Starting fall 2018, the University of Michigan will partner with Barnes & Noble College on a new textbook supplier program that works to increase convenient textbook purchases, rentals and returns on campus. The partnership will also reportedly assist students with textbook affordability and provide various price options for conditions of returned books.
The program will make Barnes & Noble the primary textbook dealer for the University, requiring the retailer to stock all textbooks and materials requested by professors for their classes. Students will be able to search for their textbooks through an online portal and ship the required texts either to their home or to the two Barnes & Noble bookstore locations on campus — the current store in Pierpont Commons and the new store in the Michigan Union after the renovations are completed in winter term 2020.
Students can receive free shipping if books are shipped to the brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble locations on campus, and if students complete returns through the physical stores, students will not be charged for shipping the books back from the store.
Susan Pile, senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services, commented on the process of establishing the new program with Barnes & Noble, noting many factors such as student and faculty input and affordability concerns went into developing the program.
“We were hearing from CSG and other students whose concerns about textbook affordability,” Pile said. “We were also nearing the end of our contract with Barnes & Noble with the closure of the Michigan Union and I think we started to hear from some faculty that the current system for them to select options and make their course material selections and for students to get the books in their hands was also hearing some challenges so I think sort of three things came together at once.”
LSA sophomore Zainab Imami said she has had issues with expensive textbook purchases at on-campus bookstores and experienced difficulty finding the correct edition of a textbook online.
“Usually using the regular campus bookstores, the textbooks are really expensive especially compared to renting them or getting them off Amazon,” Imami said. “But then with renting them, you have to send them back eventually also and then when you can’t find a book or the new edition, that’s also frustrating.”
However, the new shipping program means textbooks will not be housed in the Barnes & Noble locations, but rather everything will be ordered and paid for through the portal and shipped to the desired location. Associate University Registrar Kortney Briske played a hand in the decision to partner with Barnes & Noble, considering the technological implications of a fully online system.
Briske said the ability for professors to weigh their textbook options and merge their Wolverine Access pages with the Barnes & Noble website will be beneficial for both students and faculty.
“This system actually gives the faculty member options and it will display prices and different versions of the books,” Briske said. “If the faculty (member) has a specific textbook in mind and it’s very expensive, they can see that price and they might (think) ‘Gosh, that’s a lot of money’ and the system will display other similar textbooks that might be cheaper that would then give the faculty member to choose something different.”
Given the second Union storefront won’t be open until the Union renovations are complete, Pile said her office is looking into establishing a temporary Central Campus location for next fall to house the shipment facility. She also addressed the potential lines with students ordering their textbooks the first week or two on campus, claiming the online payment system should shorten delays.
“I feel confident in (Barnes and Noble’s) ability to meet those needs and do that in an expeditious manner and I think the student experience when they actually come in on-site to pick up, it’s really a matter of seconds for that transaction,” Pile said. “It’s really verifying who you are and then retrieving the box of books that you’ve ordered … It should go actually pretty quickly for students.”
According to the program description, condition options will be provided so students can choose whether they want to buy as new, used, rental, or digital download packages. An additional up-front “buy-back” price allows students to plan on how much they will receive if they want to sell their books back to Barnes & Noble after the semester, in an effort to help students structure finances and seek out the best deal on a consistently large expense.
Imami said this function of the partnership makes the system much more appealing for students who are looking to improve textbook affordability.
“If I have the option to look and compare (prices) and then it gets shipped to Barnes & Noble and I can go pick it up, that would be great. It makes a lot of things easier,” Imami said.
Pile said this system matches up with current student buying practices — looking online and hunting for the best deal. While a concern about what this partnership will mean for current competitor stores like Ulrich’s, which still houses textbooks in-store, is present, Pile explained students still have the option to shop where they please.
“What we’ve seen over the last several years is students shifting their buying habits from buying textbooks in a storefront off of a shelf to shopping around online and the Internet allows them to shop around and price compare so they’re using lots of different sites to figure out where they can get the best deal on a book,” Pile said. “Students will still have options to shop around. We hope that they use this system and work with Barnes & Noble, but they’ll have options to go where they like to and purchase their books.”
From the faculty side, Briske said faculty can also continue existing relationships with local stores instead of forcing all faculty to utilize the new system.
“There still will be opportunities for faculty to do work with local bookstores,” Briske said. “Those options will still be available.”
Pile emphasized how optimistic the University is for the partnership’s effectiveness and its ties to affordability.
“We’re excited about the future,” Pile said. “I think it’s going to address student needs, faculty needs and campus needs in a way that is a pretty creative, innovative solution and keeping affordability at the core.”