Everyone could use a little extra cash around the holiday season, and no one could use this little bonus more than college students. Textbook buyback grants this opportunity to many students at the University of Maine.
The process seems simple enough, but the route students can take is varied, and more options become available every semester.
The newest of these options was introduced to the scene in late November when UMaine graduates Steve Milligan and Jasper Turcotte re-launched a Web site that had caused Milligan some controversy in 2002, when he was still a student at the university.
Umundercutters.com is a Web site which allows students at UMaine to buy and sell books from each other, as opposed to the Bookstore or other wholesale retailers.
Milligan started it as a class project in 2002 after he had a bad experience selling his books back to the Bookstore.
“The Bookstore had a fit about it,” Milligan said. They tried to shut it down, but because it was for a class the Web site remained active until 2004 when Milligan graduated.
“No one had done anything in the meantime. The need is still there,” Milligan said.
Recently, Milligan and Turcotte started their own company, Phenix New Media, and work out of Farmington. Undercutters has been their flagship project.
“We’re trying to make it a permanent fixture,” Milligan said. “We made a new and improved version of the Web site. It’s a lot more sophisticated. … We’re still considering the Web site in a prototype stage.”
Milligan dedicated the launch of the site to UMaine but hopes that if it succeeds, it will be available to other University of Maine campuses and eventually nationwide. Each site will be individualized according to the campus it correlates with.
“We’re trying to keep it very local,” Milligan said.
He said the benefits of using the site include cheaper prices, no shipping charges and being able to get textbooks instantly on campus.
These are all tactics the University Bookstore are aware of as well.
“Online is always a threat,” said Minya Lynch, textbook associate for the Bookstore. “We are very competitive with online sellers.”
But Bookstore associates have some tactics of their own. This year they are offering a plethora of new services. They will offer mobile buybacks at York Commons Dec. 15 and Hilltop Commons Dec. 16, both from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. They will also offer buyback trailers between Neville Hall and Donald P. Corbett Hall and between Little Hall and Boardman Hall throughout the week of finals.
“We’ll be right there when they [students] come out the door, so they don’t have to trudge over here [to the Bookstore],” Lynch said.
The Bookstore will also offer a 5 percent bonus on buybacks if students put the money on a MaineCard under Bookstore bucks. These funds can be used anywhere in the Bookstore.
“We’re always trying to do something new and innovative every year,” Lynch said.
Dean Graham, manager of The College Store in Orono, agreed that online sellers are hard to compete with.
“Bookstores cannot compete with an individual selling a book,” Graham said.
Graham had doubts about online sellers as well though; “It’s just not consistent,” he said. “When you’re selling books, you have to have a customer out there that wants it.”
The College Store is competing in the market by offering deals to students in the area as well. The store has mailed scratch tickets to area residents, offering a chance for additional discounts if they are winners. Graham will also offer a chance to spin a wheel in the store for a chance to win an iPhone and other, smaller prizes.
Even with discounts and advantages, Milligan finds the bookstore’s use of national wholesalers is not beneficial to students. Milligan said that with this system, bookstores are driven by the price the national market sets.
“With Undercutters, the book is worth whatever someone else is willing to pay for it,” he said. “We don’t have quota, we don’t have national demands. It’s driven by students.”
And the more students the better. The more students who use the site, the more books are available for purchase.
When students sign up as members of the Web site, they get one free credit to advertise the first book they want to sell. After the initial post, they are charged $1 per book posted. Students may purchase books without additional fees from the site.
Users are also offered three credits for signing up a friend and a free advertisement for campus events on the Web site. Users can also post a wish list of books they will need for the next semester. If any of these books become available on the site, the user will be alerted.
“Right now, the biggest hurdle we face is getting the word out to students on campus,” Milligan said.
Currently, there are 145 fans of Undercutters on their Facebook page but only eight members on the Web site.
“We’re still feeling our way around as far as advertising,” Milligan said.
Milligan has high hopes though — his project worked once, he has faith it will again.
“We’re not trying to replace the campus bookstore; we’re trying to give students another option,” Milligan said.