Sick of Used-Textbook ‘Rip-Off,’ Once-Secretive Aztec Touts Online Market

SDSU grad Ryan Heimpel helps students buy and sell used textbooks via several websites. Photo courtesy PH Photo

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Updated at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 20, 2015

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It’s a textbook case of how to fight what some call profiteering. A 2013 graduate of San Diego State University is waging war over used-book prices.

SDSU grad Ryan Heimpel helps students buy and sell used textbooks via several websites. Photo courtesy PH Photo

Ryan Heimpel — revealing his name for the first time — is promoting sdtexty.com, his online marketplace where students buy and sell used textbooks directly, bypassing the bookstore and online brokers.

“It’s all about cutting out the middleman,” says Heimpel, 28, and still living in San Diego. “I was sick and tired of selling my textbooks back to the bookstore for $10 at the end of the semester only to see them on the shelf again for $100 the following semester.

Realizing he wasn’t alone, the international business student launched the peer-to-peer work-around in late 2012.

When the SDSU student newspaper first wrote about the site, Heimpel didn’t want his name used — preferring to be known as “Texty.”

“Now that I am no longer a student, I am not as concerned with it impacting me,” he said Thursday.

He contends he encountered pushback originally, saying he received a call from the head of the bookstore. “He was asking me to rethink everything I was saying and standing for, but he actually did not make any specific requests.”

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But the director of SDSU’s Campus Stores Division said Thursday that the school has no objections to SDTexty and Heimpel had nothing to fear when he was a student.

Todd Summer, the director, also is in charge of SDSU Licensing Aztec Shops LTD.

SDTexty homepage image.

He told Times of San Diego: “The SDSU Bookstore has a number of programs to address affordability including very robust used book, rental and digital material programs. The rental program alone saves students approximately $2 million per year.”

Summer noted a price matching program that includes local and online retailers.

His response to allegations of profiteering?

“The SDSU Bookstore is not-for-profit and all net proceeds are returned to campus to support student programs,” he said via email. “The SDSU Bookstore and SDTexty are aligned in wanting to help students and promote student success.”

Summer also noted that the store employs hundreds of students each year, “with many eventually promoted into full-time positions after graduation.”

Heimpel says SDTexty processes 6,000 transactions every semester, and assumes that not only the SDSU Bookstore but also KB Books “have taken a hit in used textbook sales.”

Summer didn’t cite numbers, but said: “There are many players in the space and we have had periods of both increasing and decreasing market share.”

The site’s domain name was registered in June 2012, according to online records. By September, the site (mirrored on archive.org) said: “Don’t get ripped off by the bookstore. Buy, sell or trade textbooks directly with other SDSU students.”

Homepage of sdtexty.com in September 2012. Image via archive.org

After seeing the site go viral at SDSU, Heimpel teamed with students at UC San Diego and founded TritonTexty.com. He says that site also saw immediate demand. He plans to launch a marketplace for San Diego community college students in the next year.

With SDtexty, the seller posts a used book for $60 or $70 — deriving more money than the “buyback” deal offered at the SDSU bookstore.

“We have figured out a formula to have the buyer pay significantly less than buying their textbook through the on-campus bookstore,” Heimpel said.

This summer Heimpel says he made SDtexty easier to use.

“As a seller, you tag each book to a particular class, making it much easier for a buyer to find than on Craigslist or Facebook,” he said. “The site also makes a seller verify that they are a student by asking them for their rohan email address, weeding out scams and shady characters.”

Heimpel says he built the site in one summer. By its first semester, he contends, it was being used by 70 percent of the student population. (A Facebook page also is up, featuring the motto: “I don’t need sex; the bookstore screws me every semester.”)

“It’s a sign that there is a dire need for such a website and that students would rather support each other than these large textbook brokers,” says Heimpel, now a project manager for a commercial real estate service company.

He told The Daily Aztec in 2013: “My savings on books from the first semester alone were enough to cover the website’s initial cost.”

Heimpel says the site will have new features in time for the fall textbook rush, including the ability to search for a book via its ISBN code.

How does Heimpel profit from his sites?

“For a long time, it made nothing,” he says, “and actually it took money to keep it running because you need a lot of server power to handle half a million page impressions. Now we do a little bit of advertising and take a small fee only when a book has been successfully sold. We’re talking $1-2. A far cry from the 400 percent margin we seem to witness at the bookstore.”

Expanding his network nationally, Heipel says he’s looked at schools in states with similar animosity against campus bookstores and launched about 10 websites.

“Surprisingly, it has been the CSU campuses that have become the most popular and also the ones that have fought the most aggressively against us. Our Sacramento State website received numerous legal letters which really had no merit other than to scare us.”

Now he’s even competing with larger resale sites.

Many students used to sell their books on Craigslist or Amazon, Heimpel says, “but for Craigslist, people have a hard time finding your book among so many other articles, and Amazon has never made sense to us because you are shipping a book across the country that 500 people on your own campus need.”

His bottom line: “We’re just really happy to be connecting students and giving them an exclusive platform designed specifically for textbooks.”

And the school’s?

“Students engaging to help fellow classmates is positive,” Summer said.

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