It’s three weeks into the semester, and the line to purchase books still bends and twists around the bookstore. Sound familiar? The wait time to purchase textbooks is just one of the many concerns expressed recently by Yuba College students and faculty. Price, availability, and wait times to receive textbooks are additional issues.
One of such concerns, expressed by Yuba College students and faculty members, is the amount of books that are available at the bookstore. A Sutter instructor noted that he had a full class with a waiting list, yet there were only three books available on the shelf at the Sutter campus bookstore. To his knowledge, none of his students had purchased their book yet, and his was the only section that required that book, at that campus.
I asked Marylou Brown, Manager of Yuba College Bookstore, which is contracted to Follett Corp., to address the above issue: “In regards to the Sutter facility, we have found that a large number of Sutter students are purchasing their textbooks from the Yuba campus prior to the first day of class.” Regarding the specific Sutter class noted above, Marylou Brown said, “We sold over 50 copies of the Statistics book from December 31, 2012 to January 18, 2013, but only two of these sales occurred at the Sutter campus. One more text sold in Sutter the following week, even though we transferred several more there on January 17th. We did not run short of that textbook until January 25th, and only three additional orders have been requested.”
Yuba College Instructor and Senate President John Steverson has expressed frustration with the bookstore’s buying practices, “Follett continually orders a tiny fraction of the books we need for our classes. Their reason is that “we know students are going to order books online”. He continued, “This is likely a good business practice to cut unnecessary expenses, but the Yuba College and Woodland Community College bookstores don’t exist to maximize profit for Follett Corp. They exist to serve the students of our district, and they have been failing in this task miserably for years. The bookstore is one of our students’ first experiences with our colleges. It’s not making a very good first impression for us.”
Marylou Brown’s rebuttal to the availability issue is that there are many considerations that go into filling adoptions. Adoptions are the amount of books required by instructors, based on how many students that have signed-up for their class. Marylou Brown tries to order them from multiple sources: the publisher, wholesale and buy-backs from students. “We look at the trends,” she said. “How many books were ordered last semester. Is this a new book or new edition? If an instructor has a compelling reason for wanting us to order a certain amount of books, we will meet with the instructor to discuss options. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out how many books to order. The amount of books that are purchased by the students at the bookstore seems to depend on whether the book is actually used in class. If it isn’t used, the sales will reflect that.”
Another concern is that when students order a book online and prepay they are unable to take a book off the shelf at the bookstore if one is available. They must wait until the book they ordered arrives or repay for the same book and await a credit when their book arrives.
Steverson recently worked with a student to resolve an issue of this nature. “I spent some time with a student today, discussing her textbook dilemma. The Yuba College bookstore didn’t have her book, so they ordered it. Now, they have her book, but can’t cancel her order, so she can’t have the one off the shelf unless she’s willing to pay for it and return the ordered book for a refund once it arrives. Also, they can’t seem to locate her order, but, they won’t refund her money.”
Brown responded that this issue was not due to a policy or common practice. “In questioning my associates, there were several occasions where we gave students the textbook in stock and returned the online text to the shelf when it arrived, no refunds were necessary.”
“If there are no books on the shelf, ask someone at the bookstore”, Marylou said. “Sometimes we have an order coming in or we can pull the book from another area. If a student prepays for a book, they can have it sent two day priority, at no additional cost. If we already have an order placed, a student can give us their name and phone number. We will reserve the book for them and call them when it arrives, no prepaying necessary.”
A quick survey of students on campus to see where they purchase their textbook and why revealed that students buy their books from a range of resources — including the bookstore. Israel Smith stated that he purchases all of his books online because they are cheaper. Uriel Salazar purchases his books from the bookstore because his books are automotive specific. Salazar states that the bookstore usually has books in stock, but occasionally he has had to wait a few days for an order. Aleighna Souza also purchases her books online because they are cheaper. She claims to have purchased from the bookstore only once. The common theme for purchasing textbooks online from alternate sources seems to be price.
Addressing the concern over price, Marylou Brown notes that the role of the bookstore has changed. Their new role is to provide options. One of the cheaper ways to get textbooks is to rent used textbooks. This is the cheapest route upfront. However, if a student has the financial means to purchase a textbook, they can sell it back during finals week for half of what they paid.
In closing, Marylou Brown provided me with this quote from Thomas A. Christopher, President of Follett Higher Education Group: “At a time when other companies are scaling back, Follett is investing heavily in forward-looking initiatives that are designed to drive down the cost of course materials. Through initiatives like Rent-A-Text and CaféScribe, Follett is pioneering a bookstore of choices that provides students with the greatest number of online and instore options for affordable textbooks.”
However, Follett Corp.’s contract with Yuba College may end soon. Steverson noted, “Last year, Yuba College extended Follett’s contract for a year so that they could investigate another way to run the bookstore.” To address all of the Yuba College bookstore concerns, a committee has been formed. As of yet, no final decisions have been made.