New student-run book buyback to compete with bookstore

As the fall semester comes to an end, many students will be heading to the bookstore to sell their textbooks back. But this semester, St. Thomas sophomores Michael Ed and Joe Prescott have created a student-run book buyback as an alternative to going through the bookstore for students to sell back textbooks.

Michael Ed and Joe Prescott have nearly 400 Facebook fans for their student-run book buyback. (Pauleen Le/TommieMedia)
Michael Ed and Joe Prescott have nearly 400 Facebook fans for their student-run book buyback. (Pauleen Le/TommieMedia)

Ed and Prescott came up with the idea for the student-run book buyback in response to what they call “outrageous” profit margins the bookstore receives for buying and selling textbooks.

“It’s just something that can be improved upon in my opinion and by leading it by students it’s something that we can do to benefit all students here,” Prescott said.

As newcomers to the business of buying and selling books, Ed and Prescott feel their version of the book buyback is just a simple exchange.

“It’s like a one-stop-shop basically so they give us their books and then we have to find them their books for next semester,” Ed said. “So we basically direct one person to another for classes and the books they need.”

And with simple math, these two said they can guarantee if students went through their book buyback, the cost would be cheaper and the benefits greater.

“It would be cheaper than the bookstore no matter what,” Prescott said. “A brand new book from the bookstore is 100 percent and then to sell it back is, at most, 50 percent and then the bookstore turns around and sells it for 75 percent. So there’s 25 percent that the bookstore is taking. So basically that 25 percent, if you just cut that down, will ensure that students will benefit more from going through us, in simplest terms.”

The St. Thomas bookstore buyback process

Although textbooks are often the first thing to come to mind when thinking about bookstores, surprisingly they provide the smallest profit margin out of all the products sold in the bookstore according to Tony Erickson, bookstore director.

“College bookstores aren’t here to make money off of textbooks because the textbook is something integral for the student to have. So that’s why the profit margin is so small is because it’s a service,” Erickson said. “The clothing, the school supplies, everything else, that’s not really necessary that you have a purple sweatshirt so, that is another way that we can make some money to pay for some of the other expenses that we have.”

The bookstore operates on textbook requests from professors for the next term. What textbooks professors are using for the upcoming term and how many courses that professor will teach, determines the price and quota for the book buyback.

“Once we’ve met the quota for a book, if the book hasn’t been adopted, hopefully it goes to a wholesale price and then the books are bought back by a wholesale price that’s determined by a wholesaler and we ship those down to Missouri and then those books are then sold to other colleges,” Erickson said.

The bookstore does make a 25 percent profit margin for textbooks, however this profit margin also helps to cover costs of buying and selling books.

“If I can sell [the textbooks] then good, but if I can’t sell it and I’m stuck with it, I’m going to have to sell it to a wholesaler for probably 20-30 percent,” Erickson said. “So, I’m going to lose money on that. So that 25 percent margin absorbs my selling cost, my payroll, everything like that and that’s the industry standard in college bookstores. “

Who’s got the better benefits?

The bookstore’s buyback from Dec. 9 – 18 starts earlier and runs longer than Ed and Prescott’s book buyback. In addition, the bookstore also offers instant gratification.

“You get your money immediately,” Erickson said. “Basically, you sell it to us and we take care of shipping it away and selling it, you don’t have to wait for a buyer to sell it to.”

Ed and Prescott’s book buyback roughly runs from Dec. 17-19. Although they can’t offer instant gratification, Ed and Prescott plan to make their process as smooth as they can for students.

“We do have a small profit margin but basically our profit margin comes from us directing the seller of the book to the buyer of the book so we’re doing the busy work while they sit back and collect,” Ed said.

Customer satisfaction, a common factor

On the surface it may appear the bookstore can be overpriced but Erickson said he has student’s interests in mind.

“If we get a good deal on a book we’ll pass that on to the student. We always try to get used books as much as possible,” Erickson said. “If I can get it used I will get it used. I’ll buy it new as a last resort because I know the student wants them used and I want to give the students what they want.”

Like the bookstore, Ed and Prescott plan to do what they can to satisfy customers.

“If we can’t sell it we’re either going to do one of two things, we’re either going to take the book to the bookstore, sell it ourselves and take a hit for it just so we can keep these people coming back semester by semester, or we’re going to give them back and have them sell it to the bookstore,” Ed said.

As confident as these sophomores are about their student-run book buyback idea, they still have one worry.

“The part we’re worried about is that there are 370 people in the Facebook group right now but how many are actually going to come and give us their books?” Ed said. “That’s the only way it wouldn’t work.”

Pauleen Le can be reached at

6 Replies to “New student-run book buyback to compete with bookstore”

  1. The idea here is not new. Find a buyer and a seller, broker the deal between them and take a commission.

    Theoretically, the idea makes sense that each person in the transaction would be better off. The seller get a higher price than they would get from the buy back and the buyer gets a lower price than they would pay at the bookstore. But, the problem is, who knows what books they will need for the spring yet? They are not posted on the bookstore site and many professors change books or allow other versions only a few weeks before class. Meaning, there are no buyers in the market right now.

    Also, nobody forces students to sell them back at the bookstore. Go talk to them, they’ll tell you what they’ll pay and if you feel like you can get a better price elsewhere don’t sell it to the bookstore.

  2. I can see another TommieMedia story January 25th: “Hundreds of St Thomas students get their books handed back to them after they thought they got rid of them a month ago”

  3. I’m not so sure how many students are willing to forgo an immediate cash payout, in order to hope for a buyer come spring. I think this idea would work if these guys had enough capital to offer cash payment for the books upfront. Chris is right, the buyer vs. seller cycle doesn’t quite align. There is definitely a market for both outside of the bookstore, they just need to reconcile the difference in the timing of demand.

  4. That’s a good point, because these guys aren’t going to know if a book is even being used again next semester, and if it isn’t then the people trying to get rid of their books will end up having to sell them online or something anyway

  5. Mr. Erickson noted, “College bookstores aren’t here to make money off of textbooks because the textbook is something integral for the student to have.” Will he (or Tommy Media) confirm that generating NET income from book sales is not a priority for the book store?

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