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What we can learn from UMass Amherst’s decision to select Amazon as its bookstore provider

Posted by John Squires on January 14, 2015

This week the University of Massachusetts’ flagship Amherst campus selected Amazon to provide textbooks and other learning materials for students beginning this fall.

This is a bold move from a major university. It recognizes that textbooks are a major and increasing expense for students, adding to the already growing problem of student debt. If these rising costs are not quickly addressed this will ultimately have a material impact on student performance and retention.

It also recognizes today’s students demand for transparency, value and convenience with everything they purchase. They want to know that they are buying the right product, at the right price, and want to place their order quickly, across any device, at any time.

There are few companies in the college bookstore business that focus on student value and we are delighted to welcome Amazon to this list. We think this development should raise the question of student value and service for every college administrator who faces mounting student complaints about the cost of their learning materials and is concerned about their bookstore sales declining.

We are delighted to see UMass at the forefront of this movement. Similar to forward thinking Akademos partners like the City Colleges of Chicago, Davenport University and John Jay College, UMass understands that students are already moving online to seek value and in order to align the goals of the institution, they needed to pick an innovative bookstore provider to meet the future needs of its students.

Here are a few specifics of what colleges can learn from the UMass decision:

  • UMass has chosen to view providing textbooks and course materials as a core service to its students, opting to take only a small commission of 2.5% on sales. This is a welcome development in a market where school commissions can often run above 10%, directly contributing to the increasing cost of books for students. UMass has prioritized the success of its students over retail profits.
  • The college separated the sale of merchandise and apparel from the sale of textbooks. Students will not be forced to pay steep prices for books to support the sale of other materials on campus.

Here are other important factors for colleges and universities to consider, based upon our 15 years of providing high-quality service to students across the country –

  • State of the art textbook adoption tools and a customer service staff that can provide personalized solutions to faculty on book selections and course material fulfillment is a critical component of the successful bookstore operation of the future.
  • Faculty having access to the full electronic catalog of learning products from publishers is also important. As instructional labs and testing resources build online it’s critical that the library of products for any bookstore moves well beyond the textbook.
  • Seamless financial aid integration is a must. Combining an easy to use, customized shopping experience for students with financial aid is the winning formula to bring students back to a school sanctioned bookstore website and purchasing all their course materials in a timely manner.

We think this is a wonderful development for higher education. It is squarely a student-focused decision and any institution that follows this lead, whether with Amazon, Akademos, or another like company, will be putting the needs of educating students first. In the end, this is good for education and great for companies like Akademos that focus single-mindedly on reducing costs for students and improving service for educators.

To learn more about expanding affordable textbook options for students at your school we would be happy to set-up a personalized 1:1 consultation.

Topics: Commentary

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