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January 23, 2007

Kill a Tree, But Save Some Cabbage

By Sumeera Younis

I must have spent hours during study week thinking about that warm cashmere sweater: How it would comfort me once finals were finished, how it would look perfect under my new blazer. But who was I kidding? With hundreds of dollars in textbook purchases awaiting me, I knew I couldn’t splurge…. Or could I? I have come to realize that buying textbooks doesn’t have to break the bank.

One reason textbooks are so expensive is publishers keep cranking out new editions. Once a publisher has sold books from one edition, they start losing money because people start buying the books used. Congress has even looked into this issue, though that was back in 2005, so I wouldn’t hold my breath.

While we wait on Congress, I’ve looked into different ways to get your books and how much each would cost. I compared the prices of two books that most people purchase at some point in their law school career: The Modern Law of Contracts by Frier & White and International Law, Norms, Actors, Process- A Problem Oriented Approach by Dunoff, Ratner, and Wippman.

There are several bookstores on campus, and they sell our textbooks at list price. A used copy is generally twenty to thirty dollars cheaper, but those go fast. Most times you’ll be stuck with a brand new copy of the book. It has long been suspected that all the bookstore managers of Ann Arbor meet in a dungeon somewhere and conspire to keep all the prices of books the exact same high price, so there is not much point in shopping around at campus bookstores. Your pocket will take the hardest hit if you purchase straight from the bookstore.

Contracts: $101.00
Transnat: $113.00
Amazon v. Half.com
In the world of online textbooks, these are the two heavyweights: Amazon and Half.com. You can find almost any textbook on the planet on these websites, but there are a few things you should look out for. Make sure you are ordering the right edition. In some classes, the professor spends a lot of time referring to the casebook or asking you to look up something during lecture. If you know this is the case, then having the right edition becomes hugely important. In other classes you don’t notice it at all. If you do decide to buy the older edition of a textbook, make sure you are paying bottom dollar --you can get these textbooks for around twenty bucks.

Also, both Amazon and Half.com have rating reviews for both sellers and books. If the seller is bad at shipping on time or misrepresents his items, it will probably be reflected in his reviews. There is also a description of how much highlighting, writing, or wear the book you are ordering has. The main consideration to keep in mind while ordering online is shipping time. I’ve had problems getting things in a decent time from Half.com, but Amazon’s shipping has worked really well. If you know what classes you are taking before break starts, you can find a list of all your books on the registrar’s website and order them with plenty of time for shipping.

Transnat: New: $103.96, Used: $74.95
Contracts: New: $101.00, Used: $70.00
Transnat: $80.00
Contracts: $70.00

I will admit I am guilty of this as well, but holy bursting inbox, Batman! How many e-mails for textbook requests can a law student read before moaning about it in the RG? Please use a different forum for next semester, I beg you! Law students everywhere (and by everywhere I mean at Michigan) would love you forever (and by forever I mean the first week of classes when they wouldn’t be getting slammed with book spam). If nothing else, use the Law School classifieds. But all griping aside, some of the best deals I’ve found on textbooks have been on LawOpen. You can make quick cash if you are selling, and get a great price without the added cost of shipping if you are buying. You can really finesse the LawOpen system by waiting for that period when people realize they are going to drop a class but have already taken the shrink-wrap off the book, when Ulrich’s won’t take them back. This is pure money because you get a brand new book for a lot less. Prices vary on LawOpen, but I have been able to get a $114.00 textbook for $25.00 and it was in great shape!

You have probably passed the Booktrader room hundreds of times in your law school life and not quite known what it was, or been slightly intimidated by the gorgeous Grace Lee manning the cash register. Located in the basement of Hutchins Hall, Booktrader is a student -run operation where students can buy and sell books. You can give your books to Booktrader to sell for whatever price you’d like --half the retail price is recommended. Once the book is sold, Booktrader will take a commission and give you the rest of the profit for the book.

Although Booktrader offers a great value, there are a few drawbacks. For instance, it doesn’t open until the first day of classes. Since professors often assign homework before the first class, this leaves you a little behind the game. Still, the prices might be worth the risk of being called on the first day of class and having no clue what is going on. You might also run into a lot of older editions at Booktrader; so, once again, make sure you are getting the right edition if that is important to you.

Contracts: $50.50
Transnat: $56.50
Who really needs textbooks?
Have you ever spent hours going through your reading only to realize the only thing you learned was that Britney Spears has a new man? (And you sure didn’t get that from your textbook.) Have you ever highlighted in every color known to man and not even known the class you were reading for? It makes you wonder if books might be a little overrated. I mean, yeah, everyone’s doing it. You see all your classmates walk into class and put that red, hundred-dollar textbook next to their laptop, and you think: Wow, what a magical feeling. But do you really need it? A great way to save money on text books is not to buy them at all! If you find yourself desperate around finals time, the library keeps our textbooks on hand, and you can just mosey in there and visit them.

Contracts: $0
Transnational Law: $0
(Keep in mind: we have not computed lost income for any variance in grades that might result from using this method.)

Unconventional Methods
If you are not quite ready to go through a semester without books and still don’t want to shell out the big bucks to buy them, there are several options open to you. You could always try copying the book: The transnational law book has 1090 pages, and at ten cents a page you’ll be set back $109.00 with no fancy red binding to show for it. I’m not sure how legal this is either. You could try breaking into your professor’s house and borrowing the book. There are some unforeseeable transactional costs here, such as finding out where the professor lives, buying the right equipment to break in with, and facing the possibility of being barred from the bar.

Contracts: Lockpicking Set: $20,
Digital Camera: $120, Defense
Attorney: $2,000+
Transnational Law: 18-20 years

There is a lot we can do right here at Michigan to make the textbook plight more bearable. Professors can use the same editions for longer periods. (How much CAN Crim Law really change in a year?) Booktrader can open a little earlier so we can get the stellar half off deals and help our classmates make a few bucks. Some students at other universities have even taken to ordering their books from overseas because they are much cheaper, or have directly contacted publishers to get unbound copies which are also substantially cheaper.

There is no quick fix to beating the textbook blues, but there are more options out there than plunging yourself further into debt. If you do well enough in your book search, as I did, you’ll have the additional perk of being able to indulge in a guilt-free cashmere sweater. And, if that’s not your poison, Duby might have another Game Cube up for grabs.