Textbooks are expensive: Anyone can tell you that.
According to a survey from the National Association of College Students, the average student spends $667 on books alone per semester, and $267 in other non-tuition related fees and expenses. Students try to save money as much as they can, so in order to avoid the hefty fee at the college’s bookstore they pursue other alternatives with more affordable prices. Roughly 59 percent of students buy their textbooks from their college’s bookstore, leaving 41 percent to rely on other online alternatives such as online bookstores.
Four recent graduates of Monmouth College, a small private liberal arts school in western Illinois, have used their multidisciplinary education to devise their own solution to the circuitous problem of textbook expenses—a new online company entitled Books and Circle. The four founders: Arjun Subedi, Bishnu Bita, Ben Morrow, and Tyler Morrow decided to put their liberal arts education to the test and essentially create the job of their dreams.
Linked with Facebook, this company “eliminates the middle man” by connecting students with other students on campus who have books they want to buy or sell. Books and Circle does not make any money from the college student; instead, it gets its funding from advertisements. By using this new company, students are able to see the current listing price of their textbooks on other websites and can then create their own desired selling price. For example, students would type in the ISBN number of their textbooks on Amazon to use as a guide for setting their own price. If a book sells for $40 on Amazon, a student might choose to sell it for $20 on Books and Circle.
Due to the small community-oriented nature of the liberal arts college, the four alumni were able to not only imagine their dream but implement it as well. When looking for business partners to promote the site, the group returned to its roots, asking fellow Monmouth students and faculty for help:
“I think the fact that we’re a small liberal arts college [creates]this feeling of community on campus, and it helped them first of all come together and … ask for our help,” said Colleen Sinclair, a senior music education major who is working as a campus intern for the company. “They knew that they could count on the people on this campus to help them launch it,” she concluded.
By networking with the college’s faculty and current students, they have initiated a marketing campaign to connect Monmouth college students to the website. Starting with their alma mater, Books and Circle has eight interns at Monmouth College and fifteen interns at Illinois State University promoting the website. A total of 25 colleges have begun to use the site; 23 of them are self-starting, and followers are growing by the day.
Not only have the four founders put their liberal arts education to the test, but they are also creating an international collaboration. Two of the founders, Bishnu Bista(Director of Product Development) and Arjun Subedi (CEO and principal founder), are international students from Monmouth College. Arjun, a native of Nepal, created a tech hub of programmers and developers in his home country, who have developed the physical site. Meanwhile, the headquarters for the company remains in Chicago, roughly four hours east of Monmouth College and two hours north of Illinois State University. Subedi explained that starting a new company was relatively easy in Nepal due to its “cost effectiveness,” but they decided to keep the headquarters local.
“We can't thank Monmouth College enough [for teaching us] the importance of learning how to think,” said Ben Morrow, Director of Marketing. “When we're in group discussion, we can accomplish so much, because we understand each other and the background of why we reach the conclusions that we do,” Morrow concluded.
Subedi shares Morrow’s enthusiasm when it comes to his liberal arts education. “My Monmouth College experience was the best academic experience I ever had. It taught me how to think from various perspectives,” Subedi said.
The founders aren’t the only ones who noticed the value of their educational background; Books and Circle’s interns have noticed the difference as well. Intern Roy Sye said that their liberal arts education allowed the founders to borrow tools and lessons from different disciplines to launch the project.
Currently 30 percent of the Monmouth College student body has registered with the site, and the numbers continue to grow. Future goals for the company include establishing a presence on every campus in the United States, reaching one million users by January 2013, and going international by January 2013.