In the coming weeks, millions of students will be returning to college and university campuses. The air will be full of excitement as existing students settle in for a new year and new students look forward to a new chapter. Dorms will fill up with boxes and suitcases and the quad will fill with tables representing campus activities and student organizations. Campus bookstores will offer extended hours as students search for their books and materials. These students will spend hundreds of dollars, some over a thousand, this semester alone. Increasingly, this spend will not occur inside the bookstore.
Since 1978, college textbook prices have grown 945%, increasing 3.5X times faster than the Consumer Price Index.
Administrators, faculty, and students are increasingly concerned about the escalating cost of textbooks. Colleges are now searching for new solutions to lower costs and support their core mission of educating students.Recent studies have shown that many students are opting not to buy textbooks for at least one of their courses due to these high prices, leading to students being less prepared for class, and negatively impacting their academic performance. Left unchecked, these factors may undermine the fundamental mission of many colleges and universities.
This week, the University of Massachusetts’ flagship Amherst campus selected Amazon to provide textbooks and other course 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.
The higher education conference season is in full effect. I attended an ed tech conference called UBTech held by University Business magazine earlier this month in Orlando, Florida. This was my first time attending UBTech, having formerly mainly focused on the CampusTech conference.
UBTech had a good mix of college and university Chief Technology Officers, Chief Information Officers, Chief Financial Officers, and similar roles. It also attracted ed tech companies, textbook publishers, bookstore services providers, and other organizations in the industry.
You may have seen the recent post on the Akademos blog summarizing outcomes from our survey of college and university CFOs about textbook trends and bookstore services practices. Many of our findings were not a surprise — such as the idea that students are leaving the college bookstore to shop at third-party retailers because of perceived better pricing. Others were a bit confounding — like the desire to offer students lower-cost textbooks, while simultaneously hesitating to sell textbooks from anywhere but brick-and-mortar college bookstores.
As college administrators search for the right direction regarding bookstore operations, I think lessons from changes in the trade bookstore business are worth considering in this discussion of how college bookstores may evolve. Today’s trade book consumer is fiercely value-conscious, and the brick-and-mortar bookstore business has been revolutionized by the selection, price, and speed of delivery offered by online retailers. Local bookstores that have survived have done so by offering unique services and products not readily available from online sellers.