For some unknown reason many people are convinced that only Amazon could open a college bookstore with no books, but that simply isn’t true. Amazon has several competitors currently disrupting the college bookstore industry, including eCampus and textbook distributor MBS Direct.
Owned by B&N founder Len Riggio, MBS Direct offers a virtual bookstore platform which dispenses with a physical location entirely. It has signed private high schools as well as colleges and universities like Liberty University, including most recently Chadron State College in Nebraska.
CSC announced this week that it was opening the virtual bookstore just in time for the fall term. Its previous bookstore operator had been sold, and after investigating the various options CSC concluded that online was clearly the best choice for students.
“We are pleased to be working with MBS Direct and expect to provide students with affordable and reliable service into the future,” said Dale Grant, Chadron State College vice president for administration and finance.
The space occupied by the bookstore in the CSC Student Center will be taken over by, a Chadron, NE -based printing service. It has a contract to operate a store which carries CSC-branded merchandise – but not books. The store will look a lot like a traditional college bookstore – just without the textbooks and class materials.
When it comes to college bookstores Amazon is getting all the press, but what the media isn’t telling you is that the college bookstore industry is facing serious disruption as college students buy more and more stuff online. College bookstores are closing left and right, including a bookstore in the college town where I grew up.
Jayhawk Bookstore has been serving students at Kansas University for decades, but it closed this summer. Its owners noted that instructors have been changing how assign course material for their classes. “There’s also more a drive towards using course packets, smaller chunks of information from different sources,” said Jeff Levin, co-owner of Jayhawk Bookstore.
Levin also reported losing business to online retailers like Amazon. “The landscape of retail in general has been changing, in particular college textbooks. It’s not just traditional textbooks. There are obviously e-books and rental books,” Levin said.
That shift to online retailers has lead a lot of colleges and universities to replace the traditional college bookstore with either an online virtual store or with a book-less pickup location.
As I’m sure you know Amazon has plans for fourteen unstores at US colleges and universities, including most recently at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, but in this area they are dwarfed by eCampus. The latter has a Virtual Bookstore Program which currently serves as the official bookstore for over 150 schools nationwide. Many of the schools went the way of Wilson College, whose bookstore is completely virtual, but others chose to also have an Amazon-style pickup location.
For example, the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee elected to have eCampus put in a virtual bookstore when the vendor won the contract bid last August.
As you can see in the photos, it looks not dissimilar from the Amazon unstores which dot the college landscape. It has kiosks, a service counter, and UPS delivery boxes (in place of Amazon’s delivery boxes).
eCampus promises delivery within two business days (without any pricey membership fees). Students are notified of a textbook’s arrival by email or text message, and they can come to the store to pick up their order before heading off to class.
This, folks, is the future of college bookstores, one where almost everything is bought online and where the college bookstore is reduced to little more than a gift shop and a convenience store.
If you are in love with the idea of bookstores, that might sound frightening. Me, I can recall just how much textbooks cost and how little value I got out of a college bookstore, so it bothers me not at all.