As Price of Textbooks Continues to Rise, More Students Opt for the Digital (and the Rental)

It’s the second day of the spring semester and the line at the campus bookstore has already serpentinized the aisles. It is lunch hour for many students, but it is their moans and groans, not their hungry stomachs, that are heard across the room. Those who are not in-line are on the second floor, sifting through mounds of textbooks, looking for the much-coveted “used” yellow stickers. Others have forgone the business of doing their textbook shopping directly from bookstore, opting, instead, for cheaper offers online.

“The first time I bought my textbooks, I was shocked at the price,” said Devin Fell, a sophomore at the University of Arkansas. “It’s really a debilitating cost to students.”

Many students hand over their credit cards in disgruntlement, unwillingly ready to pay over $1110 per semester on books costs, according to the California Public Interest Research Group. They are many factors that play a part in textbooks’ price, such as years of research, contributions from dozens of individuals, and the actual manufacturing of the new editions and prints.

“Most of this cost is attributable to paying for the work and original ideas of authors, experts, editors, researchers, reviewers and designers,” said Susan Aspey in an e-mail, tvice president of communications at Pearson Education. “Publishers, like all businesses today, are faced with rising manufacturing and transportation costs.”

For example, in Jane B. Recce textbook, entitled Campbell Biology, more than “7,000 hours of researching and writing went into the final product, as well an additional 1,000 hours for reviewing the final pages with only the authors and contributors, alone,” Aspey said. “Developmental editors spent 8,800 hours reading multiple drafts to revise chapters, querying authors and crafting the layout of each page. Including the hours spent by the copy editor, developmental artists, and production work, more than 13.8 person years of work went into the development of this one, new edition.”

“That said, there are independent studies that show students are increasingly paying less for their course materials than in prior years, thanks to publishers’ efforts to offer a variety of lower-price options in print or digital formats,” Aspey said. “The retail market for course materials is competitive and students who are willing to spend time comparison shopping are able to find books attractively priced.”

According to a study done by Student Monitor, students purchase only about 78 percent of their textbooks, and during the 2010 semester, student spending for textbooks declined 13 percent.

The University of Arkansas bookstore has a buyback program in which the store buys back used textbooks for up to 50 percent of the original cost and then resells the book at a discounted cost to students. The program can be seemingly beneficial for students, for buying and selling, but the price at which the university buys the book back, can be painfully low.

As a consequence, rises in textbook rentals, as well as purchasing used textbooks, have been noticed throughout the market.

As an author to a number of textbooks, Bruce Colbert, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said he realized renting cuts into his profits but “having to put his own two children through college,” he supports any savings to the student.

“In addition, I remember my college days when I had to pay for my own education,” Colbert said.

The high textbook costs have also aided in a rise of digital textbooks, or eBooks.

The selling of digital books has become an important part of Pearson Education, and Aspey said she expects that demand “will continue to grow.”

The University of Arkansas uses Pearson’s MyLab program in most of the university’s math classes, in which students do the majority of their homework online in a lab with the aid of tutorials and interactive tools.

“More than 90 percent of our higher-ed content is currently available in digital formats, and our MyLab and online learning programs saw record growth of more than 8 million student registrations in 2010,” Aspey said.

“Digital textbooks are 25 to 50 percent cheaper than print textbooks and have become relatively prevalent in the University of Arkansas bookstore,” said Ali Sadeghi-Jourabchi, manager of the University of Arkansas bookstore.

In addition to the competition in publishing, university bookstores are also looking to beat out the independent booksellers or renters by not only offering a variety of formats but by comparing prices with other stores and picking the lowest price for their store. This strategy is “called price-pointing,” Sadeghi-Jourabchi said.

“I asked all departments to look at what students need—memory sticks, note books, you name it—and I asked them to price-point, to find the best prices for the students in the bookstore,” Sadeghi-Jourabchi said.

Meanwhile, Zac Henderson, a senior and creative writing student at university, goes to the casher and pays for a clicker, a stack of folders, and a Wrigley gum. None of his purchases includes a single textbook. “It’s all in here,” he says, waving a rubber-coated Amazon Kindle with satisfaction.

Little Big Idea: Little Free Library Expands in Fayetteville

Jeanie Hill stands next to her Little Free Library at 422 W. Cleburn St. near Wilson Park in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE—Several years ago, Todd Bol would have never dreamed he would become a part of an international phenomenon. Speaking to a roomful of attendees at the Walker Community Room in Fayetteville Public Library, on December 5, Bol told his story on how a simple tribute had made him the head of a global nonprofit organization called the Little Free Library.

It started on the fall of 2009, when Boll, a former international business consultant, assembled a miniaturized one-room schoolhouse on a post outside his home on Hudson, Wis., in which he crammed it with books and invited his neighbors to borrow them. “It was a simple tribute to my mother, who is a teacher and bibliophile,” he said.

