Half Price Books has an aggressive plan for buying back used college textbooks and selling back those books online.
With headquarters in Texas, the family owned chain of over 110 bookstores is starting a pilot program in nine of its stores to become more active in the used college textbook buyback space. Half Price Books has always allowed students to sell books and textbooks for cash at their locations. Students have sought out school book savings at their stores for years, despite Half Price Books (HPB) not having an inventory system, but now HPB wants to draw in more students and see how much of the multi-billion dollar textbook buying and selling market they can garner.
How does Half Price Books stack up to the competition? Their stores are generally located in malls and more suburban locations, but they have around 20% of their stores near college campuses. This compares to the over 800 college bookstores operated by Follett based in Oakbrook, Illinois, and the over 600 stores operated by Barnes & Noble – the two largest bookstore companies serving the textbook market. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) indicates the following:
59 percent of college textbooks are still purchased at bookstores or their websites
26 percent of textbooks are purchased online at venues like Amazon or Chegg
15 percent of remaining textbooks are bought and sold via student to student, alumni, or other bookstores like HPB
This means that nearly 75% of college students are still paying too much for books by not getting a price comparison.
Half Price Books is starting its textbook buyback program this month at nine stores near college campuses: University of Washington in Seattle, Washington; Texas A&M University in College Station, Texas; University of California Berkeley in Berkeley, California; University of Arizona in Tempe, Arizona; and five other locations. According to HPB executive vice president Kathy Doyle Thomas, “We’re experts in the used book business. And we know college students are already in our stores buying the Julius Caesar supplement reading for a class on Shakespeare, but we haven’t been buying their calculus or economics textbook.” Half Price Books will only sell back these used school books to students online, mostly likely through their Alibris portal. RentScouter will allow students buying textbooks online to see these prices in comparison to normal used book and textbook rental prices.
The NACS reports that the average higher education student is spending $667 over the previous year on textbooks, workbooks, and related course materials. Over 75% of students still prefer printed textbooks versus etextbooks, with extextbooks only comprising up to 10% of sales by 2012 according to the NACS. According to a representative at the University of Texas Co-op in Austin, TX sales of electronic textbooks are growing, but reading a novel works well on a laptop or tablet – not an algebra or biology textbook. Another issue with electronic textbooks is that they are generally not the cheapest textbook option, especially when one considers they can not be sold back for cash, or even transferred to another student.
While Half Price Books is rolling out a new textbook buyback program in nine stores, any HPB location will buy back used books, CD, DVDs, or video games just like always. HPB is seeing what they can do to gain part of the almost six billion dollars a year textbook business in this trying economy while stores like Barnes & Noble are trying to diversify and Borders is rapidly closing stores. In the flagship HPB store in Dallas, a new conveyor system and six buying stations has been implemented to speed up book buyback processing allowing them to buy back 8,000 to 13,000 books a day, compared to a wait time of up to an hour or more on the old system.