At one time, buying and selling used textbooks was a simple process.
Most used books were sold through consignment at Browsers, operated by the University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union. Your book would sit on the shelf and, if sold, the students’ union would take a cut of the profit. This proved wildly successful and generated hundreds of thousands in revenue for the USSU.
The university bookstore, meanwhile, offers cash for books. There you make less money, but at least it’s money upfront rather than waiting for it to sell. But the bookstore doesn’t buy back very many books and rakes in the lion’s share of the profits. There are other bookstores in town, but not many deal in academic texts.
Add to that the numerous online options — Kijiji, Amazon, eBay, pestering friends on Facebook — and the whole thing can quickly become a headache.
Taylor Petrucha thinks he has a solution. The fourth-year commerce student launched SaskatoonBook.com on Dec. 31 with the hope of providing a central marketplace for used books that also lets students keep more of the profits.
“By being able to recover more money for the books you’re selling and then also buy your books more frequently cheaper, you’re going to save a lot of money on your education,” said Petrucha.
SaskatoonBook takes a 17.5 per cent commission on sales, compared to 25 per cent at Browsers.
Petrucha says what sets his business apart from a site like Kijiji is that it takes the hassle out of the exchange.
“People don’t typically like to conduct business, so they gravitate toward businesses that do it for them,” he said.
A seller can post a book on the site along with notes on the condition of the book. When someone buys that book — payments go through PayPal — the seller is notified via email or text message. But to ensure a prompt exchange, sellers lose more of the profit if they don’t deliver the book right away. After four and a half days, SaskatoonBook cancels the sale and refunds buyers their money.
Petrucha hopes his location on campus will also help. The College of St. Thomas More has provided Petrucha with a small room on the main floor of the building from which to operate.
“That really is the benefit my business offers, it’s the actual, physical exchange of the book,” he explained.
Petrucha is in his final year at the Edwards School of Business as well as a pole vaulter with the U of S Huskies track and field team. He says he knew he wanted to start a business before leaving school, but waited until he found the right one.
“With how dissatisfied I was with the way services work around our campus, I knew I could try and build something that might do a better job,” he said.
In September, he started researching his business idea, consulting with professors and with advisers at the W. Brett Wilson Centre for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Finally, by the time the second term rolled around, Petrucha was ready to invest. Initially budgeting for up to $10,000 in startup costs, Petrucha was able to get SaskatoonBook up and running for about half that amount, largely thanks to STM’s help with the location.
With SaskatoonBook running for less than two weeks, the site already has dozens of students using it and might soon compete with the university bookstore and with Browsers for used book sales. But with Browsers having lost most of its consignment business over the last five years and the students’ union potentially reconsidering the feasibility of the business, SaskatoonBook could become a central place for textbooks.
Reid Nystuen, the USSU vice-president operations and finance, said the USSU wants “Browsers to be a success and [Petrucha] opening his business doesn’t mean that Browsers won’t be, but it further adds options for students to buy textbooks. So in that sense, it’s good for students.”
Petrucha, meanwhile, is already looking at whether his business model could work elsewhere, potentially at the University of Alberta, which is over twice the size of the U of S. Compared to other services, he thinks he’s found a simple formula that helps students.
“In this business I focus on two needs: buying books and selling books. That’s it,” said Petrucha. “There’s no new books, there’s no e-books — just buying and selling books we already have.”
Photo: Margie de Jager