Bookbyte Blog

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What’s worse? Being wrong on purpose or being wrong accidentally?

For a Presidents’ Day promotion, Groupon announced a promotion for $10 off a $40 purchase. Nothing unusual about that, except they said it was in honor of Alexander Hamilton, “undeniably one of our greatest presidents.”

Needless to say, people were quick to deny this claim by pointing out that Mr. Hamilton was never president. Groupon’s response basically boiled down to, “We were just seeing if you were paying attention.”

I suppose this might be the truth, but it seems like it could just as easily be a hasty excuse. If this was always intended to be sarcastic, shouldn’t the rest of the press release been sarcastic, playing up the gag of getting Hamilton’s role in history wrong? The press release did contain other, accurate facts about Mr. Hamilton, so you have to figure the copywriter at least glanced at his Wikipedia page.

Regardless of whether or not Groupon is telling the truth, they certainly got a lot more people linking to the press release — an often ignored way of making an announcement nowadays — because of the inaccuracy than they would have if they played it straight. Granted most of those stories were negative. But I guess no publicity is bad publicity, so… success?

iStock_000025910991SmallA recent report from the U.S. Public Research Interest Group took a long look at how students deal with the rapid inflation of textbook prices. The results showed that high textbook prices aren’t just an extra cost for college. They can have long term detrimental effects on everything from grades to debt to the courses students are willing to take.

Obviously, this hits close to home for Bookbyte, but even while we’re very aware of the problems of overpriced books (and do our best to offer an alternative), the report still managed to dig up some surprising statistics.

The first is that 65% of students have decided to not buy a required textbook to save money. This number is ridiculous. When the majority of students will at some point decide that necessary course materials are too expensive to bother with, there is clearly a serious problem with the textbook industry’s pricing structure.

The second is that 94% of students who opted not to buy worried about the effect on their grades. This means that a huge portion of students are being put into a position where they feel the need to choose between money and grades. And still, the average student will at some point or another go with saving money. This is not a compromise students should have to make.

Nearly half of all students say the cost of materials has an impact on which courses they take. This is another piece of data that’s absolutely staggering when you think about it. Despite the immense cost of college tuition, about half of all students will draw the line in the sand over expensive textbooks. Prices are so absurdly high that millions and millions of students have said “no” to a course they would otherwise take, simply because they can’t afford the books. This is where the statistics stop just being shocking and start being almost infuriating.

New editions will be released every 3 or 4 years regardless if there is any new content. We’ve been in the textbook resale business long enough to know this one to be true. That’s why we strongly encourage students to sell back the textbooks they don’t need as early as possible, the prices fall quicker than you might imagine!

There’s no denying that the textbook industry is due for a change. The only question is where the change will come from. The current model is resistant to change because the decision-makers — professors and publishers — have very little motivation to stir things up. It’s up to students to lead the push toward more reasonable pricing and an adjusted profit model for publishers.

In the meantime, the best students can do is keep in mind that there are still a few good alternatives for cheaper textbooks out there…

What the heck is going on in February?

What the heck is going on in February?

If you’ve poked around our site, specifically the Sell Textbooks page, you’ve probably come across the graph you see on the right. It’s not random! It’s based on actual data from our top titles from the past few years. We included it on our Sell Textbooks page to show that the market value of textbooks drops quickly over the course of the year, so it’s generally a good idea to sell your books as soon as you’re done with them.

But that doesn’t explain the weird little bump that’s happening in February. What’s the story there?

Aside from the condition of the book, our buyback quotes are based on two things: the market value of the book and how much we have in stock. The fewer copies of a book we have in our warehouse, the more we’ll offer to buy another copy.

When February rolls around, our inventory is lower than usual, because we’ve sold so many books at the start of the new term in January. Therefore, even though the market value steadily falls over time, our prices get a February bump because of the way our algorithm looks at our inventory.

If you have books to sell now, you can get an extra 5% boost to your quote by entering the coupon code RUSHMORE at checkout.

