Welcome to our fourth installment of Textbook Wisdom, the Foreword Online series devoted to speaking directly to faculty about how the course material industry affects the classroom. This week's article discusses the advantages of encouraging students to use the official school bookstore. Share it on social media; send the link to faculty. Bridge the gap between educators and collegiate retailers.
I am going to make a shameless pitch for your school’s official bookstore, and I am not objective. I work for a major course material distributor — one that primarily trades used books and partners with college stores nationwide. Call it bias or call it an informed perspective: I have insight into the course material industry I didn’t have while working as a college instructor. There are things I’ve learned that I wish I’d known then. So, hear me out.
You’ve probably noticed that many of your students order their required books from off-campus, online vendors. When my semester started, I inevitably had students who told me they were still awaiting delivery of their texts. They seemed to expect that I wouldn’t assign anything from the book until the materials had arrived — no matter how long it took. When a critical mass of students had this expectation, there was little I could do but adapt.
Some teachers believe official bookstores gouge students. They actually discourage kids from purchasing locally and make a point of including only the ISBN on their syllabi so that students can shop for bargains easily online.
That’s wrong-headed. Here’s what your official campus bookstore offers that can’t be found with an outside vendor:
Convenience — The best way to avoid having to shuffle your calendar around because your students still don’t have their books — three weeks into the semester! — is to encourage them to use the official campus bookstore. The books will be available before class begins, and the associates will help ensure they find the right title and the right edition. A lot of students don’t know an ISBN from an OMG.
Counterfeit protection — Textbooks are big business. Consider how much a $200 math book is truly worth when, say, 200 universities adopt the book for 500 or more students each. Where currency like that exists, so does counterfeit. And, the number of counterfeit books has grown in recent years. A student shopping online is likely to go for the lowest possible price. When a “new” $200 book is priced online at $20, the likelihood that it might be counterfeit is high. Your official campus bookstore recognizes marketplace risks and takes care to avoid purchasing fakes.
Expertise — The course material industry is complicated. Ordering books isn’t just about ordering books anymore. There is an abundance of options: rental, digital, OER, print or used. All of these represent ways you can truly save your students money, if you work a little harder to find titles available in low-cost formats. Your official campus bookstore has people on hand who can guide you through that process. Forming a positive relationship with a textbook manager can help your students much more than simply putting an ISBN on a syllabus.
Campus and student support — Many official campus bookstores funnel their profits directly back into student services. Some support free shipping on textbooks. Some help pay for the student union. Some even turn their revenues into scholarships for needy students. Even if money isn’t fed back to students directly, the official bookstore usually supports the university as a whole in some way. That means it’s related to helping you keep your job — and to helping your campus thrive.
For all of the above reasons, you should encourage your students to use the official school bookstore. Advising students to shop locally nourishes all members of your academic community.