Dylan Morrill

Equinox Staff


When students begin selling their textbooks in a few weeks, they will inadvertently mobilize a brief but lucrative biannual gold rush that will pit the Keene State College bookstore against textbook resellers around the country.

At the end of every semester, companies hoping to cash in on the nearly $5 billion textbook market flock to Keene and hundreds of other college towns with money on their minds.

“I compete against the college,” Marshall Lieberman, co-owner of Penntext, a Pennsylvania based company that buys books from a van in the parking lot of Campus Convenience, said. “It’s a free country. People have a right to be in business themselves,” Lieberman said.  The American Enterprise Institute reported in 2012 that the price of college textbooks is up 812 percent since 1978, outpacing inflation by a large margin.

The rapid growth in textbook prices, which is widely attributed to a dysfunctional textbook industry, is creating a giant market for used textbooks that has spawned several new textbook resellers.

“We show up at schools all across the country, buy books, and sell them to bookstores and online,” Lieberman said. Penntext also runs two fully operational bookstores in Delaware and Pennsylvania that compete with college bookstores.

“Obviously we do it because we want to make money, but the outcome for students is they get more for their books. I would be willing to bet you that we beat the prices of 70 percent of [the KSC bookstore’s] books,” Lieberman said.

Helen Babonis, director of the KSC bookstore, said that Penntext rarely beats the KSC bookstore’s prices. “Kids aren’t getting nearly what they’re worth [from Penntext],” Babonis said.

“That is not a very honest assessment,” Lieberman said when asked about this claim. The KSC bookstore certainly has the ability to offer better prices than resellers.

Typically, the KSC bookstore buys books from students and sells them back a few months later, whereas textbook resellers usually have to pay all the expenses involved with shipping books to different retailers.

Babonis and Leiberman both said that if students get 50 percent of the price they paid for a textbook then they hit the jackpot. According to Babonis, the KSC bookstore can almost never pay more than 50 percent and stay in business.

“We would buy a $100 book for $50 and sell it next semester for $75. Is that a rip-off? If you have an understanding of how business works, no it’s not a rip-off,” Babonis said.

After all expenses the KSC bookstore keeps four cents of every dollar, according to Babonis. That profit goes straight to the college and has helped fund things like the new Alumni Center.However, there have been cases in which students have been offered significantly less than what they originally paid for the textbook.

Senior Sam Lusted said he bought a chemistry book for $180 at the KSC bookstore and was offered $30 at the end of the semester, and senior Ben Perkins said he once spent $400 on all his books and was offered $50 several months later when the semester was over.

Babonis explained that these stories of exceptionally rapid depreciation are usually the results of two things.One, publishers have started “bundling” books with apparently necessary technological components that have specific access codes. “When [publishers] bundle those components with a book they will virtually throw them into the bundle at almost no cost, but when you purchase them separately they charge an arm and a leg,” Babonis said.

If a student tries to sell one of these bundled books without the added component, they may be offered a price lower than 50 percent. But the most likely reason that the KSC bookstore would offer less than 50 percent for a textbook is that not all textbooks will be used again for a KSC course.

When a student tries to sell a textbook that will not be used in the next semester, the KSC bookstore usually buys the textbook and ships it off to a wholesaler that acts as a sort of middleman to the middlemen, taking its own profit.

Babonis also estimated that when the buyback period starts the KSC bookstore will only know about 65 percent of the textbooks needed for the next semester, despite the Higher Education Opportunity Act, which encourages colleges to disclose 100 percent of the required textbooks by this time.

However, some professors just don’t always get their order sheets in on time.

But it is not always the professors’ fault; Babonis said, “We have a lot of adjuncts here and a lot of them don’t know if they’re going to be teaching.”

This means that the KSC bookstore will probably sell dozens of textbooks to wholesalers this year, only to buy them back a few months later when professors start getting their order sheets in.

When the KSC bookstore offers students less than 50 percent of the purchase price for a textbook–for whatever reason–they actually create the market for textbook resellers. The playing field becomes even.

When asked what advice he had for students, Leiberman said, “[Penntext’s] motto is dare to compare.”

Babonis, when asked the same question, echoed Lieberman, “I think students need to be wise shoppers. I’d like to see students become more aware [when buying textbooks].”


Dylan Morril can be contacted at


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