I would prefer not to live in a country in which rhetoric about the purpose of college urges kids from privileged backgrounds to be innovators and creators while the poor kids who do very well in school are taught to be educated, capable employees.

This quote comes from  this article, titled “The Danger of Telling Poor Kids That College Is the Key to Social Mobility” by Andrew Simmons. I highly recommend it if you have any interest in educational issues and socioeconomic differences. The whole thing really hits the nail on the head.money_on_string

Simmons argues that focusing on the monetary rewards of a bachelor’s degree does a disservice to the other, more attractive qualities of college. These are the liberal arts benefits — experimenting with new ideas, expanding your outlook, and learning how to think and communicate critically. We’ve talked about that same point on this blog before, only our focus was on the idea that focusing on how STEM majors earn more money does a disservice to the potential for curiosity and innovation among STEM majors. Simmons indirectly refers to that same point with this statistic: 32% of college students pick a major that doesn’t interest them. Then, big surprise, those 32% are less likely to graduate.

But Simmons’ primary focus is on economic background. While he’s vague about his exact credentials, he makes it clear that he teaches students from lower income families. Again and again, he asserts, the message that lower-income students receive throughout middle and high school is that going to college leads to more money. It’s just assumed that this will be the primary motivator for the less financially privileged.

And that’s ridiculous. Students who have grown up in a household where money is tight already understand the value of a dollar, moreso than their more affluent classmates. The last thing they need is a reminder that money is the end-all, be-all of a career. It’s like we don’t trust poorer students to imagine big, and that’s incredibly disrespectful to their imaginations.

Once you’re out of school and in a career, you really start to see the limits of money as a motivator. Money can motivate you to get out of bed in the morning to go collect your paycheck for a day’s work. It might even motivate you to push yourself a little further for a promotion.

But money can’t motivate you to pour your heart and soul into a project you truly believe in. It can’t motivate you to break the mold. The former is good enough for most people to get by, but the latter is necessary for the people who really want to make a difference or create something great. As Simmons points out in his quote above, that’s the difference between employees and innovators.

Students going into college deserve both more honesty and more encouragement about college. We need to be honest that a degree doesn’t lead directly to a job. We need to be honest that college isn’t for everybody. But we also need to foster bigger ideas in the students that do want to go to college. It’s not about earning potential. It’s about whether a student can look back on his or her college career and feel like they took full advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Male college student with book and ballIf you’ve lived in the United States for your entire life, there’s probably a number of weirdly unique things you’ve come to take for granted. Our ridiculously complicated system of measurements, for example. When you’ve grown up with something your whole life, it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around it not existing, even if the rest of the world thinks you might be crazy for doing it. Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and taking a moment to ask, “Why do we do that again?”

Forget everything you know about college sports and look at it objectively. I’m not talking about the sports most college students play, I’m talking about the massive industries, especially football and basketball. They’re kind of weird, aren’t they? Universities, the places where people go to get higher education, frequently go hand-in-hand with an industry worth billions where the star performers don’t get paid anything.

A recent Slate article by Alan Levinovitz argues that college sports are seriously screwing up the priorities of our universities and should be ceased. It’s easy to see where he’s coming from. He even opens his article by explaining that he works at James Madison University, a school on the verge of transitioning into a top-tier athletic power, if it makes the right moves. Levinovitz makes a number of strong arguments, such as pointing out the absurd pay rate differences between athletic and academic employees at schools with powerhouse teams. He points to the example of the University of Chicago, which did away with its once mighty football program back in the ’30s in order to focus on academics. Needless to say, in the ensuing decades, it’s established a reputation as a one-of-a-kind, top-level institution.

Even so, for all the twisted priorities created by college sports, I have trouble imagining a country without them. There are things that college sports do that professional sports can’t.

Growing up just outside of DC, I had the Redskins, the Capitals, the Bullets (who became the Wizards), and the United. The Nationals showed up later, but we could always drive to Baltimore if we wanted baseball. I was spoiled. I could get into any sport I wanted to. Later in life, I moved to Oregon, a state with an NBA and MLS team up in Portland, but no other professional franchises. However, I moved to Eugene, which meant there was only one team worth speaking about: The University of Oregon Ducks. It didn’t matter what sport was played, Ducks fans had a fervor like nothing I’d ever seen. Certainly nothing like the world-weariness of most DC area sports fans.

