As Textbooks Evolve, Group Helps College Stores Adapt

As textbook prices rise and digital options proliferate, the National Association of College Stores is adapting to a future where textbooks play a smaller role in the industry's bottom line.

Who would’ve thought textbooks would give people other than students a headache?

Textbook costs have risen dramatically, sending many students online or off campus in search of affordable options and prompting the National Association of College Stores to develop new ways to help campus stores stay relevant.

College students spend an average of $602 a year for course materials, NACS found in its Student Watch research. Those numbers closely mirrored results from the research firm Student Monitor. For the spring 2016 semester, Student Monitor found that students spent $290 on about four books—pinning the average book cost at close to $70. Textbook prices have increased more than 1,000 percent since 1977, according to NBC News, which reviewed data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

As students struggle with rising academic costs, textbooks are often the last purchase on the list. Students balk at book prices, considering they’re only used for a semester and professors may not require that they read the full text. Frugal students increasingly scour online bookstores and other resources to compare prices, purchase used books, rent books by the semester, or use e-books.

“This is a transformative time in our industry,” NACS outgoing board president Anthony Martin said at this year’s Campus Market Expo.

“Disruption is always the start of progress,” he added.

More than textbooks

NACS is quick to note that college bookstores are about more than textbooks.

“The function of the store has been oversimplified to textbooks,” NACS Chief Executive Bob Walton said to The New York Times, “The store really functions on a variety of levels.” He noted that college stores are a source of school-branded products and offer convenient shopping for students, alumni, and professors.

“If anything’s in danger, I would say the thing that’s probably the danger is that textbooks are going to go away,” Walton told the Times. “The store continues to serve a number of functions that people just don’t recognize.”

Adapting to an increasingly digital marketplace, NACS last year invested in RedShelf, a startup that supplies digital learning materials, to provide electronic textbooks for college students. The new resource sells academic e-books at up to 60 percent off the list price and is featured at physical bookstores for students to use.

“What we saw was a company that shares our commitment to the independent college store,” NACS Deputy CEO Ed Schlichenmayer said in a press release announcing the investment. “It’s a very store-friendly model, with no upfront costs for the store.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story misstated the source of a statistic related to college textbook prices. We regret the error.

Patrick deHahn

By Patrick deHahn

Patrick deHahn is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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