Unbeknownst to him, the neighbors soon began popping around with frequent regularity that his lawn became a gathering spot. They clearly loved the idea.

When Bol told one of his friends in Madison about his handcrafted library box, the latter followed suit, garnering a similar response from his neighbors as well. Bol’s incidental invention got increasingly popular that handcrafted libraries began cropping up around Wisconsin’s capital.

Over the course of three years, Bol and his Madison friend, Rick Brooks, along with enthusiastic volunteers, started to work in “a funky workshop” outside Hudson, a riverside community of 12,000 about 20 miles east of downtown St. Paul, Minn. There, They constructed boxes made of wood and in a variety of styles and shapes, ranging from basic to a miniature British-style phone booth, and then sold them on the group’s website, which also offers plans for self-assembly.

“The essential traits are that they are eye-catching and protect the books from the weather,” Bol said. “The concept is ‘to take a book, return a book.’”

As demand for the libraries rose, Bol and Brooks needed to find a way to boost the production process more efficiently. They contacted Henry Miller, an Amish carpenter living in western Wisconsin, who thanks to his easy access to wood from old local barns, became the primary builder of the libraries sold in the organization’s website.

To date, the organization has sent out “4000 official library signs” in response to requests, and “about 800 libraries have been registered through the Little Free Library program,” said Bol.

Joining Bol in his presentation at the Walker Community Room was Charlie Alison, the first person to build a little free library box in Arkansas, which he placed it on his front yard at the Washington Willow neighborhood in Fayetteville.

“We just took scraps from around here and built a free little library,” said Charlie. “We have mysteries, we have classics, and we have some magazines too. It’s a broad selection.”

“It’s an excellent combination,” said Eden Reif, a mother of two who frequently visits Charlie’s little free library. “You get to see the neighborhood . . . take a walk and discover something you didn’t know you needed.”

So far, there are 10 little library boxes throughout Arkansas, and there are plans to build more starting from Fayetteville. Besides Charlie’s box, there is one located at 422 W. Cleburn St. near Wilson Park, whose owner is Jeanie Hill.

The Little Free Library program is currently available in “49 states and in 32 countries, including China, Australia, Canada, and Mexico.”

To help keep the libraries affordable—or free, when necessary—Bol and Brooks established the Give It Forward Team, or GIFT, which is supported by tax-deductible contributions and sponsors.

“We are working very hard to get close to making it financially viable, but it will be a while,” Bol said. “What’s encouraging is that every day people call us and they have the most clever, interesting and sometimes moving ideas.”

For Charlie, it was the glowing response that he had received that made him feels more “enriched” and “connected.”

“Some of the passion for it is we get to see the faces of the people who come by and look for books,” he said. “It’s like Christmas except it happens everyday that you come by.”

Local Business Owner Unsatisfied About Affordable Care Act

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FAYETTEVILLE—More than two years ago, Lisa Sharp, the owner of Nightbird Books, made local and national headlines when she benefited from President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, a new small business tax credit that enabled her to provide affordable healthcare for her booksellers. Now, as the business dwindled to “very low margins,” Sharp is skeptical of its effectiveness.

“At Nightbird Books (which is a corporation), I offer a state subsidized insurance, Arkansas Health Networks, that is supported by Medicaid,” Sharp said. “It’s a relic from World War II and wage caps that shouldn’t be the framework for our insurance.”

According to Sharp, what the Affordable Care Act (ACA) essentially does is that “[it] reimburses me for a portion of the insurance payments, making it easier for me to continue providing insurance.”

The main asset of ACA is that it’s available to employers with low wage earners because the reimbursements “allow [small business owners] to use the savings to pay other bills” as well as “provide affordable health care coverage options” for employees.

“One of my best employees left in the middle of the year (of 2010) because she was offered a job with insurance and I perfectly understood why she needed to do that,” Sharp said, in reference to the early struggles she had before signed up for the ACA.

“Until I realized that I could get the 35 percent back [which the ACA offers] I really didn’t think that I would be able to afford it.”

“As en employee I’m very grateful,” said Roger Barrett, a bookseller at Nightbird Books. “I don’t think I’d have stayed without some sort of a health insurance.”

Windy Finn, the head of the Fayetteville Independent Business Alliance, declined commenting on ACA, because she felt that she couldn’t speak for them [other small business] on this issue.”

However, Sharp’s solution to ACA’s current weakness is simple. “Ideally, I would prefer to see insurance move away from employer-based,” because “ACA only requires businesses with 50 or more employees to provide insurance, and provides those of us with fewer a reimbursement for doing so any way. I think the next step needs to be getting costs under control.”

“That said, what we have is what we have,” Sharp said.

