To save the campus bookstore, this university took it online

We know that the interest of college students in digital services has the potential to attract the attention of companies. The most recent example is the publication of Giant Pearson’s dip into the world of textbook subscriptions in the hope of making themselves more attractive to students who shop for the best deals.

But what about the bookstores on campus, which are usually built more closely with colleges? How do students compete in an age when they are happy to order what they need online?

The University of Alaska Anchorage received the answer to accommodate the changing times. Now his bookstore space is a go-to place for teachers to get hoodies, snacks and some technical support. But there is a significant absence of one thing – textbooks.

The university relocated to a fully virtual bookstore two years ago, where professors could post their required readings and students could place their orders (or keep shopping nearby). David Weaver, executive director of the university’s campus services, says the change is due to the financial crisis caused by the declining bookstore, leaving affordable textbook options open for students.

“Historically we had a beautiful brick and mortar bookstore,” says Weaver, a space for community lectures and a small Apple store. “The feeling of the place was great for people my age, where it was part of my undergraduate and graduate experience. As time went on, the bookstore came close to breaking down.

The new model, serviced by online bookstore platform Akademos, allows students to view the price of classroom textbooks before registering for class. This service may distribute free educational resources or free textbooks to OER, professors and students. It is also integrated into the university’s payment system, which allows users to charge books on their students’ accounts.

“If we don’t have the lowest cost option for that student, affordability reduces our ability to make money from textbook sales,” says Weaver. “If I have a choice of three sections of course and one has OER and one has $ 200 or $ 300 textbook, I want to know because it is a component of my choice.”

Academos CEO Niraj Qazi predicts that more universities will follow the example of Weaver and his organization. He calls the campus bookstore the “tower record effect,” where ecommerce has made the physical storefront ineffective. Just as streaming and digital sales have led to a decline in stores selling CDs, digital course material has had an impact on bookstores.

“About five to 10 years ago, students started voting with their wallets and they decided to buy their books online,” says Qazi, which has led to a decline in bookstore sales.

Qazi says that five years ago, about 8% of the curriculum material was digital. Now that number has reached 40 per cent and it seems to be growing from there.

The Alaska campus online bookstore frees the university from the complicated exercise of estimating how many physical copies of each book it needs to stockpile. Sending palettes of books to Alaska is not an easy task, and Weaver says it was difficult for the university to comply with the rental of textbooks offered by companies like Cheg, which was increasing its hold on the market. The Campus Book Store had a deficit of millions by 2019, he added, and was looking for a solution.

At the same time, Weaver says university officials were considering the burden of textbooks on students. For example, he says, a student who borrows $ 1,000 annually to cover course materials. Then multiply by four or five years to complete the undergraduate degree.

“If she had come from a more humble working class or working poor family, which many Alaska Anchorage University students have, by the time she repaid her student loans, the textbooks would have gone from $ 4,000 to $ 5,000 to $ 10,000,” says Weaver. “Affordability and transparency, these things outperform everything else. That’s what our students want. “

University statistics support that. A survey released for students this fall found that 89 percent of respondents said they were moderate or very satisfied on the platform. During this session, 40 percent of students purchased their books from online stores, the remaining 60 percent purchased from elsewhere, were assigned OER materials, or did not have the required textbooks. As for the bookstore, it now serves as a typical campus store, and its small footprint has made room for a student registration center.

Beyond affordability, Qazi says shifting to digital curriculum content can help universities intervene with their students in a way that traditional textbooks cannot. Can digital textbooks warn a professor or counselor that a student has not yet opened their textbook, or even indicate where they are struggling?

“If someone doesn’t access the content in seven days, it could be a yellow flag indicator, ‘Is everything alright?'” Says Kazi. “It simply came to our notice then. There is an opportunity to capture great data to help the university. “

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