Activity Idea: Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover

Textbooks represent one of the first purchasing decisions that college freshmen will make this fall when they arrive on campus. I could have included the adjective “dreaded” ahead of textbooks and I am sure I would have gotten lots of nods from readers. Many of you probably still recall years later that moment of stepping up to the cashier at the bookstore for the first time with mouth agape wondering if there had been a tremendous mistake when the total bill had been calculated.

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Today the book buying process has evolved beyond the new vs. used decision when I was in college to one where there are multiple channels (Amazon, Chegg, Barnes and Noble, to name just a few) and multiple media (hardcover, digital) and purchase options (buy vs. rent).

So, here’s the idea for this brief activity which went over extremely well at a recent FBLA conference.  Pick a popular college textbook.  Since Economics tends to be one of the more popular majors, I thought I would use Principles of Economics (7th Edition) by Greg Mankiw. Feel free to choose another textbook based on your interests. The task for students is to research on the web and find the lowest cost option that works for them in purchasing this textbook. I have created a template for students to complete that allows them to compare the various options (buy new, buy used, rent, Etextbook) across various vendors (BookBuyingActivityTemplate). Since there are so many folks selling textbooks, you may want them to limit their search to five vendors (which they should list) and also evaluate whether they believe the vendor is a credible one.

Once students have completed the activity, here are a few good discussion questions:

  • What did you learn from this exercise?
  • Who found the lowest price for each category?  What retailer/vendor offered that price?
  • Did you find differences in shipping cost?  (Often retailers will provide low-ball textbook price and then make it up with high shipping costs)
  • How did you evaluate whether a vendor was credible or not?
  • Which option do you feel works best for the way you use textbooks?
  • What are other ways to keep your textbook costs low (use library, share with other students in class, etc.)?