Enterprising teens spend summer on (textbook) campus

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By ELENA LEVENSON

Incoming Oak Park and River Forest High School seniors Rob Demaree and David Cavise are spending their summer opening an online business to help families save money on textbooks.

Textbookcampus.com is an affiliate-based website that searches online bookstores for the cheapest book, compares the book's online price with the OPRF bookstore price, and tells the consumer how much he or she saves.

"If you're buying an AP Economics book, for example, you save $21," Cavise said. If you're taking five classes, that's like an airline ticket or a nice dinner with the family...it adds up."

Using books from last year's list, the two estimated a student could save as much as $100. "There's got to be a demand for that," Demaree said.

The website only serves OPRF students, but he and Cavise hope to expand to other area high schools.

A student browsing the website would use his or her schedule to search by subject, then by teacher. The next page to come up would list the books required by that teacher, and the student could then click on a book to search for through Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, or eCampus, among others, for the best price. Demaree and Cavise get a commission for each book they help sell.

The boys don't handle any credit card information themselves, however.

"I hate to say it, but it's more credible" when consumers buy directly from the online companies, Cavise said. "I mean, Amazon.com is a major online bookstore, you know they're not going to screw you. You know where your money's going."

He and Demaree were inspired to start Textbookcampus.com by what they considered to be overpriced books at the OPRF bookstore.

"I've heard my parents complain about the bookstore, and even before this idea, as early as freshman year, Rob would call me, saying, 'Dude, I'm buying my books online, it's so much cheaper,'" Cavise said.

He and Demaree discussed the idea last September and began working on it over the summer. Cavise designed the website, which he also manages, and Demaree began marketing, leaving fliers with OPRF families Demaree found through the PTO directory.

"We've got a pretty good division of labor," Demaree said.

The two also have a lot of initiative. "He's very entrepreneurial, and he's always been interested in business," said Rob's father, also named Robert, recalling Rob's efforts to sell pencils and paper on the street when he was 4.

Considering David's résumé, the motivation for Textbookcampus.com is not surprising.

"I worked at the bookstore for two years, and I just saw how ridiculously expensive the books were," Cavise said. "They're marked up 35 percent, and I was always ranting to Rob about this, and one day he called with this idea, because he was already into selling his books online."

When the boys were starting the website, Cavise wrote to bookstore manager Jacqui Charette-BassiriRad to ask her for the 2005-06 booklist they needed to start organizing the site.

"When I first wrote her, I was nervous, you know, [Rob and I] are starting competition," Cavise said. "But she wrote me back a page-long email, with...general advice on running a bookstore, which surprised me."

"What [David]'s providing is what anyone can do on their own," Charette-BassiriRad said. "I've been here for 18 months, and one of the things I've done is made sure that ISBN is available." An ISBN is the unique identifying code assigned to every book.

"You put that in if you go to Amazon or to Google, and the book will pop up, or you can buy it used from an alternative source. [David and Rob are] doing something a little more entrepreneurial and I say more power to them.

"The bookstore isn't here to make money," she continued. "We are not a cash cow for the high school. My reason for being is just to break even and cover our costs.

If not for the bookstore, Charette-BassiriRad said, a for-profit outside vendor could try to sell books to OPRF, and curriculum would stagnate?#34;the school might hesitate to change textbook editions if the cost were too high. Textbookcampus.com officially opens tomorrow, so OPRF families can start searching for their books for the 2005-06 school year. Asked if the two incoming seniors will continue the website when they're in college, Demaree said, "We don't know yet. Hopefully this becomes a bookstore that kids can use year after year."

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