Buying books: Why on-campus bookstore prices differ from online options

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By: Logan Peterson, petersonlo@mnstate.edu

According to an online poll by The Advocate on social media, 18.5 percent of 46 respondents use the campus bookstore to buy their class materials.

Some students think that this low number is due to the bookstore’s pricing. Zepherian Richardson, a senior majoring in English writing, said he doesn’t like to buy his books on campus.

“The bookstore is my last resort because it is very expensive,” he said.

Richardson also said he thinks younger students, mainly freshmen, buy their books on campus because it is convenient, and they are not aware of better options online.

Lee Muellenbach, a senior majoring in psychology, said that she prefers the bookstore over other options.

“I think [I like] the convenience factor of not having to think about returning it through packaging and all that, just being able to pick it up from the bookstore,” Muellenbach said.

She also pointed to the bookstore’s new feature that compares prices at the bookstore to other online options, and said that, at least in her experience, the prices at the bookstore were cheaper than the options presented in the comparison tool.

Kim Samson, the director of the MSUM bookstore, said that they are competitive for some textbooks, but others are more expensive because they aren’t available online, or they are custom books. She said a lot comes down to the student’s specific field of study.

Samson said that the bookstore has lost a significant amount of market share due to Amazon and other online retailers. Instead of being upset by this change in landscape, Samson said this change has led to the bookstore providing better service for students.

“It’s just a reality, and it’s put us on our tip-toes,” Samson said. “We have to be better at what we do.”

Susan Knoeppe, the accounting supervisor and assistant manager at the bookstore, said, “There’s a lot of misconception about the bookstore … our hands are tied as far as what we charge. We charge based on what the publishers charge.”

According to Samson, another reason bookstore prices are sometimes higher than other online options is counterfeit textbook sellers. These third parties reprint textbooks without paying royalties or other fees to the copyright holders and sell the books through online marketplaces.

In January 2017, the Financial Times reported that Pearson Education, Cengage Learning and McGraw Hill Education, three of the biggest textbook manufacturers in the nation, were suing over 100 counterfeit book sellers on Amazon.

Samson said that because the bookstore must confirm the books they sell are legitimate and coming from the actual publishing house, they are not always at the same price-point as these illegal sellers.

Unlike other colleges, MSUM’s bookstore is independently operated and owned by the school. Most other bookstores are leased by chained operators, and a portion of their sales go to third-party businesses. All profits from the MSUM bookstore go to administration and operating costs at the store itself. They receive no state funding.

“It’s kind of nail-biting for me, but it’s a business,” Samson said. “We used to have 13 employees, and now we have four. My people have to work really hard for what they earn here.”

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