Slug: Heidi Heitkamp Wins North Dakota Senate Race

MINOT, N.D.―Democrat Heidi Heitkamp has won North Dakota’s open Senate seat after Rep. Rick Berg conceded the race, reports the Associated Press. With 100 percent of precincts reporting, Heitkamp was ahead 50.5 percent to 49.5 percent.

Heitkamp, a former state attorney general, is among the 20 female senators elected to the U.S. Senate who, in their win, helped usher a historical record in the number of elected women into the halls of Congress. Heitkamp’s win brings Democratic control of the U.S. Senate to 53 seats in which Republicans will have 45 seats.

“Just got off the phone with Rep. Berg. I thanked him for his service and for being a part of our great democratic process,” said Heitkamp on her Facebook page. “I know a lot of people on both sides of the aisle worked very hard in this election. I am so grateful for the people who gave me their votes and this victory.”

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Former President Bill Clinton came to North Dakota to stump for Heitkamp on Monday night. He praised her as the “commonsense bipartisan” choice for the seat and noted that she had once sued his administration when serving as attorney general.

Previously, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, the chairman of the Budget Committee, used to holds the senate seat for North Dakota, which means Heitkamp’s victory will keep the seat in the Democratic column. According to pollsters and political critics, her win in the bright-red state that Mitt Romney easily carried came as a surprise.

A director of Dakota Gasificaton, a manufacturer of synthetic natural gas from coal, Heitkamp is no stranger to politics.

Once an attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency, she was elected North Dakota Tax Commissioner in 1986 and then state attorney general in 1992, according to the press release provided in her personal website. As the state’s chief law officer, she secured a substantial monetary settlement for North Dakotans in the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement.

In 2000, she ran an aggressive campaign for governor, during which she retreated briefly while undergoing breast cancer surgery.

As a cancer survivor, Heitkamp offers support for women fighting the disease. She recently suggested that her opponent would do women a disservice by voting against President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan.

Heitkamp, despite being a Democratic candidate and liberal, however, openly sought to distance herself from President Barack Obama over issues such as the Keystone XL oil pipeline and his energy policy.

Slug: Done And Dusted: Quorum Court Passes Regulations to Filter Out Dust with Vegetation

FAYETTEVILLE―While the dust has yet to literally settle, Springdale residents will soon get to take in a fresher air and greener view near the quarry-stockpiled land at North Parsons Road.

In the midst of a heated discussion Thursday night, among members of the Washington County Quorum Court, Tim Graham, the co-owner of Northwest Arkansas Quarries, interruptedly quipped by saying, “While y’all have been here, sitting and talking . . . there has been democracy in the making.”

Graham, along with Brett Ralston, a Springdale resident who has been pushing for regulations on the quarry, agreed that planting trees along North Parsons Road would potentially obfuscate the view of the quarry and filter out its atmospheric dust.

The Quorum Court members, after deliberating among themselves and consulting Juliet Richey, the county planning coordinator, unanimously approved on a conditional use permit for the Northwest Arkansas Quarries.

“It can be done,” Richey said, “but, aesthetically, it wouldn’t make a big difference.”

Richey recommended that the county should check with landscape architects and engineers for professional planning of the trees as visual and dust screeners.

The origin of the debacle harks back to 2003, when Northwest Arkansas Quarries obtained county approval for a 120-acre quarry at 21202 Parsons Road. As the business grew in coeval with the area’s industrial development, during the boom years, the company continually stockpiled gravel on neighboring land.

“We stockpiled there because nobody said we couldn’t,” Graham said.

“The original large-scaled development plan at 120-acre [ of 2003] . . . didn’t specifically say where to put the rocks at the quarry,” said Quorum Court member Barbara Fitzpatrick. “Stockpiling is a common part of quarrying but it wasn’t an issue at the time.”

Indeed, at the beginning of the court’s deliberations, skepticism on how to impose regulations jurisdictionally was paramount.

“This is a very difficult decision,” said Quorum Court member Eva Madison to the disgruntled citizens in the audience. “You are approaching it like we have 100 percent discretion. I wish we did . . . because we have no authority against dust.”

However, as Quorum Court member Rick Cochran mentioned few moments later, “we do have the ability to revise the conditions on the permit―to get the quarry out of sight.”

According to Graham and Ralston and county attorney George Butler, such plan is legally feasible.

“The berms are already in,” Graham said, “and the vegetation are on them. I think if we would just go ahead and put trees again, and get along with the group, it would be the best for all of us.”

“This would make the area more aesthetically pleasing,” Ralston agreed. “We could turn this bad situation to one of the most beautiful areas in Northwest Arkansas.”

“Y’all spent way too much time―to me because I’m pretty simple-minded―on just a simple problem,” said Graham in a bonhomie tone. “I think the situation got blown out of proportion and got to take a lot of everybody’s time than it should have.”

