Discovery: The Campus Bookstore Model Is Broken. Why?

December 5, 2018

We all know the campus bookstore and being shocked at the top sticker price of course materials. The prices seem like they continue to rise year after year. Students are in a tight spot. Either pay the high price, turn elsewhere to the open market, or not buy at all. The dilemma puts students and the institution at risk.

It’s becoming harder to ignore — the campus bookstore model is broken and the days of high-priced course materials are coming to an end.

To find out why I checked in with Sarah Riddlebarger our Vice President of Product and Strategy. Sarah takes the front seat in watching the higher ed market and drives Ed Map’s OPENVUE® platform to get course materials at the right price, at the right time, to the right students. She knows her stuff.

A quick history lesson. After WWII, students flooded into higher education. There was a boom in student enrollment on campuses across the country that would continue to rise for decades. And during this climb, a partnership formed between publishers, institutions, faculty, and campus bookstores to deliver vetted, peer-reviewed textbooks at scale, to students. The campus bookstore was the only option. Student’s paid the price. It became the tradition.

Now, with the issue of higher education affordability, students and institutions are at risk. In fact, when you look at the numbers, the traditional campus bookstore is not helping students achieve success. The data* shows that close to 50% of students take fewer courses, around 25% have dropped courses, and 20% report failing a course because textbooks were too expensive and they couldn’t afford them. That’s not good.

Fortunately, times have changed, and institutions have realized the traditional campus bookstore model is broken. But how did we get here? Let’s look at the contributing factors:

The Captive Market
Students (the buyers) don’t get to choose the textbooks – the faculty does. And the price of course materials isn’t even on the radar for most professors. So students buy textbooks at prices they can’t control, and they often have to use their financial aid to do so. The captive market resulted in inflated prices and contributed to the student loan crisis. That’s an expensive burden for students.

Selling and Buying Used Books
Students looked for an option to save money. They started selling and buying used books. But campus bookstores got into the game, making huge margins on turning a book several times – and went even further with the development of the textbook rental model. Publishers responded by putting content on proprietary digital platforms to circumvent rent and used.

Students Miss Out
And the big thing no one wants to discuss? Campus bookstores structured a model where they make more money on expensive textbooks – at the expense of students in the captive market. Contributing to students not being able to afford, and ultimately pass on buying, their needed course materials.

Today, students and institutions are seeing a tipping point in higher education. And things are changing for the better. With access to the web, the rise of the open educational resource (OER) movement, and publishers willing to be creative with new business models, more and more institutions are making a move beyond the traditional college bookstore.

Want to learn more? Ed Map’s happy to guide you with the discovery (CURATE by Ed Map), management (OPENVUE®), and access (ALL IN MODEL – AIM) to quality and engaging course materials. Let us help you lower the costs of course materials and improve outcomes at your institution!

Mark Christensen

Senior Director of Marketing

Mark Christensen has worked in K–12 and higher education in various roles throughout his career from teacher to administrator to ed-tech marketing communications. He currently works with Ed Map, helping institutions navigate today’s dynamic and changing content landscape. He holds his MBA in Marketing from Rivier University and his Ed.D. in Curriculum & Technology from Plymouth State University/Argosy.

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