Student creates website to track down cheapest textbooks available

As a junior business major, Matthew Ellis should supposedly be concerned with making himself a fortune — not saving others a fortune on their textbooks.

But a few months ago, Ellis jumped at the chance to bring one Yale University student’s business idea to the campus and create books@umd, a website that helps students find the cheapest textbook options available.

Books@yale — a website launched by Yale University junior computer science major Sean Haufler for his campus — served as the model for Ellis’ site, which can be found at The site generates a book list based on the courses the user enters, and after searching various retailers, including Amazon, the University Book Center and Barnes & Noble, the site presents the best purchase options for the user’s courseload.

“My reaction was to take advantage of the opportunity right away,” Ellis said. “It immediately struck me as something that would be both useful to fellow students and profitable.”

Haufler said he spent about six months coding the books@yale site, which he said on average returns Yale students prices that are 60 percent lower than those at university bookstores.

“My primary motivation for creating the site was caused by frustration with the school bookstore,”Haufler said. “Students would spend hundreds — even thousands — of dollars on textbooks each semester because they weren’t aware of online alternatives to the bookstore.”

After hearing of the books@yale’s success, Ellis compiled a list of university courses and majors and plugged them into Haufler’s code to create his site, which officially launched in January.

“I’ve been getting a lot of positive feedback — emails sent to me saying that it was a great application and they appreciated it,” Ellis said.

Books@umd launched right on the heels of the student-led Textbook Rebellion on this campus last semester, where a number of student groups lobbied university administrators and faculty to trade the traditional book list for open-source materials and textbooks, which are free online. A recent U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey indicated that 70 percent of students had not bought a required textbook because the price was too high at least once.

Cindy Clement, the director of undergraduate studies in economics, said publishing companies face intense competition from the used textbook market; Student Monitor reported 37 percent of students bought their textbooks used in fall 2011.

“[Publishers] tell me, ‘If I can figure out a way to avoid the competition from the used books, I will price it lower than the original price,’” Clement said. “So that means they are building it in and trying to cover their costs.”

Junior Chinese and criminology and criminal justice major Michelle Bedke said she would rather opt for used books and books@umd made the process much more convenient.

“After a while you just get tired of looking and just end up buying new ones because it’s easier,” Bedke said. “Having it all in one place gets rid of that frustration.”