Don’t break the bank: A new Google Chrome plug-in helps students save money on textbooks

ALEXIS PRICE | adprice1@butler.edu | OPINION COLUMNIST

 

As philosophical, musical trio LFO once said, “Billy Shakespeare wrote a whole lot of sonnets,” and Paul Revere was, in fact, a good man.

This bit of information has shown to be beneficial through English and American history courses. Unfortunately, students in college courses cannot just rely on LFO’s “Summer Girls” for their class knowledge — we are assigned literary works such as “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and textbooks such as “Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution.”

And, frankly, it is much cheaper to listen to a washed out band from the late 90s.

At the beginning of every semester, when students receive their syllabi, Butler’s bookstore is filled with distasteful complaints, gasps, and furrowed brows in response to textbook bills. But the creators of Texts.com, Peter Frank and Ben Halpern, have developed new software that may make life a little bit easier.

Essentially, Occupy The Bookstore is a Google Chrome extension that allows college students to compare prices for textbooks directly on their school’s bookstore website. The plugin currently works for approximately 2,500 universities in the United States and Canada—Butler University included.

Installation is simple: One must only visit the website and click on the button that reads “Install for Chrome.” In seconds, students can visit their school’s bookstore site and search for their books.

Students go through the process of purchasing the book as normal. However, after selecting the desired textbook, a bar pops up at the top of the page filled with tabs associated with the book they selected. Once students click on it, a window opens with a list of the same book in different locations and on different websites and, most importantly, for cheaper prices.

I downloaded the extension myself to test it out. I had already purchased my textbooks from the bookstore on campus, so for experimental purposes I searched for the most expensive book I needed.

Through Butler’s bookstore it would cost $120 to buy the textbook used. Using the Chrome extension, I was able to find the same book new for $44 on Bookbyte.

The site has been threatened with legal action if they did not shut down the plug-in, according to its press page. However, Texts.com claims it is within their rights to publish this information in their browser.

An article in The Red & Black  said the company “welcomed the publicity of this controversy and hopes to spread awareness of textbook monopolies and rising prices to students across American universities.”

The debate over textbook prices has been a long-winded one.

Companies have the power to sell books at “high” prices because they are the most convenient, sure-fire option. Students need books quickly. In the past, we did not have other options.

But Frank and Halpern decided to do something about it, and in the process there will be backlash from larger companies — companies that fear a little competition.

Going against the grain: I like it.

And what college student wants to spend more money than he or she has to on a book that may not be used more than twice a semester?

The extension offers a plethora of credible alternatives for purchasing books (including the price of the book and shipping fee), alternatives that many students, including myself, were not aware existed.

There are only two significant downfalls I came across: Other sites will not use your financial aid to pay for books and some professors use books with special features, such as footnotes or editors’ notes, that may not be included “outside of the bookstore.”

At the beginning of second semester, many students still have not received financial aid information from FAFSA. Thus, it would be unwise to go through the process of purchasing books out of pocket through another store and later finding out you have aid that will cover those expenses through the university. However, this software would be beneficial when students are aware of their financial aid, such as at the beginning of the first semester when grants and loans have already gone through.

I have had some professors who encourage students to simply buy from the bookstore. While they acknowledge the expenses, they also acknowledge that they ordered a specific book, one that may have footnotes or translations or an editor’s note. And some of these special features may not be in the books on sites such as Amazon and Bookbyte. (But with the Internet, anyone can look up a translation of a text, if it really came down to it.)

So, yes, there are some minor glitches to consider — the plugin does not have all of the bells and whistles, but what does? It is a solution to those complaining about unreasonable book prices — and to those who would like to live by LFO’s words, whereas they also encourage women to wear Abercrombie & Fitch. With Occupy The Bookstore, we may actually be able to afford to.

 

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