Amazon primed and ready to run your campus bookstore

Say they can lower student book spending by 31%

The University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst has inked a deal with Amazon to purchase nearly all student textbooks from the e-retailer in the coming school year.

Amazon and Follet will run the "textbook annex" and small distribution center for five years in a plan that UMass officials say is directed at student convenience and savings. The retailer told UMass students will spend 31% less on average ($380 per year) than they did at the previous store.

"We really recognize that textbooks and course materials are a major expense for students, and those have continued to go up over time," said Ed Blaguszewski, UMass spokesperson.

Under the new system, students may pick up books they ordered online at an Amazon campus center storefront or receive free one-day delivery to area and campus residences. Digital textbooks will also be available.

Amazon, in turn, will pay UMass a 2.5% commission on nearly all student sales at the storefront and, in the first three years, pay at least $375,000; $465,000; and $610,000 respectively.

"Many schools are feeling pressure to control the cost of education, and textbooks contribute to that," says Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs. "Many are also seeing revenues in their bookstores flat at best, or even going backward, so they're looking at ways to stem that trend. We're trying to reinvent the bookstore experience."

The retailer beat out five other companies for the contract. The company says it is a good fit because of existing Amazon distribution centers nearby, a dearth of other competitive area stores, and the large student body.

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"Clearly, they're renowned for their ability to manage technology and deliver prompt customer service," says Blaguszewski, adding, "we think it's a great match."

Amazon has prior experience running such storefronts. It expanded into a textbook partnership with University of California-Davis in 2013 and then with Purdue University a year later (Adams, Boston Globe, 1/13).

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