November 24, 2021
We know that college students’ tastes for digital services have the power to make companies snap to attention. A recent example is publishing giant Pearson’s dive into the world of textbook subscriptions in hopes of making itself more appealing to students shopping around for the best deal.
But what about campus bookstores, which are often tied more intimately to colleges? How do they compete in an era when students are perfectly happy ordering what they need online?
At the University of Alaska Anchorage, the answer was to embrace the changing times. Now the its bookstore space is a go-to spot for hoodies, snacks and for faculty to get some tech support. But there’s a notable absence of one thing—textbooks.
The university shifted two years ago to a fully virtual bookstore, one where faculty can post their required reading and students can place their orders (or keep shopping around). It’s a change that David Weaver, executive director of Campus Services for the university, says staunched the financial woes caused by the flailing bookstore, while keeping affordable textbook options open for its students.
“Historically we had a nice beautiful brick and mortar bookstore,” Weaver says, with a place for community lectures and a small Apple store. “The sense of place was lovely for people my age, where that was a part of my undergrad and graduate experience. As time went on, the bookstore came closer and closer to just breaking even.”
The new model, serviced by online bookstore platform Akademos, allows students to view a class’ textbook cost before registering for a class. The service can distribute open educational resources, or OER, textbooks that are available to professors and students for free. It’s also integrated into the university’s payment system, allowing users to charge books to their student account.
“If we aren’t the lowest cost option for that student, affordability trumps our ability to earn revenue from textbook sales,” Weaver says. “If I have a choice between three sections of a course, and one has OER and one has a $200 or $300 textbook, I want to know that because that’s a factor in my choice.”