It’s safe to say that changes in student purchasing behavior, in course material options, and in technology have disrupted many college bookstores, a once-stable revenue source for textbook sales. Bookstore earnings are down by as much as 35% at colleges and universities and P&L statements show an increasingly common theme: administrators need to find a solution to the issue of declining revenues.
A number of possible options can help. One solution that allows universities to regain the income lost to online competitors like Amazon while also creating new opportunities for profitability and cost savings is the online bookstore model. By transitioning the college bookstore to a centralized online model for adoptions, purchasing, and access, schools can free up valuable physical space, provide a single platform for physical and digital course materials, and get deeper insights into bookstore and course material utilization. With an online bookstore partner, many operational tasks—from inventory ordering to logistics to customer support and even buyback programs—can be delegated, enabling university staff to focus on higher-level strategic goals.
An online college bookstore creates an always-on, available-from-anywhere storefront that lowers prices and expands student choice while opening new possibilities to rethink and re-monetize the campus store’s space.
After making the transition to an online bookstore model, the campus store space can be monetized in new ways. Leased to a vendor, from restaurants to coffee shops to spirit wear retailers, universities lose the burden of hiring staff, managing the store, or maintaining inventory. A third-party vendor brings a hands-off revenue stream, handling the business operations while the university draws recurring revenue.
Some universities have found that, while their textbook sales are slow, their spirit wear sales have remained strong and they prefer to continue managing this in-house. Though healthy spirit wear sales may create hesitation about moving to an online bookstore model, this transition actually allows universities to devote more retail space to best-selling products and focus on marketing spirit wear items that students and alumni love.
It may seem like a no-brainer to turn the physical college bookstore into a retail space with immediate, measurable profits, but some universities have taken a more long-term approach to revenue creation.
Instead, they use the space to offer features that attract students and tuition dollars. Because students seek unique experiences and are drawn to universities that understand their values, bookstore spaces are re-purposed and turned into career centers, innovation hubs, meditation spaces, or any creative solution that better fits the campus community and culture. Through polling, interviews, and research, administrators can create an area that serves students and signals the university’s commitment to student success.
Savvy universities have a future-focused vision and want to improve student retention, happiness, and recruitment—while boosting long-term revenue.
An Opportunity for Inclusive Access
A less obvious benefit of an online college bookstore is that it offers the chance for an inclusive access (IA) course material model. Through IA, course materials are automatically provided to students, usually fully or partially included in tuition costs. Universities go from losing significant course material revenue to recapturing a majority of course material spend because most students are opted-in to the IA program. This scale gives universities leverage in negotiating better rates with publishers, bringing deals that were not previously possible with a struggling brick-and-mortar bookstore and small customer base.
As a bonus, IA is a powerful recruiting tool, especially as new generations of students are debt-averse and financial costs weigh heavily on their education decision. Being the institution that understands their students’ financial concerns can become a unique selling point when students are choosing between programs.
The Future of University Retail
A quick glance at the off-campus retail world shows even retail-heavy brands like Walmart investing heavily in e-commerce. Whether companies transition to a full eCommerce brand or a retailer/eCommerce mix, consumers expect an online option—and students are no exception.
Amid this disruption in the retail and student course material landscape, the outcome is clear: an online bookstore is not eliminating a revenue source, it’s creating new revenue opportunities that empower administrators to serve both their students and reach their financial goals.
To learn more about how Akademos can help your institution gain new revenue opportunities by implementing an online bookstore, contact us here.