It may be best known for its maze of piled textbooks, cramped rooms, long lines at the beginning of the semester, high prices, exclusive books and no-buyback policy, but Shaman Drum is quickly earning itself a new reputation as the most student-friendly bookstore in town. While students, lawmakers and universities have been working to lower the financial burden of buying textbooks, bookstores have largely been absent from the list of concerned parties. Shaman Drum is making a good effort to fix this problem by working with student interns and considering a switch to a nonprofit business model. The next step is a student-run bookstore.

Tom Haynes

The student internship program is one of the most student-friendly things Shaman Drum has done recently. Organized with the Michigan Student Assembly, the program offered two students unpaid internships at the store during the fall semester. The students’ goal: learn about prices from the owners’ side and use that experience to craft solutions.

Obviously, Shaman Drum had its own reasons for offering these positions. It hoped to debunk the image of the college bookstore as a place that rips off students. But overall this was the transparent look at the store, not a propaganda scheme. That’s more than most bookstores can say.

More important than the store’s internships is the store’s stated goal of going nonprofit. If it does change its business model, one of two good things for students could happen. First, the store’s current profit and savings from lower taxes could go toward lower textbook prices – exactly what students want. If prices don’t go down, though, students can be assured that Shaman Drum isn’t ripping them off. While this might be a consolation prize, a little piece of mind is valuable.

Shaman Drum’s newfound engagement with students is nearing a textbook solution that has been a long time coming at the University: a student-run bookstore. This model is the ultimate incorporation of students into the textbook business. Previously, the University created a non-profit, student-run store in 1969. That store remained in operation until 1985, when the Michigan Union Director Frank Cianciola ran it out of business by refusing to allow the floundering U-Cellar to sell University apparel.

Although the high price of textbooks may be caused mostly by publishers, a student-run bookstore would have every incentive to keep book prices as low as possible, something the Barnes and Noble that replaced U-Cellar doesn’t have. Certainly students are capable of running one – they already run the student book exchange, which offers some of the lowest prices for books each year. A non-profit bookstore not only provides a source for cheaper textbooks, but it forces other area bookstores to follow suit.

Overall, students’ best option is still buying their textbooks on the Internet. But for those who don’t and for those classes that maybe buying from campus bookstores is a necessity, non-profit stores can be more responsive to students’ concern. Shaman Drum is leading the way. A student-run bookstore should follow.

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