Another semester is underway at Geneseo, and this can only mean one thing. Well, I suppose it could actually mean a great number of things, but in this particular instance it is that oh-so-familiar conversation that so many people have with their friends when leaving Sundance Books. From the other side of campus you can almost hear the grumblings of students with a heavy paper bag under their arms. Two hundred dollars, $300, $400…
It is truly an unfortunate situation that college students, who generally have the least ability of any demographic to pay the huge amounts that textbooks often cost, are forced to burden such a massive additional weight every semester. However, what is also unfortunate is that right along with complaints about the prices are the attacks leveled at Sundance.
The accusations that I often hear portray the owners as tie-dye wearing swindlers with a colossal clandestine scheme to milk the pockets of Geneseo's poor student population, draining our every last hard-earned cent into a massive peace-sign shaped coffer that they keep in the basement.
Let's face it folks: this just isn't the case. Sundance Books charges retail price for the new books that they sell. The receipt that you get when you walk out the door doesn't show the 200 percent markup that so many students have somehow managed to convince themselves that Sundance has secretly put into place; it just shows the price that the publishers have decided to stamp on the back of the book.
Granted, I'm not at all saying that I think these prices are fair. Textbooks are massively expensive, usually priced far higher than they should be, but we can't blame Sundance for a person's advanced biology book that costs $125. Publishers generally say that these costs are a reflection of the high price of producing textbooks, but let's look at reality. They make their profits off of the often unnecessary new editions of many books that they introduce almost every year of, along with the supplementary materials like study guides and CDs that often students don't need, want or use.
But let's not blame Sundance for all this. The owners and employees are just regular Phil Lesh-listening guys who are trying to earn a living like everybody else. The books are listed at retail price because as a small business, they can't afford to offer the markdowns that online retailers like Amazon.com can.
Although I will say, however, that I'm often shocked at the price of some of the poor-condition used books that they sell. This is one area where some legitimate griping might be in order, but there is a satisfaction-guaranteed return policy on used books that people probably don't take advantage of nearly as much as they should.
As aggravating as the prices really are, let's let professors know that they often don't need to require students to have the latest editions of textbooks. I don't doubt that there may also be a significant amount of faculty ignorance when it comes to this issue. They're busy people, yes, but this is a matter of huge importance to students that they should be aware of and address.