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Enterprising Unisa students hope to slash textbook prices

Unisa student entrepreneurs joined forces to establish BartersConner, believed to be the world’s first textbook bartering exchange.

Thabankg George Mofokeng (left) and Thabogo Ramabe

 Like almost every other student, Thabang George Mofokeng has spent many sleepless nights and anxious days worrying about how to pay for textbooks for the next stage of his Unisa studies. 

‘It stressed me a lot because textbooks are getting more expensive,’ says the BCom Economics student from Mamelodi, Pretoria. Then one fine day in 2018, while driving to the mall with his sister, wondering where he was going to find the money for new textbooks, an idea that had been taking shape in the back of his mind for two years came into sharp focus.

‘Why not an online exchange for bartering textbooks?’ he thought to himself.

Barter instead of buy

Joining forces with self-taught IT fundi Gift Mogeni and Unisa law student Tebogo Ramabe, Mofokeng decided to establish what is believed to be the world’s first textbook bartering exchange.

Together, in a matter of months, they have taken their idea off the drawing board and onto the web, where their textbook exchange, BartersConner, proudly operates under the banner ‘We trade not sell’.

‘The first ever textbook barter exchange where students can exchange or trade prescribed textbooks amongst each other, drastically reducing the cost of acquiring textbooks,’ reads the welcome message on the BartersConner landing page.

Tebogo helping a student to register on the online exchange

‘The idea is that people moving to the next phase of their studies can pass their books on to other students and can receive their next set of books from students ahead of them,’ says Mofokeng.

Unisa’s Directorate of Innovation and Technology Transfer has thrown its weight behind BartersConner. Mofokeng, who pitched his idea at Unisa’s 2018 Innovation Challenge event for students, not only won seed funding to bring BartersConner to life but has been given office space at Unisa’s Muckleneuk campus, right next door to the directorate.

Testing over; now the fun begins

BartersConner is already up and running (visit www.bartersconner.com).

In the initial testing face earlier this year, the BartersConner team piloted their model with BCom Human Resources students on levels one, two and three. They have since been working on a new site that will give students more options. 

For example, students would have the option to choose to use the BartersConner services on a free account, which will have certain limitations, or opt for an account where they would be required to pay a small subscription free. This would be a negligible price to pay compared to the cost of buying new textbooks, and would enable the subscribing student to use the full services of BartersConner.

‘Another positive that comes with the new site is that the user will be able to use it on their model devices,’ Mofokeng says.

Clearly, the BartersConner trio have wasted little time in making their vision a reality. Indeed, one of Mofokeng’s personal mottoes is to use precious time wisely. He has taught himself to do computerised animation and use programming languages such as JavaScript, and writes any bright ideas he may have to improve BartersConner in a notebook he carries with him. Typically, his day starts at 5am with morning exercises to focus his mind.

‘Time is still on my side and I want to use it well,’ Mofokeng says. ‘This (BartersConner) is like going on an adventure. It is taking me to places I have never been before.’

Here’s how BartersConner works

Requirements for a free account

  • Be a registered student
  • Should have the prescribed textbooks from their previous year

Getting started:

  • Unisa students become BartersConner members by registering on the website www.bartersconner.com. Note that members must be registered students of Unisa.
  • Returning students must have prescribed textbooks that they wish to trade. They then post the titles of these books on BartersConner as well as information about the textbooks they are looking for.
  • The student who has just signed up will then be able to see other students who have signed up, as well as the textbooks they have and are looking for. Based on this, a member can look for a direct textbook match (each student has the books the other wants). They can then send an offer to trade the books.
  • If the offer is accepted, the parties to the trade make arrangements for the textbook handover. (This will only apply for free account holders.)

Requirements for a paid account

  • Be a registered student
  • should have the prescribed textbooks from their previous year

 Getting started:

  • Unisa students become BartersConner members by registering on the website. Note that members must be registered students of Unisa.
  • Returning students must have prescribed textbooks that they wish to trade. They then post the titles of these books on BartersConner.
  • New students who are interested in any of the textbooks advertised then make an offer for them, using a digital currency that BartersConner calls ‘Mofi credits’. Mofi credits can only be used on the site and can only be received through the trading of textbooks, giving textbook owners peace of mind that any offer made is genuine.
  • If a textbook owner accepts the offer, the parties to the trade make arrangements for the textbook handover. The Mofi credits are then transferred to the former owner, so that he or she can use them to acquire textbooks through the site.
  • Final-year students who do not need new textbooks as they are completing their studies are invited to donate their books to the site.

Unlike the free account, students who hold an approved paid account are guaranteed a match by BartersConner, which means they will receive the textbooks they are looking for.

* Submitted by Mpho Moloele, PR and Communications Officer, Directorate: Research Support

Publish date: 2019/05/06