Uncertain future looms over campus bookstore

By Leslie Lee

Many instructors advise students to shop around for the best deal on their textbooks.

“You can get the textbook for this class at the college bookstore for about $113.00, but you will probably be able to get it cheaper on Amazon,” said one professor.

Despite the fact that Barnes and Noble owns the Kentfield campus bookstore, their website is selling the same book for 22 percent less than the college bookstore.

The school’s board of trustees has expressed concern about our bookstore’s inability to compete in the marketplace. Barnes and Noble has been leasing COM’s bookstore for 26 years. The trustees have extended the lease for another year.

“Extending the lease on an annual basis allows for flexibility in adjusting the commission structure,” says Jonathan Eldridge, Vice President of Student Services.

The more money the College of Marin bookstore makes in sales, the higher the commission for Barnes and Noble, which might explain why their college bookstore price is 22 percent more.

For the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the bookstore commission is .5 percent of sales, up to $1.7 million. It increases to 1 percent  of sales over $1.7 million, and to 2 percent  for sales over $2 million.

Three different community college bookstores had three different prices for the same book – one at the publisher’s list price, one below the list price, and the third more than the list price.

The College of Marin bookstore priced the book at the suggested list price ($113.33). Diablo Valley College’s bookstore priced the book at $97.60. Ohlone’s bookstore priced the book at  $117.00.

The Follet Higher Education Group, which owns Ohlone’s bookstore, also owns 940 college bookstores nationwide.  A retail clerk there said that if the Follet Education Group did not own the textbook, then it was priced higher.

Bill Foster, bookstore manager at Diable Valley, did an independent survey of college textbooks in the Bay Area that revealed textbook prices at Diablo Valley College are lower overall.

Foster explains: “We are institutionally owned. We keep 100 percent of the profits. All the money is kept at the college, and all the money spent stays within the county, as opposed to Barnes and Noble where the profits are sent back to their headquarters in New Jersey.”

While it is true that a student can buy textbooks at a lower price than at a brick-and-mortar retail store on websites such as Amazon or half.com, and even Barnes and Noble’s website, there is a case to be made for keeping a college bookstore on campus.

Foster said students need textbooks to succeed in their classes, and that it’s vital for students to buy the correct textbook. Moreover, with a brick- and-mortar store, the student can quickly and readily return books immediately if they accidently buy the wrong book, or if they switch classes.

Brianna Russo-Williams, a student here, said she likes the personal interaction she receives from the College of Marin bookstore staff.

“The people at the bookstore really know their stuff. They give students information about book requirements for courses, they tell them roughly when the books will be in stock and they know about other items a student might need for their classes, such as Scantrons and green books for writing essays,” she said.

Russo-Williams likes the Kentfield campus bookstore not only for the friendly and supportive staff, but because it’s a convenient place to buy snacks and drinks when she is in a rush in between classes and the lines at the cafeteria are too long.

The pressure to change, however, is strong. Quarterly earnings reports for Barnes and Noble show a third-quarter loss in every area except for college textbooks. Analysts predict that Barnes and Noble is following the same rocky path as Borders Books.

The future of Barnes and Noble, both on campus and off, is uncertain. The governing board of the College of Marin is aware of the situation and has expressed interest in soliciting student input to help determine the future of the College of Marin bookstore.

COM’s  Board of Trustees minutes for  May 21 reveal that the board is considering other options:

“There was discussion that we should research other options moving forward, as this is no longer a competitive market. Seeking student input and thinking outside the box will be the most effective way to approach this issue in the future.”

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