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August 9, 2010 | by  | in News | [ssba]

Students question price of “books for brains”

Complaints about the hardships of student life have come to focus on the price of textbooks at Victoria University’s vicbooks.

A common problem for students is that Victoria University Book Centre Ltd (vicbooks) does not provide a ten per cent student discount on textbooks as many other university bookstores do.

“It’s so unfair that we don’t get textbooks subsidised just so vicbooks can make a profit,” says third-year Frances.“We’re the ones that are already borrowing to live.”

Vicbooks General Manager Juliet Blyth says that the student discount was stopped about 15 years ago, ultimately for customers’ benefit.

“It was decided it was unfair to reward only those students who used the bookshop when all students should be able to benefit from the proceeds of their student-owned bookshop,” Blyth says.

“The majority of the bookshop revenue comes from textbook sales, therefore so does the profit, and by discontinuing student discount, the donation the bookshop makes to students through the VUWSA Trust for the benefit of all students has increased through the years.”

Labelled as ‘100% student owned’, vicbooks is a charitable company owned by the Victoria University of Wellington Students’ Association Trust (VUWSA Trust). Vicbooks’ donations contribute to the funding of developments such as the Campus Hub, administering the Student Trust Scholarship and supporting Student Job Search.

Student bookstores at other New Zealand universities follow quite different procedures.

The Auckland University UBS (University Bookshop Ltd) and Otago’s University Book Shop are both 100 per cent student owned and also offer a ten per cent student discount on top of their funding contributions to the university itself.

The University Bookshop Canterbury Ltd also provides a ten per cent student discount.

Blyth says that vicbooks often considers introducing a student discount.

“It is discussed annually at Bookshop Board and VUWSA Trust level, however, to date, the status quo has been the preferred option for the company’s long-term viability.”

Some students argue that the lack of discount at vicbooks in comparison to other universities reflects poorly on Victoria University as a whole.

“It is just another example of the Victoria establishment failing students in general,” says third-year student Lachlan.

Blyth says that vicbooks is making prices as low as they can.

“Vicbooks does not mark up to mark down as some of our competitors do, which confuses the market. Vicbooks aims to provide their texts at the best price possible whilst operating within pricing guidelines which will allow them to make their budgeted annual donation to the VUWSA Trust.”

Although vicbooks does not provide a student discount, they do have a ‘low price guarantee’ that many students are unaware of. If a student finds a cheaper price on a new, non-sale, identical textbook item at any Wellington retailer within 30 days of purchase, vicbooks will match the price.

“We appreciate the financial outlay students have to make on their texts,” says Blyth, “and are always open to suggestions from student customers as to how we could better recognise that investment.”

Students still see a problem with prescribed textbooks that can only be found at vicbooks.

“Quite a few lecturers prescribe their own books and then half of the content isn’t even relevant, which seems pointless,” a third-year BSc student says.

“They play on our anxiety about not having the most up-to-date edition so we can’t even buy second-hand.”

Blyth argues that vicbooks has no power over lecturers’ use of the texts, they simply work to find the lowest price for ‘essential’ texts prescribed by the lecturers.

“Provided the lecturer consults the prescribed text extensively then that student has made a valuable purchase as it has helped them to pass their course.”


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  1. BJ says:

    10% is like 8-30 dollars depending on your book. (I don’t know exactly how expensive those science books get) Not like its going to make that massive a difference, unless your CC makes you buy multiple books in each course. Would be nice to know the margins on some of those overpriced rolls of glossy loo paper though!

  2. button says:

    There seem to be two issues here – the books lecturers are setting and the price of books at VicBooks.

    Sure, it would be great if lecturers ensured the books set are relevant to the course and perhaps took a longer-term approach to their texts, so some students could sell their books to incoming students once the course was over. Unfortunately you are only going to know the value of the text once the course has started or even ended. I’d recommend using the books on campus, from the library, until you are certain you need to buy them. It may be a pain that you have to be at the library but at least you’re studying!

    Second, if you are unhappy with the price of textbooks at VicBooks then shop around. You are students, so research the best option available to you and take it! I got most of the books for my more technical papers from an online student text retailer and saved money. I think I even sent some back to them at the end of the paper and got a bigger refund/credit than VicBooks offered. Sure, it would be fantastic if the closest store to campus had the cheapest books but if you want convenience then you may pay the price. Also, if more students shopped around and bought elsewhere VicBooks would soon realise they need to be more competitive and possibly lower their prices.

  3. Macca says:

    “It’s so unfair that we don’t get textbooks subsidised just so vicbooks can make a profit,” says third-year Frances.
    What a pathetic moaning “world owes me a living” attitude. I guess its also unfair that you don’t get your groceries, clothes, coffee, petrol, airfares, music collection and computer subsidised – “just so the shops can make a profit”. Imagine that! Someone running a business to make a profit! ITS SO UNFAIR!!! They should all be investing their money and working just to make your life easier, shouldn’t they.

  4. Superior Mind says:

    Why not do what I did and just stop buying textbooks? Sure it took me four years to get a three year degree but… I forgot how I was going to conclude that statement.

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