Sun, Sep 18, 2016 - Page 15 News List

Amazon taking over textbooks in campus stores

By Arielle Dollinger  /  NY Times News Service, Stony Brook, NEW YORK

As school started at Stony Brook University this month, two freshmen, Juan Adames and John Taveras, set out to buy textbooks.

They had not heard yet that the bookstore was a books store no more.

This summer, Stony Brook, part of the State University of New York, announced a partnership with online retailer Amazon, now the university’s official book retailer. Students can purchase texts through a Stony Brook-specific Amazon page and have them delivered to campus.

In the campus store where the textbooks used to be, there are now adult coloring books, racks of university-branded polos and windbreakers, and three narrow bookshelves displaying assorted novels. The rest of the store is a vibrant collage of spirit wear and school supplies: backpacks and baseball caps; pompom hats and striped scarves; notebooks and correction fluid. There will soon be a Starbucks.

“I was a bit thrown off by the appearance,” Adames said.

It is a conversation occurring on campuses across the nation: If more and more students are buying and renting their course books online, why do they need a bookstore?

The Queens College bookstore went digital in April, forgoing brick-and-mortar altogether, vice president of student affairs Adam Rockman said.

Students order their books online, then have them shipped to personal addresses or to campus, where they are held until students pick them up.

“There are certainly some growing pains in getting used to it for many students,” Rockman said. “I think the human condition is not to really love change.”

The shift at Stony Brook is an attempt to provide more affordable options to students, vice president for student affairs Peter Baigent said.

Amazon is “more of a marketplace,” where students can comparison shop, he said, as opposed to a conventional, fixed-price store. Eventually, students will be able to order texts for delivery to an Amazon area, which is still under construction, and pick them up from storage lockers.

Amazon Student Programs director Ripley MacDonald said the company was also the primary course materials provider for Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Neither campus has a brick-and-mortar textbook store, and as at Stony Brook, the former bookstore in Amherst now sells novels and campus merchandise, but not textbooks.

Purdue students can still buy textbooks from stores just off campus, including one called University Bookstore.

Other schools are using Amazon as a supplementary course materials provider, MacDonald said.

Amazon has opened pickup locations at 12 universities since last year and will have 17 by the end of this year, he said.

Stony Brook, like other universities working in partnership with Amazon, receives a percentage of the sales taking place on the Amazon site, said Mark Pace, the chief contracts administrator for the university’s Faculty Student Association.

Pace declined to say how much that amounted to, saying it was “proprietary, confidential financial information.”

According to an article by Jeffrey Young in the Chronicle of Higher Education, schools that team up with Amazon receive approximately 2 percent of sales from the online retailer.

Robert Wynkoop, managing director of Purdue University treasurer’s office, told the Chronicle that the school had made US$1 million on the partnership since 2014.

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