As Welcome Week’s festivities come to a close this week, students around the country of every academic stripe are facing the same sobering experience: buying textbooks.
This year, in Ann Arbor, one campus landmark is nothing but an empty storefront.
For 29 years, Shaman Drum Bookshop, known for its selection of specialty English and history texts, had been a staple for students purchasing books for class and for leisure.
On June 30, Shaman Drum fell victim to a changing sales enviroment in the textbook industry, brought on primarily by the Internet, that has hurt independent bookstores across the country.
With Shaman Drum leaving the campus textbook market, other bookstores have been left to pick up the slack.
Michigan Book and Supply added an entire wall of English books that had not been sold there in previous years. Evan Lee, an employee, said Shaman Drum’s closing was the reason behind the addition of new inventory.
Many of the books Shaman Drum typically carried were for obscure and advanced courses. Often, professors for these courses would only give their book lists to Shaman Drum. As a result of the surge in orders of these types of books from professors, Michigan Book and Supply ran out of plastic sleeves used to hold the cards that identify books for specific courses.
However, not all professors chose to continue ordering books through local stores.
“Quite a few more students have come in asking for books that were not ordered,” Lee said. The students “were told (by their professors) they could be ordered online.”
This trend has become more common in recent years, with the increasing tendency of professors to post textbook requirements early on CTools, Wolverine Access and the UBook program offered by the Univeristy.
Additionally, students often look online or to their peers for lower prices even before they return to Ann Arbor in the fall.
Shaman Drum owner Karl Pohrt contends that these developments contributed to his store’s downfall.
“My sense was it was decided to put everything online to make it easier for students,” Pohrt said. He also said he understood “the idea that it was going to make buying textbooks cheaper.”
Business sophomore Sara Jablow said Shaman Drum was useful for finding specialty and humanities books, but she ultimately avoided the store because of its high prices.
“Now people just have to buy their books online,” she said. “Which is still easy and usually cheaper anyway.”
But despite the wide availability of books online, many students still prefer to purchase their books at a store where they know they are guaranteed to find the right edition and text.
“It’s tough to get the right books when there are a lot of editions of the same one online,” LSA sophomore Nicole Simovski said. “Plus buying the books at a store like Shaman Drum was much easier than spending a ton of time scouring the Internet and hoping the book I ordered was in good shape.”
Due to increasing complaints about the financial burden textbooks place on students, some faculty like Ray McDaniel, an English lecturer, have opted to use only materials that can be accessed by the faculty and students for free.
“I no longer use textbooks of any kind in any of my classes,” said McDaniel. “My students reported the financial burden as unbearable. I now only use materials that are either in the public domain or held in creative commons.”
McDaniel’s attitude signifies not only a change in the textbook environment on campus, but also demonstrates the very behavior that Pohrt said contributed to Shaman Drum’s demise.
Pohrt said the loss of Shaman Drum’s textbook sales, as well as the store’s other offerings, will have a negative impact on campus. He said the community will also miss the author readings and workshops it once hosted and the artsy flare the shop provided on State Street.
“I argued that it was good to have a store like that because it made it a more vibrant and intellectual community in Ann Arbor.”
In the wake of Shaman Drum’s closing, Pohrt uses the bookstore’s website to urge the community to support other independent bookshops in Ann Arbor, like Crazy Wisdom and Vault of Midnight, in light of the troubles independent bookstores are facing.
Because they were not involved in the textbook industry, these other local businesses have not faced the same problems that doomed Shaman Drum.
In an effort to keep Shaman Drum’s presence on campus, Pohrt applied for nonprofit status with the IRS in March 2008, planning to re-brand the business as the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center. With the nonprofit status, he would have been eligible for government grants and tax-deductible donations.
He was granted the nonprofit status, but the business went under before he could follow through with his original goals. However, his statement on the shop’s website indicates that he still intends to pursue the Arts Center but as a separate venture.