Slug: Bikes, Blues, & BBQ

FAYTEVILLE—Female biker community of Blues, Bikes, & BBQ continues to grow despite the failure of its two-year, women-aimed offshoot, Bikes, Babes, & Blings, according to multiple local sources.

“I see more women now, riding the bike, by themselves, than at the back of the bike,” says Eleanor Townsley, a community fundraiser and volunteer of Bikes, Blues, and BBQ and other local charities. “And for a woman, and probably because it’s for charity, which makes it extra special, the event feels safe and looks a lot of fun.”

According to event organizer and executive director Joe Giles, Bikes, Blues & BBQ is known to be the region’s largest biker rally, expanding both Fayetteville and Springdale. This year’s festival is set for Sept. 26 – 29 in Fayetteville.

Since its inception in 2000, Bikes, Blues, and BBQ, in which Dickson Street serves as its rally center, has often seemed to be male-dominated and festively masculine. However, not only more women bikers are starting to hit the road with their own motorcycles more noticeably in recent years, but they have also become potential consumers to many of the event’s vendors and organizers.

“It seems male-dominate but women’s presence are starting to increase,” says Kathy Meader, a biker from St. Louis, Mo.

For Bekka Rahbusch, a biker and a special education teacher from Ada, Okla., the reason for the growing presence of female bikers is that “women are becoming more dominate and men are becoming more submissive.”

Rahbusch, who started riding motorcycle at the age of 15—the first time being on her stepfather’s motorcycle—says that riding a bike, and consequently owning one, symbolizes her freedom, and her identity as a free woman.

“Nothing beats the wind therapy, as we call it,” says Rahbusch, “because you are in total control—it [the motorcycle] becomes an extension of yourself; it’s freedom, it is a symbol of who I am.”

“You are essentially using your five senses when riding a bike [as opposed to riding a car],” says Sherry Sherwood, a deaf instructor from Owasso, Okla. “The camaraderie you have as a biker has an old-fashion feeling to it too—you’re going to stop and help them [the other bikers] or send them off on a new trip, no matter who they are.”

And as for the exceptional qualities of Bikes, Blues, & BBQ, both Meader and Sherwood agree that it is comparatively women-friendly than other national bike rallies like Daytona Bike Week and Sturgis Motorcycle Rally.

“We were just at Daytona a month ago,” says Meader, “and we—my husband and I—prefer this one [Bikes, Blues, & BBQ] . . . it’s more women-friendly than Daytona.”

“I’d say it has more of a family-friendly atmosphere to it,” says Sherwood. “It can get rough sometimes, but I guess it all depends on who are hanging out with.”

However, when it comes to seating priorities within a single motorcycle among the sexes, the issue seems more ambivalent than clear-cut.

“Oh no. No, I cannot see that happening anytime soon,” says Meader, in response to the idea of a woman taking the helm of a bike while the man sits in the back. “I think who’s driving [in the front] is more powerful, and so far, it has been the men.”

Rahbusch, however, disagrees. “Things are changing,” she says. “I have seen it happening now. That’s how it should be!”

For Townsley, who is not a biker but “a partial observer,” seems to agree with Meader’s point of view. “I’ll say that there’s too much history of men riding in the front for that to happen.”

However, as for a male version of Miss Bikes, Blues, & BBQ, an all-female bikers beauty contest set on Saturday midnight at Dickson Main Stage, Townsley sees that its time is more appropriate now than ever. “I wouldn’t mind it; it would be kind of fun, really.”

The Career Turnabout of Christian Gunn

FAYETTEVILLE—“I really hate practicing law,” says the attorney, “but I really enjoy doing this.”

To the uneducated, however, this doesn’t quite seem to be any different from a lawyer’s natural habitat: a courtroom coated with variations of mahogany, a judge in black, a bailiff in beige, and a crowd wearing a collective expression of sullen distress. Until, a couple of hours later, a TV crew begins to enliven the third floor’s courtroom of the Washington County Courthouse into a makeshift television set by adding cameras, microphones, lighting fixtures, and a random person yelling “The show is about to start, people,” when it is not.

Yes, this is a TV show, and everyone in the courtroom recognizes they are soon to take part of the Last Shot with Judge Gunna reality court show, or an “educational docu-series” to its makers, whose participants attempt to recover from drug abuse by presenting their cases for assessment on whether they are qualified for the show’s subsidized rehab program. But when it comes to its behind the scenes operations, no one takes it as seriously as Christian Gunn, the daughter of Judge Mary Ann Gunn, and the Arkansas producer of the show (or as she is known around the set, “the show-runner.”)

Four months ago, Gunn would have never expected to partially abandon the career she strived for when she was working as an associate attorney in a local trademark firm. But when the distributors of Occasio LLC in California approached her for the purpose of syndicating her mother’s show for national television, everything changed, “for good,” according to Gunn.

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