College students now have a cheap and easy on-line alternative to buying textbooks: Four students from New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) have created a website, urShelf.com, where all college students can buy textbooks at reduced prices and sell them back for a fair market price.
“I remember buying a textbook as a freshman for $150, only to turn around and sell it back to the bookstore for a mere $40,” said Geoffrey Cox, one of the four NJIT students who founded urShelf.com. “My experience taught me that I could sell that book to a fellow student for $70 and both of us would get a bargain. It is this concept—of mutual benefit, convenience, and ease—that inspired my partners and me to create urShelf.com, an on-line marketplace where students can buy and sell textbooks from their peers.”
The concept works like this: Students at any U.S. college can use the site, http://www.urshelf.com, to buy used textbooks from students at their college or other colleges. And once classes end, students can use the site to sell used textbooks to other students who will take the same classes. If students can’t sell or buy textbooks from fellow students, urShelf.com directs them to on-line sites, such as EBay or Barnes and Noble, which have the texts they need at the lowest prices.
Students can search the urShelf.com by the name of a college, a geographic region, or the name of a college course. By using the site Cox said students - both buyers and sellers - can eliminate shipping fees and delays by doing business with students on their own campus or one nearby. Students selling texts can opt to post the books at fixed prices or they can sell them auction-style. They can also pre-list books they plan to sell after completing a course in which they are enrolled.
The site has been successful, with more than 1,000 members and nearly 2,000 books listed at 150 campuses across the nation, said Cox.
“We support any school in the U.S., and Hawaii and Alaska are both supported, said Cox. “After we build a stable business in the U.S. we plan to expand globally. But for now we want to focus our efforts on helping students in the U.S.”
Cox and his partners are addressing the issue of soaring textbooks costs. “We’ve seen calculus textbooks sell for around $150,” Cox said, “and to make matters worse prices like this keep rising every year. It’s time for students to start avoiding the markups.”
The National Association of College Stores says wholesale prices of college textbooks have risen nearly 40 percent in the past five years. Citing statistics from the Bureau of Labor, the association noted that the cost of producing textbooks has increased by 5.4 percent since 1998, while the prices that publishers have set have risen by as much as 35.1 percent. A 2004 study by the California Student Public Interest Research Group found that the average release time between textbook editions is 3.8 years, regardless of whether the information has changed since the previous version. The group also noted that publishers often bundle textbooks with CD-ROMs, workbooks and other extras, forming a costly package that students say they don’t need.
Of the textbooks surveyed by the group, new editions cost 58 percent more than the older version, rising to an average cost of $102.44.
“Our major goal is to help students save money,” Cox said.
NJIT student Ryan Spadaccini developed the idea for the discounted textbook website from first-hand experience. Spadaccini, of Belleville, a current management major at NJIT, tried without success to buy discounted textbooks on line. An avid EBay user, Spadaccini noticed there wasn't much room for textbooks on EBay. And the sites that sold college textbooks were either hard to locate or had expensive shipping costs. So Spadaccini developed the concept for urShelf.com: a site that “made it easy for students to find the books they needed, had an auction-style setup and kept shipping fees to a bare minimum,” he said.
He discussed the concept with fellow student Scott Jolliffe, of Prospect Park, another management major. The two then approached Cox and Sarabjit Singh, of Montclair, a computer science and applied math major who graduated from NJIT’s Albert Dorman Honors College in 2002, asking them to help design the web site. The four launched the site in August 2004.
Cox, who graduated from the Dorman Honors College in 2003, now works full time for urShelf.com. He and his partners run the website from their apartment in Montclair.
The four partners are optimistic about the start of the upcoming college semester. “We wish something like this had been around when we were still in college,” Jolliffe said. “But we are happy that college students across the country can now reap the benefits of urShelf.com.”
“As a student at NJIT,” Cox said, “I learned to think outside the box and to take initiative-if a system runs inefficiently, improve it; if something doesn’t exist, create it. And as president of the Dorman Honors College Student Council, I learned how to lead a team of people and to transform an abstract idea into a working system that benefits the community. That’s what urShelf.com does.”