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In Marketplace

As college textbook prices soar, it wouldn't hurt to get top dollar for the ones you sell back.

New student site outbids old-school book buying


University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee senior Dylan Katz Pinkus is majoring in economics, but he's not waiting for graduation to put his skills to the test.

He's launched bkbid.com, an auction-based Web site that allows UWM students a place to list, sell and buy textbooks and other class books. He sees it as an alternative to the school's bookstore system, which usually charges top dollar with little return at the end of the semester.

"My freshman year, just like everybody else, I bought probably $500 worth of books and didn't really think anything of it," he says, assuming he'd see some of his cash again as classes ended.

A few months later he learned what every new college student learns: you don't get squat.

"I've been offered $10 for an $150 book; sometimes nothing at all. It's just what everybody puts up with I guess."

He knew there had to be a better way.

BkBid.com began in 2007 as a Craigslist-type site where students could post their books for sale, but soon changed to a bidding Web site -- similar to eBay -- allowing sellers to receive the highest value for their books. But unlike eBay, BkBid.com is free to use and has no posting or shipping fees.

"A lot of these books that people buy and sell are targeted on one campus, so it allows users to meet in the union to exchange books when the sale has been processed so they don't have to pay for shipping fees," he says.

In the future, Katz Pinkus plans to expand his service to other campuses across the country and shipping fees would apply to the seller in those cases.

Sellers create profiles on BkBid.com and using a book's 10-digit serial number found on the barcode, the system automatically finds the listing's description and image and uploads it for the user.

Katz Pinkus is working on a wishlist feature that would alert users via e-mail when a desired book is posted online.

BkBid.com currently has 38 users but with the help of UWM's Student Association, Katz Pinkus will have access to a campus-wide e-mail list and a booth in the student union.

"At the beginning of next semester I'll be at a table in the union with a scanner, as well. Students can line up with their books and I'll scan them all once they register as a user," Katz Pinkus says.

The advantage the university bookstores have over BkBid is their relationship with publishers and ability to offer brand new books. Still, the young entrepreneur says he's not out to eliminate the traditional system; just provide an alternative to it.

He hopes that his college-specific target market will attract advertisers to his site so that it can grow, but in the meantime he's happy to provide a money-saving service for students, by students.


Talkbacks

peetyboy | Jan. 4, 2009 at 3:14 p.m. (report)

Charles I have numerous problems with your response to Mr. Pinkus great idea. You credit yourself as being the Director of Public Relations to the NACS. According to your website, your organization is the Leading resource and advocate for the higher education retail market. This gives me the sense that your ideas are biased let alone a lot of your facts are misconstrued. Your organization supports the ridiculous price gouges that bookstores charge, whereas Mr. Pinkus is doing his best to help the students, without making a profit from students. Additionally, the scare tactics you use are pathetic. You say that buying textbooks offline are dangerous to your wallets. The risk factor in making a purchase from this website is at most comparable to other auction based websites such as eBay. Have you ever heard of that site? You also state that Additionally if a student drops a course, many online sources do not have clear return policies. At UW Milwaukee (where this site is based) there are deadlines to return books. So if you drop a class say three weeks into the course, you cannot return your book to the campus book store. Even though there is no shipping period, when you purchase at the book store, you are still stuck waiting in line for hours just to end up spending hundreds of dollars. Thats if you went to the store where the teacher ordered it. Another one of your biased statements is that it is more convenient to go to the bookstore for a one stop shop. How is this more convenient then making your purchase from your desk at home? Finally one of the most ridiculous things you say is that the bookstores make little profit. Are you kidding me? How do they make such little money when they are charging such outrageous prices? There are many more flaws that I find in your critical response, but seeing as I am on break, I dont feel like writing more than needed. Its obvious of your biasness towards the site especially since you sign it as the Director of Public Relations of an organization who supports college stores. Why do you even care, you are not a student who is making the purchase, and clearly your only interest is in the success of colleges who keep gouging book prices. Sincerely, Concerned Student

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Charlie | Dec. 30, 2008 at 2:35 p.m. (report)

While Mr. Pinkus' heart may be in the right place, consumers should know that buying textbooks online can be dangerous to their wallet. Students face real risks in purchasing course materials from unknown, unidentifiable sellers. Additionally if a student drops a course, many online sources do not have clear return policies. The National Association of College Stores (NACS) agrees that there should be transparency in the textbook selection process, and that students should comparison shop for the best deal. NACS also offers cost-saving tips to students at http://www.nacs.org/public/nacs/press_releases/081208-ConsumerTips.pdf However, the simple fact is that the local college bookstore is the only place where students can be completely assured that they are purchasing the exact edition of their textbook that their professor requires. Theres also no lengthy wait for the books to be shipped, and at terms end, its easier to sell them back for cash. Besides safety and reliability, other benefits to patronizing the college bookstore include: Convenience The college store is a one-stop-shop located on or close to campus. A Sense of Community A portion of what little profit a college store makes on textbooks sales goes back to the institution and students in the form of scholarships, student employment, and contributions to campus activities. Sincerely, Charles E. Schmidt Director of Public Relations National Assn. Of College Stores

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college_dave | Dec. 29, 2008 at 2:11 p.m. (report)

GREAT IDEA! Congratulations.

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