott Runyon is looking to shift the perspective that MU’s bookstore is the only local option. Already running in 16 states, the Columbia branch of Beat the Bookstore opened in May.

Runyon says the store helps students’ wallets at both ends of the semester. Since there are many Beat the Bookstore locations, he buys back texts regardless of whether they’re relevant to next semester’s course schedule.

Manager Eric Pherigo says, “Our goal is to buy back more books from students — ones that (Mizzou) may not use — and ship them to other wholesalers.”

Beat the Bookstore is stocked exclusively with used books, a huge reason, Runyon says, that he’s able to provide lower prices than the university store.

In addition, Runyon communicates with professors to find out which texts are really necessary and asks if older editions can be substituted for newer, and more expensive, versions.

Sophomore Sophia Bausoleil found Beat the Bookstore on MU’s Department of Economics’ Web site. She says she didn’t want to wait for Internet delivery but wasn’t willing to pay University Bookstore prices. And, she says, she saved money.

“I was told what I needed and ended up paying $75 instead of $105,” Bausoleil says.

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