World-weary or not, professional sports remain king in DC, along with every other major US city. Sure, there are plenty of passionate Georgetown fans out there, and George Mason’s Cinderella Final Four run was the big story of March Madness 2006. But year after year, you’re much more likely to hear a conversation about pro sports, even if that conversation keeps boiling down to “Dan Snyder is the worst, isn’t he?

Drive 90 minutes away from any city, however, and the conversation will almost inevitably be about the local college team.

The reason I have trouble taking Levinovitz’ argument seriously is because he, along with University of Chicago back in the ’30s, comes from a “city” position. Chicago and football could both live full, healthy lives after the divorce, with no damage to the academic, athletic, and local communities. Other schools that have dropped their programs in comparatively recent years, Northeastern and Boston University, could say the same.

But in most places throughout the country that’s not the case. Remove the Ducks from Eugene, or the Irish from South Bend, and you’re causing irreparable damage to the focal point of local culture and community.

Let’s say college sports were banned tomorrow, but the NCAA didn’t dissolve. It just tried to exist independently from the college system, acting more like minor leagues but still competing on a national scale. If that happened, what would keep the franchises from staying put in smaller towns? Why not move to more metropolitan areas where they could have bigger fan bases and sell more tickets? At that point, what’s the different between them and professional teams?

Maybe that’s why college teams inspire even more fervent loyalty than professional teams. Major decisions might still be motivated by money, but at least the team is firmly fixed within the community.

It is very, very difficult to browse the Internet without coming across a link to an Upworthy article. Even if you don’t know these by name, you’ve certainly seen them. The Upworthy formula taps into some subconscious part of the brain that makes you click on a link before you’ve even processed that you don’t really care about what it says. This type of writing is impossible to avoid these days, as so much of our online interaction is decided by triggering impulse behavior.

So what happens when these become skills worth passing on to future generations? What if editors on sites like Buzzfeed moved on to academia? How would they get you to take their classes?

Reference too obscure? Click on the image for an explanation. Because there’s nothing funnier than a joke explained.

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Listen to the Song He Wrote. The Crazy Part? He Can't Even Hear It.

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This Is Why You're Spending All Your Time on Websites Like BuzzFeed and Upworthy. And It's Devastating.

iStock_000005373213XSmallA recent article by the independent education journal The Hechinger Report discussed the troubling trend of cutting back on credits and removing core requirements by many major universities. Sometimes it’s because students graduating from those programs are “low-productive.” Sometimes it’s because politicians want to cut back on the tax dollars going to public universities. Sometimes it’s because university administrations want better graduation rates.

The trend has naturally led to some harsh words from the academics whose programs are threatened. Boston College’s Karen Arnold calls colleges of the near future “Walmarts of higher education.” Western Connecticut State University’s Steven Ward calls it “McDonaldization.” Same idea.

The main conceit of the article is that colleges and universities are trying to look for short-term fixes to increase graduation rates by decreasing the quality of education. While that’s definitely a problem, I’d argue that the real problem is with the motivation (increasing graduation rates) not with the means (removing core requirements, speeding up time until graduation, and allowing more classes to be taken online).

Maybe the problem isn’t the administrations trying to make their institution look good. Maybe it’s a deeper problem with the world having an increasingly non-sustainable idea of what college should be like. Not everybody can afford to commit four full-time years to being a student. Not everybody needs to study physics or history or art after the age of 18. Higher education isn’t, and shouldn’t be, standardized the same as K-12.

People absolutely should pursue some form of higher education, but we as a society need to accept the fact that this will (and should) look different for different people. That won’t always include a bachelor’s degree, or in some cases, any kind of degree. As we’ve pointed out on this blog before, it’s better to drop out than to never try. Maybe graduation rates just aren’t a very good indicator of the overall quality of education.

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