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Textbook Shortage

This semester the Wheaton College Bookstore has experienced a textbook shortage that has left students without required texts and unable to complete assigned readings.
Textbook manager Chris Bentz’s office is lined with bookshelves housing hundreds of books. Yet despite the textbook shortage at the bookstore, very few of these books can be sold to students because they have been replaced by newer, more relevant texts. “These have been here longer than I have,” Bentz said, pointing out a stack of at least a dozen copies of “World of Spirits.” This increasing collection of retired texts has contributed to the perceived “shortage” of current textbooks in the bookstore.
Freshman Mitchel McRay started working for the Wheaton College Bookstore this semester and estimated that as many as one in five students is affected by the textbook shortage. While ordering a textbook through the bookstore is not complicated, students will still have to wait up to one week before receiving their books and are left without access to assigned readings during that time. English and Bible and theology classes, especially entry-level classes, are currently experiencing the most textbook shortages because of fluctuating enrollment and schedule changes.
So why doesn’t the bookstore just buy more books? “Full returns just don’t exist anymore,” Bentz said. “The return policies of publishers and wholesalers limit returns to 20 percent.” Because all money for ordering books comes from Wheaton College, returning overstocked textbooks would ultimately result in a loss of money for the college and an increase in prices for students in subsequent semesters.
Bentz said textbooks are generally ordered based on sales from the previous year. However, since he started working for the college two years ago, renting has increased in popularity from 70 sales per semester to 347 per semester. The increased number of rentals attests to the success of the bookstore at saving students more money while selling more books, though Bentz said that now that “we are more competitive … the numbers are all off now.” Predicting textbook sales has become increasingly difficult for Bentz since cheaper options such as used books and rentals have resulted in more sales and, consequently, more empty shelves.
“We are trying to be the best stewards of Wheaton College’s money,” Bentz said. “When we lose money, it hurts the school.” All revenue from the bookstore goes back to the college to help cover operating costs and continue to lower prices for students. While the textbook shortage can be inconvenient and frustrating for students, it also benefits students by lowering overall costs of textbooks each semester and providing cheaper options such as renting and buying used books.

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