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Shifting trends in college books

At George Fox, bookstore sees rentals increase, sales shift to online


The business of textbooks has changed. With the start of the spring semester at George Fox University, book store manager John Stewart noticed some drastic changes.

“Forty percent of our textbook sales are actually rentals,” Stewart said.

That’s up from 5 percent when rentals were first offered in 2009.

“For most of the students it’s if they are books that are not in their chosen discipline, they will rent them, because they won’t keep them in their library, so it doesn’t make sense for them to buy them,” he said.by: GARY ALLEN - Changing market - At George Fox University, book rentals are becoming increasingly popular. John Stewart, bookstore manager, said he thinks eventually the majority of students will rent in lieu of purchasing textbooks.

It’s also cheaper for everyone involved.

“It can save the student up to 30 to 50 percent a semester if they rent,” Stewart said. “If they rent basically they’re getting that buyback value upfront. They’ve saved that much money that they would’ve gotten in buyback.”

Buyback is when the bookstore will buy back student’s textbooks for a percentage of what they spent on them. But there’s some risk involved with buying books. Often, a professor will select a different title, or newer edition of a textbook, decreasing the buyback value.

“(If a professor selects a different title) then it goes to market value;, those books only get you a buck or two back,” he said.

Renting eliminates this gamble.

“Our goal is to have the majority be rentals rather than purchases because it’s a good deal for us too. It’s a win-win for both of us,” Stewart said. “It saves the student money and saves us money because we take that book back and can re-rent it to another student.”

Retaining books also reduces shipping costs for the university, something that’s been increasing with the popularity of online sales.

“We started our bookstore website back in 2001 and just progressively have gotten more and more and more orders,” he said. “This semester there were over 900 online orders for the semester, which is big.”

Despite a handful of students buying from outside retailers like Amazon, Stewart said most students buy from the school.

“What we’re finding is students are not happy with the results (of offsite purchases). They’re getting the wrong books so they’re coming to us to get them,” he said. “Most of our students are pretty savvy with online and realize it’s a better deal. They’re getting the right book and know they have a guarantee if the books changes, they can always bring it back and exchange it. So we’re kind of winning back the marketplace.”

The other trend Stewart noticed was the attempt to switch-over to e-books.

“It has not taken off as everyone expected. People really like to have a physical book, even our incoming freshmen out of high school prefer to have the book,” he said. “I think particularly the textbook industry was a little premature in that move.”

Regardless of the new trends, Stewart said the bookstore tries whatever it can to stay connected with students.

“We want their loyalty and we want them as customers,” he said. “We’re doing whatever it takes and fortunately it seems to be working.”



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