7.0262 Used Books (1/71)

Thu, 21 Oct 1993 14:21:42 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 7, No. 0262. Thursday, 21 Oct 1993.

Date: Thu, 21 Oct 1993 00:36:35 -0700
From: Lamar Hill <lhill@benfranklin.hnet.uci.edu>
Subject: Used books

Please feel free to cross-post this query.

* * * * * * *

I am sending this message in the hope that my
colleagues and I in the Department of History at UC,Irvine
will be able to benefit from your counsel and advice. We
are exploring ways to deal with the problem presented by the
practice in our campus bookstore of ordering used text books
even if we call for new ones. I'll outline the problem and
solicit your remarks.
Students at UCI have only one practical source for
textbooks: our campus bookstore which is a profit-making arm
of the Student Center. When we place our orders for books,
the bookstore first buys as many used copies as possible
(regardless of edition in some cases) from used book
suppliers and only then orders the remainder new from the
publisher. Although the bookstore management insists that
it applies a uniform mark-up on all books, some of us
suspect that they make more money on used books because we
know what they pay our students when they sell back their
The high cost of text books has been a source of
aggravation for our students, many of whom choose not to buy
a text if they must pay full price. Instead they use
library copies or make xerox copies for themselves. Because
of this resistance to buying new books, the bookstore claims
that it must return unsold stock to the publisher and eat
the cost. As a result, if I were to submit an order and
specify only new books, the bookstore would order a reduced
number in anticipation of reduced sales.
Many of us feel that the use of used text books makes
publishers even more than ordinarily reluctant to publish
and stock titles that don't sell. Those of us in fields
such as Latin America or Medieval or Early Modern Europe
find it exceptionally frustrating to assemble a list of
required texts as old titles go out of print and are not
reprinted, while new titles have such small print runs that
they are only available for a year or two. The source of
this problem may be, in part, the sluggish sales in
university bookstores. There is also a fairness issue that
concerns the authors of the books we use for our courses.
They are deprived of the fruits of their work when a used
copy is purchased instead of a new one because royalties are
paid only on the initial sale. I should add, I am aware of
a potential abuse when a professor orders his own book and I
am not suggesting that we want a procedure that will ensure
that we can deeply feather our own nests.
We have negotiated an interim agreement with our
bookstore according to which no less than 33% and no more
than half of any order will be filled with new copies.
Needless to say, the bookstore wants to study this again
before the ink has dried. At one point they wanted us to
post a notice that would indicate that any shortage of used
books was occasioned by the faculty's insistence upon new
If any of you have advice or tales from the trenches
that would illuminate our problem, please write.

Thank you,

Lamar M. Hill
Professor of History
University of California, Irvine