The Big Guys Muscle In
Campus store officials say the move to selling textbooks online has been an industry trend pre-dating the Internet startups, such as VarsityBooks.com. Buchs says the national association has been encouraging its members to make textbooks purchasing available online for the past two years.
Firm statistics are hard to find. But Buchs estimates that online sales account for less than 10 percent of the textbook trade. The average college student spends about $270 a semester on textbooks, association figures show.
NACS sponsors a “CourseWeb” project, an e-commerce venture that helps faculty create Web pages linked to a college store. Professors are provided software tools and templates to publish class assignments and textbook lists on campus Web sites. The campus store can install electronic commerce links to the Web pages that allow students to buy books with a credit or a campus debit card.
Dr. Cecilia Rouse, associate professor of economics and public affairs at Princeton University, says the school’s CourseWeb offerings allow her to post much more than textbook information for students.
She often puts problem sets and data for assignments on the site. “I pass the information out, but sometimes students lose their papers, or forget to bring them to class,” Rouse says. “The students can always refer back to the course site.”
Since 1995, the Follett Higher Education Group, an Illinois company specializing in academic services and products, has sold textbooks online through its efollett.com Web site. It has booklists for more than 800 campuses, including the nearly 600 where Follett operates a campus bookstore.
This summer, the group announced a $10 million marketing campaign for efollett.com that includes sponsorship of college football broadcasts on ESPN and Fox Sports Net. The company also aired TV commercials during the last Fiesta Bowl.
Cliff Ewert, a manager with efollett.com, says such media exposure is important to build up brand recognition among students. “When you go on the Internet with a different name [from the retail operation], it’s been very necessary to market that name,” he says.
Follett operates campus bookstores at several HBCUs: Bowie State University, Fisk University, Norfolk State University, Spelman College, Winston Salem State University, Virginia State University, and Coppin State University.
— Ronald Roach
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