Book sales at the UConn Co-op have fallen nearly 30 percent from their peak five years ago as students increasingly search to buy textbooks from online retailers, according to bookstore officials.
“It has my attention,” UConn Co-op president Bill Simpson said, noting the rising threat of Amazon and other online services. “It’s not keeping me up at night, but it is a concern.
UConn students have turned to services like Amazon this semester more than ever before to order course materials and other on-campus necessities. UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz told The Daily Campus last week that students have received nearly four-times as many packages as is typical so far this fall.
Of the flood of brown boxes piling up in mailrooms across campus, “about half” came from Amazon, according to assistant director of building services Tracy Cree.
Pointing the finger just at Amazon does not tell the whole story, though. Other factors have contributed to the Co-op’s decline in sales as well, such as faculty members using fewer and cheaper textbooks in their courses and students opting not to buy textbooks altogether, Simpson said.
Furthermore, despite the overall decline in book sales, textbook rentals continue to rise, though at a slower pace than when the program launched four years ago, according to Simpson.
The Co-op acknowledges it is feeling some pressure from the surge of students using Amazon. However, Simpson believes on the whole students still get a better deal from buying the majority of their supplies from the Co-op.
“The reality is that course materials are sort of a specialized area,” Simpson said. “Although, other online retailers are very competitive in certain segments of it, they’re not competitive across the board.”
Simpson said using the Co-op ensures students receive the correct textbooks for a course – especially when multiple editions may be on sale elsewhere – and guarantees instant access to books upon placing an order. He contends these factors keep the Co-op relevant to students despite marginally higher prices in some cases.
In an effort to show students the price gap is not as wide as it is perceived to be, the Co-op plans to unveil an online system to make pricing “more transparent.”
“(Students) will be able to see the many areas where there is little difference between our pricing and online pricing,” Simpson said. “They can make a good judgment about where to purchase the books, and they will be able to purchase from online sources right from our webpage.”
No timetable was given as to when the system would become available to students. It does suggest, however, the Co-op is confident in its ability to compete with any outside retailer.
The long-term implications of the growing role of online booksellers are still unknown. Simpson remains generally optimistic about the Co-op and its central role in providing books and supplies to students on campus.
“It’s difficult for us to measure,” Simpson said. “Although the impact is being felt, it’s not quite as horrific or as bad as some might suggest it is."