How Minnesota state university students buy textbooks

Textbook prices were a hot topic this past semester, especially with new textbook disclosure regulations having gone into force in July.

The state legislature asked the Minnesota Office of Higher Education for a report on how the text situation looks in the state, including info on steps toward cost containment, legal compliance and other elements.

That should be coming out later this month, but here's what the office asked the Minnesota State University Student Association to provide. (The association represents students in the state's public university system.) The association surveyed more than 60 of its delegates and members from across the state. (It's a small number and not scientific, but we'll go with it for now.)

"Textbooks are something we always have in the back of our minds," said Jered Weber, the association's director of communication. "They're still one of our top three to four issues on why college is so expensive."

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What they found:

Used trumps new: More than half said they often bought used books from the bookstore, and about a third said they sometimes do it. The ratio was about reversed for new: More than half never bought their texts new, over a third did it sometimes.

Online shopping is getting big: Half said they often bought books online book retailers such as Amazon, and, and 30 percent said they did so sometimes.

E-book usage is sporadic: Almost 59 percent said they'd never bought an e-Book, and an additional 8 percent said electronic versions just weren't available for their texts. Almost 32 percent said they sometimes bought e-Books, but less than 2 percent did so often.

Free book usage sporadic, too: About 44 percent said they'd never downloaded a free text from providers such as "Google books," and 29 percent said they'd never seen a free version of their course book. Almost 20 percent of students said they sometimes used free texts, and 8 percent did so often.

Rentals are still uncommon: Half said their school offered a textbook rental program -- they just hadn't used it. Almost a quarter said their school didn't offer rentals. Almost a quarter said they did use their school's rental program, and a small percentage didn't know whether the school even had one. Three quarters had never rented a book from an online service.

Students need a little info and time to shop: About nine in 10 students said that to shop effectively for books online, all they need is the title and ISBN of their books. Four in 10 said they could wait until registration to find out what textbooks their instructors are using, but about the same amount said they needed about a month's notice to be good shoppers. Two in 10 said they needed about two weeks.

There's no consensus on profs' role: Students were pretty evenly split on whether they thought instructors took price into account when selecting textbooks for use in their courses.

And finally:

Cost far outweighs convenience. Almost 97 percent said price took priority.