As access to affordable higher education has become more important to the success of both students and colleges, skyrocketing textbook prices have often faced scrutiny as one of the roadblocks to success and have inspired a search for multiple solutions.
Ironically, textbooks have gone from being perceived as a main offender to one of the main opportunities for reducing higher education costs. Through innovation and technology, affordable course materials can be made available to all students while universities can reduce or eliminate many of the costs associated with acquiring and distributing course material content. Ultimately, online bookstores are rapidly gaining acceptance as a way to generate cost savings, a win-win that helps ensure prepared students and healthier university financials (learn more about the 5 benefits universities see after adopting an online bookstore).
How can online bookstores save money for colleges and universities?
The price students pay for course materials is an understandably common issue, but less examined is the price universities are indirectly and directly paying for an inefficient course material model.
While it’s difficult for schools to quantify the true impact of course materials in relation to revenue to the institution, there are costs related to student success that are obvious and measurable. If students are not prepared with the course materials they require, they’re more likely to receive poor grades. The poorer their grades, the more likely they are to become a retention risk.
With a reported 7 in 10 students having chosen not to buy textbooks due to high costs—thus showing up to class unprepared and jeopardizing their grades—the scale of this problem compounds over the many thousands of students and schools across the nation. Universities spend considerable money and resources to recruit students and each student lost requires the university to fill their spot, spending even more resources to attract and retain the new student.
Schools that self operate a campus bookstore space incur many costs as well, from staff and inventory expenses to the opportunity cost of under optimized campus space. Textbooks and inventory require space that could be better utilized for merchandise that offers more regular sales and higher margins. In contrast, online bookstores create a 24/7 revenue stream with zero overhead or staff, freeing up resources and physical space that can be reshaped into a spirit wear store or rented out to food or merchandise vendors for passive income.
Online bookstores introduce efficiency and another potential cost-savings opportunity: inclusive access (IA). Through inclusive access, students are automatically supplied course materials from day one with the costs included partially or fully within the cost of tuition. Because IA ensures a majority of students get course materials through the university, it allows administrators to negotiate better terms with publishers—and ensure their students have exactly what they need to succeed at a price they can afford.
With or without an inclusive access program, schools with online bookstores finally have a reliable way to provide expanded selection to affordable course materials along with a centralized platform to manage all course materials, from adoption to access to analytics. This ensures that students can be prepared for the first day of class with what they need and helps the university regain lost bookstore revenue that was going to other providers. When the price of course materials drops down to market demand, students will once again obtain their course materials through the college, this time through the online store.
How can students save money with an online bookstore?
Affordability in higher education is more important than ever because the latest generation of students, Gen Z, is known for being financially aware; approximately 100% of polled Gen Z’ers said they compare prices while shopping and 80% of them consider price to be the biggest factor in deciding what to purchase and from where.
With this cost-sensitive customer base, campus bookstores have suffered year-over-year revenue losses as students have flocked to Amazon or Chegg in search of more affordable and convenient options. However, online bookstores give students the very prices and transparency that drew them away from the campus bookstore while also providing a personalized experience that is tied into the school’s Student Information System (SIS) and Financial Aid (FA) tools.
The path to student savings begins long before the new term starts. Faculty can see exactly how much students will pay for the course materials they choose through an online bookstore. Instead of accidentally choosing a pricey textbook that potentially few students will buy, they can ensure there are affordable options available for rent or purchase.
Online bookstores also empower faculty to build custom coursepacks, curated selections of course materials. Instead of assigning three textbooks, of which only a few crucial chapters will be used, faculty choose only relevant chapters and research which are then included in a digital or physical coursepack. For students, this means serious savings—and a lighter backpack.
There’s an added benefit for students with financial aid. In the past, they faced an unfortunate challenge as they tried to make their money go further, purchasing cheaper course materials from online retailers. While the prices may be competitive, these students were unable to use their financial aid funds to pay for the textbooks. With an online bookstore, financial aid systems easily integrate and give students affordable options that can be purchased with financial aid funds.