By Cole Caviston, Staff Writer
For the whole academic year, a student entrepreneurial group has been a part of the competitive business of textbook buyback working out of their van. Wild Books will be buying student textbooks on Main Street from Dec. 13-19.
Nathaniel Brown, a senior from Lyme majoring in mechanical engineering and a Wild Books founder, said that their business looks to earn a profit through making the business of textbook buyback easier for inexperienced students.
“It’s really hard how to figure out your textbooks right, how to buy for the best price, sell them to get the most money back, rent or whatever,” Brown said. “When you come in as a freshman, you don’t know any of this stuff, so it’s easy to spend a lot of money pretty quickly when you don’t have to.”
Brown was then inspired to look into the textbook market from a story he heard about a man who exploited arbitrage online in the textbook market and became financially successfully off of it.
“You essentially buy a book in one spot and sell it in another without ever holding the book, then you ship it straight to another person,” Brown said. “It was an initial idea for a software project which led to other projects in the textbook market.”
Brown and his UNH rowing crewmate Pat Bruzga had originally focused on developing a textbook kiosk as a research proposal for the Holloway Competition, which would allow customers to scan the textbook, deposit it and then dispense cash, but they eventually found it to be a difficult project.
“It became apparent that it would be easy to sell the books online and that we could get the prices instantly,” Brown said. “It wasn’t too hard to think that we could write a script so that we could check online prices, give people instant quotes, buy their books and sell them that night.”
They turned their attention to the textbook buyback business, which they both felt would be more lucrative. They were joined by other students, David Desaulniers, a friend of Brown’s from high school and Carl Noble, another member of the crew team.
When starting the business up, the group had to acquire a license and signage, design posters and hire staff from the student body to work for a week.
Obtaining a license was a long process of going from one agency to another, and packing and cataloging the books kept the team up late hours. Brown personally found the most problematic part was writing the software to manage the inventory and pricing.
Bruzga, who takes credit for brainstorming the group name, was mainly responsible for product licensing, marketing, packaging and distribution. Desaulniers worked on the music and graphics, while Noble worked with Bruzga on buying the books.
“Everyone in the business needs to have one solid focus of what we’re trying to accomplish in order for us to reach a common goal as a business,” Bruzga said.
Last semester, there were three textbook buyback companies in operation. The other two beside Wild Books were the Durham Book Exchange and Book Cellar, both of whom Brown said have roughly comparable prices.
“Book Cellar has experience with being flashy on the street, and some people go for that because they appeared more official and visually appealing,” Brown said. “I think we lost some business because of that.”
According to Brown, Book Cellar offered them a deal to purchase on their behalf, but Wild Books turned them down.
Brown observes that book vans usually offer prices higher than the bookstores but lower than online.
“On campus, there are the bookstores and book vans,” Brown said. “If the book is not being purchased at a special 50 percent rate, then the vans are probably the best on-campus option.”
During their two weeks of work last semester, Wild Books bought and resold about 500 textbooks.
“Honestly, for the amount of work we put into it, it was our first time and everything, we probably made about $15 an hour,” Brown said. “As we go through it again, we will be a lot more efficient, and we’ll hopefully get more business.”
Advertising for their business was the biggest low point the first time around, Brown admits. Their plans of using music and ice cream (most of which they ended up eating) ended up not attracting enough attention from students.
This semester, Wild Books has revamped its marketing approach, with plans for using a larger truck, bigger signs and hiring a greater number of staff to spread more flyers across campus, which was lacking last time.
“We’re also going to offer fixed prices on a few very common textbooks, like University Calculus and Wardlaw’s Perspectives on Nutrition,” Brown said.
Brown is also compiling a list of all textbooks that are assigned to UNH classes in order to build up a database for price comparison — with an eye towards historical prices — and target specific classes through advertising. During this process, there have been surprising revelations on the value of certain textbooks over others.
“You’d think a nice big engineering textbook would be worth a lot, and often they are, the calculus textbook is worth $60-$100 online, but sometimes you’ll end up with a tiny paperback textbook and a company will pay you [$120] for it,” Brown said.
Bruzga hopes that looking forward, more people will come to help continue the progress Wild Books has made in the textbook market.
“It feels great to be a part of something real and risky. As a business student, it really opened my understanding of how much time everything involved in running a business takes,” Bruzga said. “There is no ceiling as to what this business could accomplish.”
Brown himself is more interested in working on more automated software. His latest project is textbookgnome.com, a website that compares online prices when buying or selling textbooks.
But Brown’s work in Wild Books has informed him much about the complexities and difficulties of business.
“It’s kind of complicated to figure out the whole marketplace. There are a lot of different players, everyone has different motives, and they’re all advertising to you that they’re the best option,” Brown said.
Wild Books will be purchasing textbooks on Main Street for finals. Anyone who stops by will get free hot chocolate.