Ethan Vaughn, Asst. News Editor

The official bookstore of George Mason University defended its price practices, saying it does not have control over the skyrocketing cost of college textbooks.

According to a study by the California Public Interest Research Group, the amount charged for university texts is rising nationwide at up to four times the rate of inflation.

With the soaring financial burden of educational materials, which are often packaged with CDs, workbooks and unique access codes, The Washington Post estimates that 60 percent of American university students forego buying all or some of their books.

“The publisher determines the price of the book,” said Jonathan Howard, assistant general manager at the George Mason bookstore.
“By contract, we can only mark books up 25 percent,” added manager Barbara Headley. “That’s pretty standard, and across the board we mark books up by that rate. That covers shipping and the cost of operating a bricks-and-mortar facility.”

Bookstore management asserted that while other “brick-and-mortar” bookstores that do not serve universities are able to maintain lower prices, they lack the guaranteed selection that the George Mason bookstore claims to offer.

Headley said that she was “not allowed to disclose” the percentage of textbook profits returned to the bookstore or the percentage given to the school, stating that she wasn’t sure “if the university wants it to be public or not.”

Howard emphasized that the bookstore was largely unable to control prices.

“We want to keep the book prices down,” he said. “We’ll give students 50 percent back at buy-backs. If you pay $120 for a book and you get $60 back, you’ve really only spent $60. We piloted a rental program. We’ve done things to make it cheaper.”

“The publisher states the prices and we have to live with it,” said Howard, “but we try to keep prices down. We don’t necessarily get credit for that.”

The rental program currently in place allows students to select from 50 texts used in approximately 150 classes and pay 42.5 percent of the cost of a new book, which is still cheaper than purchasing the item even if the maximum 50 percent is returned to the student at buy-backs.

The system has been so popular that it will be expanded in the fall to 250 titles.

“The student response has been very positive,” Howard said. “And we’re doing the best we can to get you more.”

Headley said that costs can also be kept lower if students urge their professors to send the bookstore a list of texts for the following semester before buy-backs begins.

Asking professors to assign old books can also help.

“By law, the professors have to sign a piece of paper saying that they know the cost of the textbooks at the time they assign them,” Headley said. “They’re supposed to know what’s going on.”

Even then, though, only so much can be done.

“The publishers are making sure they’re printing new editions,” stated Headley. “And they include parts and pieces with a lot of books.”
Features like access codes changed each semester ensure that many textbooks have extremely limited shelf lives.

Rising prices have led to an increase in thievery, including a ring of non-students that was recently discovered by the Mason police.