It's called a campus bookstore, but no books are in it

Brick-and-mortar bookstores are being stocked with school supplies and apparel instead of texts

Some colleges are turning to digital marketplaces as their primary textbook providers, shifting the purpose of the campus bookstore. 

This summer, Stony Brook University (SBU) announced a partnership with Amazon that allows students to purchase textbooks through a special SBU Amazon page and have books delivered to campus. Students will eventually be able to order books to an Amazon area for delivery and pick them up from storage lockers. SBU's campus store now carries items such as university-branded apparel and school supplies.

Other institutions, including Queens College, Purdue University, and the University of Massachusetts Amherst have nixed their brick-and-mortar campus bookstores. And some colleges use Amazon as an ancillary course materials provider, says Ripley MacDonald, director of Amazon Student Programs.

Peter Baigent, vice president for student affairs at SBU, says the university partnered with Amazon to offer students more affordable options. But the collaboration benefits institutions as well, with colleges that partner with Amazon earning a percentage of the sales that take place on the website.

Bob Walton, chief executive of the National Association of College Stores, notes that some problems can arise with remote suppliers, such as incorrect orders as complications with reimbursement and book buyback systems.

However, Walton says, textbooks are not the main selling point for campus bookstores, and the focus has been shifting toward other uses for the facilities. 

"If anything's in danger, I would say... [it is] that textbooks are going to go away," he says. "The store continues to serve a number of functions that people just don't recognize."

Writing for Education Dive, Jarrett Carter notes that the trend toward online booksellers could be extended to other types of partnerships. For example, major corporations could operate their own kiosks on campus or provide services directly.

"In an era where campuses are looking at all ways to monetize campus operations, this may be the next wave of revenue bearing enterprise for higher education," he writes (Dollinger, New York Times, 9/16; Carter, Education Dive, 9/16).


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