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February 18, 2002

Battle with online vendors is convenience versus price

By Eric Rangus


The Emory Bookstore: Still Your Best Source For Textbooks.

That line appeared just below the fold of a full-page advertisement that ran on page 22 of the Jan. 22 edition of The Emory Wheel. It must’ve been important because it was in all capital letters as well as boldface type—with “best” in italics. The ad also included several bullet points backing up the statement.

These days, students have a bevy of places from which to pick and choose their textbook purchases. Online retailers, independent used bookstores and even a textbook-exchange site on Emory’s own popular LearnLink system compete with University Bookstores for customers and dollars. It’s a tough market, since many of these dealers can undersell their competition (read: university bookstores around the nation).

“Our prices are competitive,” said Bruce Covey, associate director of University Bookstores. “We offer more used books than online dealers, and all our books are already in stock.”

Covey listed several incentives the bookstores use to lure customers like special sales and coupons. Sales are up from last year, Covey said, so something must be working.

With the many choices available, is Emory the best source for books? To find out, Emory Report visited a couple of the University bookstore branches and sampled a dozen titles. We then looked for those titles online in search of the best deal. What we learned is that books very often can be found cheaper in places other than Emory University Bookstores. But as far as one-stop shopping goes—and the ability to touch and feel the merchandise before purchase—Emory is tough to beat.

University Bookstores is administered out of the Office of the Provost, and it encompasses not only the main University bookstore on the second floor of the Dobbs Center, but the medical bookstore on the DUC’s plaza level, the Oxford Book-store and the Druid Hills Bookstore.

Since it’s off campus, Druid Hills Bookstore flies a bit under the radar, although it is well known to graduate and law students (who buy their textbooks there), professors (who can be seen browsing the stacks and even sitting on the floor leafing through the store’s selections) and serious bookworms (the store’s history and travel sections—among others—rival those of many chain stores, and its academic sections such as philosophy are unrivaled anywhere).

It also features several bookcases of works by Emory professors—at 10 percent off the list price, as well. And Druid Hills’ reputation is growing.

“We’ve had faculty members from Georgia State and Agnes Scott come by,” said Ophelia Maynard, operations manager for Druid Hills Bookstore. “Even professors from farther away. They’ve said they had a positive experience and that we compare with bookstores at places like Harvard. There’s no other store like this in Georgia.”

Aesthetics aside, many people are interested only in the bottom line. Which is cheaper, University Bookstores or online dealers? Of the 12 books Emory Report sampled, we found nine of them cheaper online new and seven cheaper used. But finding a deal takes a lot of legwork.

Online retailers are about as numerous as the titles they sell. We found cheap books at big-time book retailer sites (, online retail behemoths (, and a few sites that specialize in selling college textbooks (, Some of the best bargains, however, we found at, a site that is affiliated with the online marketplace eBay.

The site, which—similar to eBay—features sellers offering their wares directly to consumers, and lists used titles at prices close to 50 percent less than those offered on campus. In this case, the website’s name is truthful advertising.

Of the two books for which we found Emory Bookstores to be cheaper on all counts, one is written by an Emory professor (Oded Borowski, associate professor of Middle Eastern studies), Every Little Thing: The Daily Use of Animals in Ancient Israel, and used in Borowski’s MES 251 class. Another, Misère de la philosophie, is for a graduate class in French and is written in that language. In fact, it couldn’t be found it anywhere on the ’Net.

On the shady side, online books, in several cases, had list prices cheaper than the University bookstores but were subject to shipping charges nearing $5 in some instances—a fine-print addition that made several titles more expensive than on-campus books.

While saving a few bucks on textbooks is certainly nice, there are a few drawbacks. First of all, the search is pretty labor intensive and can be tedious, especially if one’s Internet connection is slow.

One of the most helpful sites is, which prompts consumers for either a book’s title or author then spits out a list of where the book can be purchased online, complete with new and used prices.

The prices change, too. A cheap book (particularly the used ones) could be $10 today, $20 tomorrow. And just because a site advertises a certain book at a certain price—again, this happens a lot with used titles—doesn’t mean the book will be in stock when ordered.

While the University bookstores have a tough road to traverse in competing with online retailers price-wise, they hold a distinct advantage in one important area: convenience.

“I believe that if the average student bought his or her book through the bookstore rather than online, the student would get a better deal,” Covey said.