According to a study conducted by the Florida Virtual Campus on how much Florida University students spent on textbooks, “More than half (53.2%) of students spent more than $300 on textbooks during the spring 2016 semester, and 17.9% spent more than $500.” These figures are abhorrent and disgraceful. College students who already pay tens (and sometimes hundreds) of thousands of dollars to attend higher education are then having to spend many more hundreds of dollars each semester for the textbooks required for those classes. The prices of textbooks have far out-inflated the monetary inflation rate because somewhere along the way when university education was pushed harder on teens someone found a way to make another buck off of students.
Yet, this article is not about the price of textbooks. Rather, it is about a small rebellion against them that lost the fight to an unlikely and previously unknown foe.
On the first day of every class at the start of every semester, like clockwork, I would get a syllabus that listed the books the professor absolutely needed you to get immediately lest you fall irrevocably behind. From there, I would go search for those titles on the Flip that Book website. Flip that Book is the local textbook rental store I, and many others, have used to rent and buy textbooks. Almost without fail, I would find the title I was looking for, it would be in stock, and I could get it for far cheaper and faster than Amazon or any other big corporate bookstore. Yet, after this semester, neither I nor any other student will be able to enjoy the fruits of this academic resource due to their closure, effective at the end of this semester. The closure comes alongside countless other small businesses closing their doors in the wake of COVID-19.
According to their “About” section on Facebook, Flip that Book has been a local family-owned business since 1987 when Carl Montiville, a father fed up with the cost of his son’s college textbooks, founded the business to offer affordable books to all. I find it especially noble for someone to turn a frustrating and unfair situation, like scammy textbook prices, into a workable, egalitarian system that benefits the most people, especially the less financially fortunate. That is exactly what Flip that Book accomplished for many years and for many more students. To see a business like this, one that provided tangible and immediate benefits to its consumers close its doors, is tragic.
Unlike Amazon, Books-a-Million or Barnes and Noble, Flip that Book was close to the community it served. It reinvested in its community by cheaply providing them the resources they needed to succeed in their pursuit of higher education.
Nursing majors, engineering majors, writing majors, political science majors, etc. could all find the required texts they needed to further their learning and understanding of those subjects they have invested their time, energy and future careers in. It is incalculable the good this one business has been able to accomplish for its community.
In that Florida Virtual Campus study, I mentioned earlier, was a line that is particularly harrowing: “...the findings suggest the high cost of textbook and instructional materials are forcing many Florida higher education students to make decisions that compromise their academic success.” The prices of textbooks have reached levels that students now sacrifice academic success by not buying textbooks for certain classes, buying cheaper earlier editions that the professor may not be using, or fully dropping or withdrawing from classes so they are not forced to buy a textbook.
Flip that Book helped mitigate some of that burden. How many students were in a better financial position when they found their textbook cheaply through the Flip that Book website? How many did better because they could actually afford the text they needed? Or were able to get it at all? How many did not have to sacrifice going without a textbook for a class, because of the price? How many stood taller knowing that they could place an order for their books and know for a fact they could pick them up within the next couple of days, rather than waiting a week or two for them to travel in the mail from a big bookstore? Over 40 years of this kind of quality will have no doubt indirectly led to the success of many more students than otherwise. This kind of quality is what you get from a small business that cares for its community.
I am deeply upset this virus has taken away something so noble and good. It no doubt shows us how fragile our small businesses are and how they need to be protected. Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon, added $34.6 billion dollars to his wealth during this pandemic; yet, Flip that Book, which has been around for seven years longer than Amazon, fizzled out. Neither Jeff Bezos and Amazon, Books-a-Million nor Barnes and Noble care about you; they do not care about Lafayette or its students, because they do not know them. Small businesses do care. They care about your community because they live and thrive in that same community. Support local. Support community.