Barnes and Noble is charging students more than Co-op did, price analysis shows

The Co-op’s most expensive calculator was the TI-NSPIRE CX Graphing Calculator, which included a computer algebra system and sold for $149.99. Barnes and Noble’s most similar model, the TI-89 Titanium, currently costs $189.99, up to $50 more than retailers like Target and Best Buy charge online.  Price analysis shows this trend for other items as well. (File Photo/The Daily Campus)

Students started the semester with a smaller selection and higher prices at the University of Connecticut’s new Barnes and Noble, according to comparison between current floor prices and the former Co-op’s financial records.

Price increases have been most noticeable on items Barnes and Nobles considers nonessential for students, said a bookstore employee who requested to remain anonymous. Rugs that used to cost $19.99 are now going for $59.99, while calculators are up to $40 more a piece, they said.

“When the university replaced the Co-op, they promised the students that there would be no price increases on necessary supplies,” the anonymous employee said. “These differences should have been obvious to the university even before the committee chose Barnes and Noble, it’s corporate pricing. All items are listed online, it’s the same pricing and selection for every single one of their college locations.”

If you're using a mobile device, switch to landscape mode to view the entire graphic below:

The Co-op’s most expensive calculator was the TI-NSPIRE CX Graphing Calculator, which included a computer algebra system and sold for $149.99. Barnes and Noble’s most similar model, the TI-89 Titanium, currently costs $189.99, up to $50 more than retailers like Target and Best Buy charge online.  

When the university replaced the Co-op, they promised the students that there would be no price increases on necessary supplies.
— Anonymous bookstore employee

UConn memorabilia like shirts, hats and hoodies appear to be similarly priced at Barnes and Noble, according to the Co-op’s financial documents. There may be fewer low-cost items like $9 t-shirts for students on a budget, however, said the anonymous bookstore employee.  

While students and professors are concerned that art supply prices have as much as tripled due to Barnes and Noble considering them “novelties,” said the bookstore employee, changes vary depending on the product. Paintbrushes, for example, are now sold for $2.99 each compared to $1.99 at the Co-op, but poster boards that once went for $1.69 are now sold for as little as $.68.

Barnes and Noble spokesperson Carolyn Brown did not respond to request for comment in time for publication. Local manager Leonard Oser and UConn spokesperson Stephanie Reitz declined to comment on how Barnes and Noble’s services differ from that of its predecessor, however Reitz said that Barnes and Noble will offer scholarships to students in the future.

Barnes and Noble offers a smaller selection of goods because products like swim goggles, chairs and fans that students had previously been able to purchase at the Co-op aren’t part of a traditional bookstore’s catalogue, said Timothy Dzurilla, who was appointed president of the Co-op to oversee the final phrases of corporate dissolution.

"They’re not just purchasing for one location here, the way that they make their money is through economy of sale,” Dzurilla, a political science PhD student at UConn, said.

It can be difficult to make direct price comparisons because Barnes and Noble sells different quantities of products from different suppliers, Dzurilla said. For example, while the Co-op sold loose pens, Barnes and Noble may sell a four pack of a different brand, which would result in different prices.

Additionally, even if Barnes and Noble’s prices are higher than the Co-op’s, students may not actually be paying more due to the accessibility online shopping outlets like Amazon.

"If pens are more expensive here, people will just buy them somewhere else. So even if pens cost more that doesn't mean that students are spending more,” Dzurilla said.

The main difference between Barnes and Noble’s and the Co-op’s pricing philosophy come down the competing interests of for-profit and non-profit companies, said Joe Sweet, former chief financial officer of the Co-op. While Barnes and Noble is legally obligated to pursue the highest margins for its shareholders, the Co-op’s only mission was to cover its own expenses and serve the student body.

“A co-op is a member owned not-for-profit, so the students were essentially the owners of the Co-op and it was majority student governed,” Sweet said. “When we were making positive returns, we were giving returns back to students in the form of lower prices.”

In the end, this may have been what resulted in the Co-op being replaced, said David Anzini, a former Co-op student board member.

“What it came down to at the end of the day was that we weren’t offering the school as much money as Barnes and Noble was and the school was already in a rut because they lost money from the state,” Anzini said.

Without the Co-op, students may miss out on reduced prices on memorabilia at secret sales, community events, custom class packets and employment opportunities, Anzini said.

“We knew there were kids who didn’t get work study and if they showed up and came to the Co-op we’d do what we could to place them within the Co-op to give them some work, that’s obviously something they’re not going to do because they’re in it for the profit,” Anzini said. “It’s just a store and the only way a student can be involved is if they shop at it.”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.