The Arizona Desert Lamp

The fight against YOUR bookstore

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 16 February 2009

UA BookstoreASUA election promises can largely be described as a train of clichés, from the engine of ‘awareness’ to the caboose of ‘sustainable’ (formerly ‘environmental’).  All on board the Populist Express! These candidates, like many a politician before them, attach onto an issue that everyone connects to, promises a chicken in every pot and a pony in every stable, and proceeds to either do nothing, or bring in more students to serve on a meaningless”committee” towards the cause — a Ponzi scheme of advocacy, if you will.

One of the oldest and most popular boxes on the line is “book prices,” an issue brought up without fail every ASUA election season, and a favorite rallying cry of ASA. So why can’t ASUA accomplish anything on the textbook front, despite all of the enthusiasm and the popular support? Perhaps because “Big Book” is subsidizing a large plurality of their budget. From a great investigative article back in 2003:

But, contrary to students’ myths, half of ASUA funds, $432,0000, come from the bookstore, and for the next four years, that amount will be increasing.

Last year, Doug Hartz, former student body president, extended the contract with the bookstore in order to prevent a significant loss of funds after ASUA suffered from a budget cut last year.

. . .

Prior to 1971, ASUA owned the bookstore, but during that year the bookstore became privately owned. An agreement was made between the new owner and ASUA declaring that the bookstore must handover a portion of its profits to ASUA in order to be given ownership of the store’s operations.

You’ve also got to love the economic reasoning from the “man on the street” quote, made exponentially better by the detail about his major:

“I rather the money go to ASUA than to the book publishers,” Randy Mitzman, pre-business sophomore, said.

Sigh. It wasn’t until 2002 that the store was still referred to the “UA Bookstore” rather than the “ASUA Bookstore”; this change came along with a multi-million dollar renovation that left us with the Bookstore that we know and love so much today:

The bookstore, a structural fetus of the $60 million, half-a-million square foot student union, will increase its space by 38,000 square feet, and just this semester students have seen the closest thing to the finished product thus far.

Easily +5 for “structural fetus.” With this new professional demeanor, the store opted to associate itself more with the UA — although, if you look closely at the current logo, you can still see “Associated Students” on the bottom right-hand corner.

Bookstore Logo

Just a little something to think about next time you get rung up at the bookstore. For previous Lamp coverage on textbooks, read here and here.

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6 Responses

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  1. Emily said, on 16 February 2009 at 10:28 pm

    Arizona Students Association and ASUA have continued to fight the textbook battle each year, with some successes. Although you may disagree with the effect the students actually have on legislation, their past lobbying efforts can not be disregarded:

    http://media.wildcat.arizona.edu/media/storage/paper997/news/2008/03/14/News/Textbook.Price.Bill.Improved-3269931.shtml

    • Evan Lisull said, on 16 February 2009 at 11:01 pm

      The provisions of HB 2230/SB 1175 of the 2008 session are as follows:

      1. Requires a publisher to provide staff with information about their books.
      2. Schools must inform faculty of this policy and “encourage faculty and staff to place course material orders with sufficient lead time for the university or community college bookstore or contracted bookstore to confirm availability of requested material.”
      3. ABOR must also tell the faculty and staff about this disclosure policy.
      4. Faculty and staff can’t get free things from publishing companies.
      5. Book publishers can’t provide free sample copies (essentially, 4 in reverse)
      6. “Requires a publisher to comply with the ABOR and community college district policies on course materials.”

      If this counts as ‘teeth’ to ASA, then I suppose that this ASUA resolution must be known colloquially as ‘Jaws’. Meanwhile, freshmen are still required to buy “bundled” goods, since their professors are opting for them even with all of this information; nonbundled books still cost an arm and a leg; and for all of the hooplah over this bill, there’s yet to be any demonstrated reduction in the overall book burden on students. To quote Public Enemy, “Don’t believe the hype.”

      The ‘solution’ doesn’t lie on the supply curve; it lies with a focused effort on the demand curve, one that is much harder to control and requires personal diligence rather than vacuous rhetoric. That entails policies I’ve outlined before: moving away from textbooks towards open-source material, using alternative markets such as Amazon for used and older editions, and frankly looking into which professors are routinely opting for the most expensive goods.

  2. Jimi Alexander said, on 16 February 2009 at 10:50 pm

    Favorite bookstore moment this semester: I joined SOC 450 the second day of semester and entered the bookstore to get my books. Not one of the four books was in stock, so I informed the instructor, who agreed to put the assigned readings onto D2L. I checked the bookstore every day and was not only disappointed every time by the empty shelves where my books should be, but was refused any sort of meaningful information about when I could expect the book, why it wasn’t there, etc. I caved last week and just Amazon’d the books. I saved $30, but I should have Amazon’d all of them and saved myself a lot of hassle and the time spent catching up in class while the instructor lectured on readings I hadn’t read.

    Overall, I have had a favorable opinion of the bookstore’s non-textbook selection. I can be discovered perusing the Current Affairs/World History sections with a Starbucks coffee-based beverage in hand on a regular basis, and I’ve gotten a couple very fascinating books at fair price. Their clothing prices are absolutely exorbitant and a gouge even on Big Cat Friday, but that’s typical. Ultimately, their textbook operation is pretty much what I’d expect from a college campus bookstore: it’s the convenient one-stop shop option, not necessarily the most cost-efficient one. The profits go back into the school, and that’s why I’ve made it my policy to shop there first before resorting to outside sources.

  3. […] “freezes.”  We’d like to see textbook prices drop, but ASUA’s a little hog-tied on that front. We’d like a little more transparency when it comes to the UA budget, a cause […]

  4. […] It’ll be very curious to see what metrics the Senate plans on using, seeing how other “accomplishments” on textbooks have been […]

  5. […] that the ASUA Senate would start a discussion on textbook prices by wondering about the potential conflicts of interest in deriving almost forty percent of their total revenues from the ASUA Bookstore. Instead, the […]


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