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The Disruption of the College Bookstore Market Enters Phase Three

8021709669_feccd058d9_hTrends and shifts in a market/industry generally go through three stages.

In the first stage, the trend/change is noticed and discussed by insiders. In the second stage, the trend/change is reported by niche publications like this blog.

And then in the third phase, months to a year after the second, the mainstream media notices what is going and covers the story.

The disruption in the college bookstore market has just reached that third stage.

The NYTimes is just beginning to notice what’s going on with college bookstores. They still haven’t grasped the scale of the disruption, including the number of schools which have dumped their bookstores or found another use for the space, but the NYTimes has caught on to Amazon’s growing presence.

There was a story in yesterday’s NYTimes which looked at deals Amazon has struck with US colleges and universities. This includes the unstores Amazon has opened on and new campuses as well as less visible programs:

As school started at Stony Brook University this month, two freshmen, Juan Adames and John Taveras, set out to buy textbooks.

They had not heard yet that the bookstore was a books store no more.

This summer, Stony Brook, part of the State University of New York, announced a partnership with the online retailer Amazon, now the university’s official book retailer. Students can purchase texts through a Stony Brook-specific Amazon page and have them delivered to campus.

In the campus store where the textbooks used to be, there are now adult coloring books, racks of university-branded polos and windbreakers and three narrow bookshelves displaying assorted novels. The rest of the store is a vibrant collage of spirit wear and school supplies: backpacks and baseball caps; pompom hats and striped scarves; notebooks and correction fluid. There will soon be a Starbucks.

“I was a bit thrown off by the appearance,” Mr. Adames said.

It is a conversation occurring on campuses across the country: If more and more students are buying and renting their course books online, why do they need a bookstore?

The Queens College bookstore went digital in April, forgoing brick-and-mortar altogether, Adam L. Rockman, the vice president of student affairs, said. Students order their books online, then have them shipped to personal addresses or to campus, where they are held until students pick them up.

“There are certainly some growing pains in getting used to it for many students,” Dr. Rockman said. “I think the human condition is not to really love change.”

The thing about this piece is that the NYTimes missed half the story. They only talk about Amazon and ignore any other vendor.

For example, they mentioned Queens College bookstore but they don’t bother to discuss the startup running the QC bookstore.

That would be Akademos, a company which I had always associated with digital textbook solutions. It now offers a virtual bookstore platform and has signed deals with at least a half-dozen schools. (They had announced the deals in press releases, but no one was paying attention.)

Akademos offers a more limited solution that MBS Direct or eCampus, each of which want to replace a college bookstore completely while Akademos just wants to solve college students' most critical financial issue – textbooks.

It’s not clear which solution is going to come out on top, but it’s worth keeping all these details in mind the next time we read about B&N Education.

P.S. Also, when Chegg (another startup competing in this market) goes bankrupt, just think of all of these competitors and that bankruptcy will make a lot more sense.

image by Brad Clinesmith

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fjtorres September 17, 2016 um 7:51 pm

How many of those players deal in used textbooks? That is going to be key.

Nate Hoffelder September 17, 2016 um 8:17 pm

eCampus, Amazon, Chegg, for sure.

I’ll check on the rest.

fjtorres September 18, 2016 um 7:51 am

There’s your longterm players.
The rest are chaff.
Until textbook publishers change their pricing and DRM strategies used textbooks will be a key element of the academic market. Any retailer not playing on that side isn’t going to get much traction.

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