By Anthony Sanchez
Take a bit of Craigslist, cross it with some Facebook, and add in student frustration with the high costs of textbooks and you’ll end up with something like HappyZork.com.
Launched last quarter at Stanford by senior Kali Donovan, HappyZork.com is a peer-to-peer website that facilitates the buying and selling of textbooks between students. Users can create profiles, complete with a picture, search or post textbooks on the website, receive offers, and complete their transactions on campus.
The website was created in response to textbook price angst, said Donovan.
“Textbook prices are ridiculously high. We spend hundreds of dollars each quarter on books that just stack up and collect dust. So I took the only sane, logical step -and created HappyZork.com,” he said.
The website is free to student users and is supported by a few advertisements that cover costs. Donovan says the real profit is from the experience he can add to his portfolio; and the joy of helping his fellow peers get a fair deal doesn’t hurt.
According to Donovan, the Stanford Bookstore pays too little or nothing to buy back costly textbooks, and online sites charge commission for sellers and buyers have to wait for textbooks to travel through the postal system.
“At HappyZork.com, students get more for their money,” said Donovan, “We get the best of both worlds: cheaper textbooks and better buybacks. Even sweeter is that you can get your book in a matter of minutes from a fellow student.”
Since starting up last quarter, HappyZork.com has expanded to Santa Clara University, the University of Washington, and Linfield College. Donovan is currently in the process of expanding to other schools such as Harvard and Princeton. He attributes the success of HappyZork.com to student need and satisfaction.
“I’m very pleased with HappyZork.com. I was able sell my Vector Calculus book for $70. And it was quick and easy,” said freshman Juan Batiz-Benet.
“I bought a textbook and got it within 30 minutes on campus -and the seller ended up becoming my friend,” said senior Becca Loew, “I got a way better deal on HappyZork.com than I would have at the bookstore.”
For a price comparison, the second edition textbook Microeconomics is posted used on HappyZork.com for $80.00. The same textbook, used, at the Stanford Bookstore is listed for $105.75, though the Bookstore gives students an extra 7% discount, which is countered by tax. However, HappyZork.com may not have textbooks for every course.
In addition to textbooks, HappyZork.com also enables students to buy and sell course readers, an advantage over the Stanford Bookstore, says Donovan. The Stanford Bookstore does not buy back or sell used course readers.
But don’t dive headfirst into HappyZork.com, says Ken Bowers, the Stanford Bookstore Director.
“You might be able to find some lower prices on such a website but you have no assurance whether or not the book will be in good condition,” he said, “You could end up with missing or marked pages. We ensure our used books meet certain quality standards.”
Donovan responded by pointing out that HappyZork.com has an extensive rating system for both buyers and sellers. Ratings include categories such as Reachability, Truthfulness, and Followthrough to encourage successful textbook swapping.
There’s also the issue of survivability and effectiveness. Textbook swapping has always existed, whether between friends or dorm email lists, to name a few. But textbook swapping has never replaced a simple visit to the bookstore, said Bowers.
The ASSU operated a Book Buy Back program in the 2003-2004 academic year but only provided a limited amount of textbook titles in subjects like physics and chemistry. The following year, the program discontinued and students were encouraged to use ComeGetUsed.com, another peer-to-peer book-swap website that is still used today by a small pocket of Stanford students.
Bowers said that students prefer convenience and confidence in their busy lifestyles.
“At the Stanford Bookstore, we ensure that we carry a wide array of titles and the correct editions that students need for class. Students can make one trip to get many things they need, including school supplies,” Bowers added.
HappyZork.com currently has nearly 1000 posted textbooks for sale and over 500 registered users. Donovan admits his young site isn’t a one-stop shop yet, but hopes more students will join to better serve students’ textbook needs.
“Together, we can create a critical mass that can make a difference and benefit all students. That’s the magic of HappyZork.com,” said Donovan.