Today: Jul 14, 2024

New textbook aggregator helps students save money as book prices increase

REBECCA BAINER — General Assignments Reporter

A new textbook aggregator company, SwoopThat is growing in popularity, ultimately saving students money and making buying textbooks virtually stress-free.

Jonny Simkin, SwoopThat founder and CEO, said the website has been compared to “kayak,” the travel website.

“We automate the process of students buying textbooks and making sure they buy the cheapest one,” said Simkin. “We kind of created a process where students can just enter their courses and we tell them the books they need as well as every merchant who sells those. So, you’re basically guaranteed to find the cheapest price.”

Simkin said the website was founded in 2009 with one school and has now grown to support over 2,500 schools, making it the largest aggregator of university textbooks. Simkin said the cite is easy to navigate.

“Any school receiving federal funding, they have to post online all their courses and required textbooks,” said Simkin. “But there’s no standard format. So we built systems to automate the collection of that data and normalize it and put it in one system that’s easy for students to use.”

Simkin, a recent graduate himself is only 23 and said he came up with the idea through his own frustration and the website is saving students close to half a million dollars.

“One of the things I hated in school was buying textbooks,” said Simkin. “Because when you go to bookstores you spend too much money and when you go online you spend too much time. I figured there has to be a better way.”

Simkin said he channeled his frustrations by creating a small website with textbooks by course on his university and it took off from there.

“Within four days, 25 percent of the students had used it,” said Simkin. “I decided that I would pursue this; I thought it was interesting and exciting.”

The website is available for use by Southern students, but Larry Gal of the Southern Bookstore said he feels the majority of students still use the campus bookstore to get their books and renting books is growing in popularity. Gal said this is the third semester of renting books and with over 800 different books, this semester the store rented about 6,000 copies.

“I think it’s a great option that’s kind of saying, ‘well if the bookstore’s renting books I don’t have to go online,’” said Gal. “We’re trying to provide one-stop shopping. We know it’s not going to be the only place you shop, but we want it to be the first place.”

Gal said rentals aren’t the only option for students looking to save money. The bookstore also offers buybacks and digital books, called “ebooks,” which are also growing in popularity.

“I would say majors are probably going to purchase their books through new book or rental, but we also see upperclassmen and graduate students buying more digital books,” said Gal. “A couple years ago we sold maybe four and last year we sold a couple hundred.”

Like the SwoopThat website, Gal said the bookstore has a website in which students can preorder books, making it easier for them. Gal said they start pulling website orders about a month before classes start and students can pick up their orders or have them shipped.

“We’re looking at what the students want on campus,” said Gal of all the options for purchasing books. “They’re our customers. It’s not brain surgery as long as you know what people want. I think it’s been pretty successful.”

Renee Cifarelli, a junior social work major spends at least $600 per semester on books at the bookstore, because she said she gets too frustrated to find them online.

“I get too confused, it’s too difficult,” said Cifarelli, “and a lot of times the teachers change the books.”

Simkin said he realizes the supply chain challenges campus bookstores face and he is working to help with that so schools will be able to compete.

“One of the things we’re working on is software designed to help bookstores offer cheaper and more affordable books to students,” said Fimkin. “The end goal is to increase price transparency for students.”

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