The End of Textbook Stores?

The EMU community has always been in a kind of bad situation with textbook stores, and from my perspective, it is getting worse. I could go on and on about this, but in brief, there are four different book stores on campus. Three of them are owned by Nebraska Book, which owns over 100 college book stores around the country, and the book store in the union is at least operated (if not owned) by Barnes and Noble.

Over the years, I have had a variety of different “customer service” issues with all of these stores. Some have been relatively minor (not enough copies of a book, books coming in late, super-duper expensive course packs, etc.), some have been incredibly frustrating and/or rude. For example, this semester, I am using a book called What is Web Design? The book store says it cannot order it because it was published in the UK, this despite the fact that I can order it for $18 via amazon.com. And a number of years ago, I received such utterly poor service at Ned’s Books that I vowed I would never do business with them again and I have kept that promise. Incidentally, this bad customer service experience at Ned’s took place right after they were bought by Nebraska Book.

Anyway, in the old days, teachers and students simply had to suffer these indignities. But now, thanks to online booksellers, that is no longer true.

As is usually the case, I’ve had a number of students in recent years who are way ahead of me: they’ve been ordering books via amazon.com or textbooks.com or CheapestTextbooks.com or whatever. These online textbook sellers tend to be considerably cheaper, and they don’t make you stand in line for an hour, either.

To deal with the local bookstore’s inabilities to get the What is Web Design? book this semester and to make up for a shortage of books in another class, I told students to order them online. These are upper-level and quasi-tech savvy classes, but none of these students even blinked at the idea.

I have also given up making course packets in favor of EMU’s e-reserves system, which is a service operated by the library where it puts documents on electronic “reserve.” There are some problems with this system, not the least of which is I have to make the electronic documents (generally PDFs) to put on reserve. But it is free to students and it allows me to create “course packs” on the fly, something that is coming in handy this semester.

There is the argument that using the campus bookstores for my textbook orders allows students to sell their books back someplace. However, one of my more textbook technology savvy students told me that she just uses Half.com, which is the bookselling area of eBay. And besides that, the money that the bookstores give to students for their used books is pretty bad anyway.

The only other reason I can think of to use a campus book store for textbook orders is to deal with those rare students who have some sort of financial aid package that requires them to buy books and supplies on campus. In the short-term, I think these students might have to order the books through the store themselves, the same way any individual can order a book from a “brick n’ mortar” book store. In the long-term, I suspect these students will be able to order books electronically like everyone else.

So, what’s left? Why use the book store?

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One Response to The End of Textbook Stores?

  1. Gregg says:

    Hey, if you’re looking for a low cost alternative for textbooks, you need to check out my site. Collegebooksdirect.com both sells textbooks cheaply, we also buy back textbooksat incredicle prices. Check it out. Oh, and our customer service is top notch.

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