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ISSUE 120 VOL 9 PUBLISHED 12/1/2006

Downtown bookstores offer alternatives

By David Henke
Variety Editor

Friday, December 1, 2006

Though St. Olaf College students cannot control yearly college tuition or board rates, they can choose how much to spend on textbooks.

For a number of years, students have used online commerce websites like and eBay to buy used college textbooks at prices that are much cheaper than the prices offered by the St. Olaf Bookstore.

However, cash-strapped students may not need to venture into the online world to find all of the books listed as required reading for their classes; two bookstores in downtown Northfield offer viable book-purchasing alternatives.

The first, River City Books, is located at 306 Division Street, near the Archer House complex. The bookstore, tucked in beneath a brick awning on the northwest side of Division Street, is a branch of the Carleton College Bookstore. Because of its affiliation with Carleton College, the store has a wide selection tailored to a college student's needs. Its location is ideal for students; it is the closest downtown bookstore to either campus.

The St. Olaf bookstore deals in new books, which means that much of its selection is tagged at retail prices. However, River City Books offers certain selections at substantially lower prices than the St. Olaf Bookstore. For example, a used trade paperback edition of Albert Camus' "The Plague," a novel that is required reading in the religion course "God and Human Suffering," is $9.75 at the St. Olaf Bookstore, while a new copy of a different edition of the book goes for $7.95 at River City.

Similarly, a Penguin Classics trade paperback edition of Darwin's "On the Origin of Species" is $10.95 new at River City, while the "Harvard Facsimile of the 1st Edition" sells for $17.50 at the St. Olaf Bookstore.

River City Books also carries St. Olaf and Carleton clothing and gifts, and has a large current affairs section, which should prove useful to enterprising political science students.

Also, River City Books carries a number of "remainders" - books that a publisher is liquidating at reduced prices. Hardcover new books in this section are as little as $2.99.

The second bookstore, Monkey See, Monkey Read, is a new arrival in the Northfield community. Located at 425 Division Street, Monkey See has been open for nearly four months. Its owner, Jerry Bilek, worked for seven years at the St. Olaf Bookstore before going into independent bookselling. He has the talkative enthusiasm of a new store-owner, and his inventory includes a wide array of classic works of literature that would make an English major drool.

Bilek's store is browser-friendly; it has an easy layout with well-labeled sections. He estimates that he carries roughly 10,000 new and used titles. His used trade paperbacks range in price from $3-$10, while his hardcover titles general go for between $5-$20.

Monkey See, Monkey Read is also a viable option for students looking to save a few bucks on books; the same edition of "The Plague" that went for $9.75 in the St. Olaf Bookstore can be found there for $6.00. Also, a used trade paperback version of Shakespeare's play, "The Tempest," costs $3 at Monkey See, Monkey Read, while a new edition of "The Tempest" goes for $4.99 at the St. Olaf Bookstore.

David Schlosser, the director of the St. Olaf Bookstore, noted that a number of factors determine the pricing of each book on stock in the store. These factors include shipping, author's royalties and publishing costs, and they often account for the discrepancies in book prices between different stores. The St. Olaf Bookstore only makes roughly 4.1 percent of a book's cost back in income; the rest of the money made from a book sale goes to cover the aforementioned costs and the store's costs of operation.

"Just to cover costs we have to mark [the books] up," Schlosser said.

Also, the inclusion of critiques and essays in certain editions of books can drive the price of a title up, as was the case of the Harvard Facsimile edition of "On the Origin of Species" that I found at the St. Olaf Bookstore. For this reason, bargain-hunting students should make sure they are buying the correct edition of a required text. Professors require specific editions for a purpose; often one edition of a book will include critical essays or introductions that another edition does not have. These essays can be crucial to class assignments, and having an incorrect, albeit cheaper, edition of a text for a class will hurt you in the long run.

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