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College Students Are Buying More Course Materials From College Bookstores, and Other Fictions

4240056336_726eeb94a9_oThe National Association of College Stores (NACS) has just released the results of a survey which was conducted by an NACS subsidiary and contains results which will make NACS members very happy.

For that reason, I suggest you trust this report only as far as you can throw me.

I am calling BS on this report because for example, it says more students are buying more course materials from college bookstores than ever before, while at the same time buying less from Amazon:


And another section said that Amazon’s share of the money spent on course materials did not increase over the past year:


While there’s a chance this is true, the data contradicts other trends we have observed in the college retail market, and elsewhere.

All signs point to college bookstores doing less business than in past years, and switching to virtual bookstores run by Amazon, MBS Direct, or eCampus as a way of cutting costs.

Sure, those trends refer to broader college retail while this survey focuses on just the sale of course materials, so both could be true. But even if that is the case the NACS is still guilty of lying with statistics. Focusing on a small niche where the news is good and ignoring the broader market trends presents a distorted view of the market. At the very least it is a lie of omission.

But TBH I don’t think it is a lie of omission; instead I think the entire report is suspect because of the source:

Data from the Student Watch survey was collected by OnCampus Research, the research arm of indiCo, a subsidiary of the National Association of College Stores. More than 41,000 responses were collected for the two-wave study. The margin of error is <1.0 at the 95% confidence level.

This survey report from NACS is as suspect as the report from late last year which claimed that books were getting longer, but for different reasons.

In that earlier case the source of the data was in it for the publicity, but in the case of this report on student buying habits we have what appears to be an industry trade group telling its members what they want to hear.

For that reason, you can’t trust the data.


image by visual.dichotomy



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Gary August 11, 2016 um 1:36 pm

As usual, I am confused about what they are measuring and reporting.

The chart above, for example, shows that "on campus store" gets 68 percent in the fall of 2014, and Amazon gets 48 percent. These add to 116 percent. When you add in the amounts for the other five possibilities, the total reaches 148 percent in the fall of 2014.

So, what, exactly, are they counting? My **guess** is that they asked the survey group: 'Did you buy any "course materials" at the on-campus store?' 'Did you buy anything at an off-capmus store?' 'Did you buy anything at Amazon dot com?' and so on.

If this is what they are counting, the results may well be completely accurate and honest, as well as being completely useless. If 68 percent of the students bought some part of the course materials at the on-campus store and 48 percent of the students bought some course materials at Amazon, what does it tell you? Wouldn’t you care more about how much money each student spends at each vendor?

A student who bought a cheap ballpoint pen, or the professor’s photocopied course notes, at the campus store and all of the course text books at Amazon dot com would count as one campus store customer and one amazon dot com customer, but the amount of money spent at each location would be very different.

Nate Hoffelder August 11, 2016 um 3:55 pm

A different part of the survey said that college bookstores were capturing over 75% of the money spent on course materials, and that Amaozn’s share was shrinking.

I don’t believe that either.

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