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Carol Chung 

Cash-strapped university students have a new and improved ally in the battle to save money thanks to an ambitious Ryerson student. lets Canadian students buy, sell and exchange their used books with each other, and since no commission is owed to a middleman, students keep all of their profits.

“That’s the great benefit of the site,” says site creator Michael Levine, a fourth-year information technology student. “Students get a much higher return on used textbooks… as much as 80 per cent off the original (price).”

Levine came up with the idea last year after the Ryerson Used Book Room offered him a “ridiculously low amount” for one of his text books. So along with his brother Paul and friend Lawson Hennick, Levine launched the site in 2004. After a trial year, the trio spent this past summer expanding their enterprise.

“We re-designed and re-programmed the entire program from scratch,” says Levine. “Now it’s a lot easier to use. A lot more user-friendly.”

New features include enhanced security, a simplified search option, and an endorsement system that lets students evaluate one another and inform others of reliable or dishonest users.

But the most significant new feature is the social networking aspect of the site, which takes the hassle out of finding potential buyers and sellers and connects users in the same program and school.

“The mentor-protégé system automatically links you to students who are older than you and students who are younger than you,” says Levine. “This way, you can turn to the older students for advice, because they’ve been through the program before… and turn to the younger students, because they’re going to want to buy your books.”

Since the site launch, Levine says several thousand students have registered for an online account, and he hopes recent media attention will encourage more to join.

“I signed up on the site the same day that I heard about it,” says Sarah Chiu, a second-year biology student at the University of Toronto. “It’s going to be a real help. I have to pay over $100 for a lot of books, but on the site, I can get the same books for maybe three-quarters of the price that they sell it for on campus.”

Chiu says she and her friends like how simple the site is to navigate, and that word of its benefits are spreading fast around campus — which is exactly what Levine wants.

“Right now, I want to keep getting the word out there. The more members there are, the more books there are on the website,” he says, adding if the site continues to be successful, it may expand beyond Canadian borders someday.

“We might go overseas, maybe to the U.K. or Australia… (But) at the moment, the main goal is to just keep growing and save money for students.”

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