Students Combat High Prices By Launching Bookselling Website

By LUCY GRINDON

MiddBooks allows students to sell books to their peers at more affordable prices.

MiddBooks, a new website that allows Middlebury students to buy and sell textbooks from and to their peers on campus, launched earlier this semester. Pete Palumbo ’20 and Marty Williams ’20 founded the site to help students find books at affordable prices.

Since the physical college bookstore stopped selling books, the college switched to MBS Direct, a virtual bookseller. Palumbo got the idea for MiddBooks after a frustrating online search for his course texts.

“Buying books for this semester, I looked online and the shipping costs kind of bummed me out,” Palumbo said. 

MBS Direct charges shipping on all orders under $59, and their prices are not generally lower than those offered on Amazon.  

MiddBooks aims to reduce what students pay for their course materials while simultaneously giving a financial boost to students with books to sell, especially graduating seniors who have accumulated a large collection of books.

“We looked at the online book buyback program, and it didn’t really give much money back relative to the initial cost of the books,” Palumbo said.

In the past, some students have used Facebook groups or traded books with friends to bypass the official buyback program. Palumbo pointed out that a larger-scale platform is needed to accommodate a huge supply of books and an unmet demand.

“There’s like 55 course subjects,” Palumbo said, “Even if you figure one book for each major, that’s 55 books. MiddBooks is a better, centralized option.”

MiddBooks had a modest beginning this fall. 45 books were posted, but only four were successfully purchased. The website did not go live until Sept. 2, when many students had already ordered their books.

Another issue may have been the site’s auction format. Auctions can be advantageous to sellers, but students are not likely to wait for auctions to finish—or to risk not getting their books at all—when they are already being assigned readings. MiddBooks plans to use only immediate transactions in the future.  

The spring semester will likely bring more business, since many of the books already posted on the site are for classes only offered in the second half of the school year.

Palumbo and Williams financed the website with money left over from a MiddChallenge grant awarded by the Center for Creativity, Innovation, and Social Entrepreneurship. They won the grant with a proposal for a barber booking platform called ManeStyle, but they folded that venture over the summer. Because they were able to direct their remaining funds towards MiddBooks, they do not need the new business to turn a profit—yet.

Students can currently sell books on MiddBooks at no cost, and there is no fee added to purchases. 

In the future, MiddBooks will have to be financially sustainable in order to continue operating. Palumbo and Williams hope to expand a broader version of the platform, which they will call Book Cadet, to other colleges and universities. On Book Cadet, students would have to pay a small fee to post books for sale. They hope to launch the service at the University of Vermont this spring.

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