My Textbook and Africa

I get an email last night: “Macro Econ Textbook Buy Back!” As I finished my last examination of the term, I wondered what is the deal with a student who wanted to buy my Macroeconomics textbook from me. Normally, it’s the bookstore that wants its hands on my textbook, buying it back from cash-starved students and reselling it high the next term. And this student claimed to offer me more than the bookstore would offer. Hmm… a scheming student looking to make a buck?

Well, as it turns out, this student was working on behalf of Book Aid International. The idea? Buy books from students, sell them for a profit, and donate that profit to Book Aid Int’l, providing books for literacy programs in sub-saharan Africa.

A noble cause indeed. But a risky move? Speaking of economics, textbooks are a mysterious market. Is this a guarenteed money-maker for a good cause? Let’s analyze it:

  • The student bought my textbook for $50 in cash. The on-campus bookstore would buy it back for around $25-40 in anticipation of selling the book in the Fall.
  • That means the student must intend to sell the book for more than $50.
  • The lowest online price for the book is around $72 currently but with few books moving since it is the summer.
  • The price of the book online will swell to $85+ in the Fall when school starts and the book is in demand again.
  • The on-campus bookstore will likely sell the book in the Fall for around $100, which was the going price this year for a used edition of the book.
  • If the student can reach the appropriate audience next fall, the textbooks will be sold below the bookstore price and below the online price at around: $80.
  • That is a profit of $30 a book. Multiply times maybe 20 books.

Overall, I think this is relatively safe but there are some risk in this: What if the teacher decides to use a new book next year? What if there is a new edition of the book next year? What if the online market is flooded with this textbook? You just don’t want to be stuck with 20 Macroeconomic textbooks with no buyers. Now, remember, these are expensive books — we’re talking hardback textbooks. It’s much harder to do this with lower-value paperbacks. But to hold the books until the demand is high is a great idea to make a buck. In this case, non-profit but perhaps an go-getter student can devise a way to really make this happen on a larger scale.