“Text books have always been expensive,” says USM student JJ Brewer outside the Portland branch of the USM Bookstore.Coping with the cost has been made easier recently by his professors who have chose more affordable texts, he said.
“I just bought this one for seventeen bucks, so I’m not complaining,” Brewer said.
Nicole Piaget, director of USM’s Portland Bookstore, says “students are shopping around.”
To make sure that students shop at the USM Bookstore, she plans cut overhead costs and work with all parties involved to keep prices low.
Brewer found his book for $17, but other students outside the bookstore who don’t share the same professors say they are increasingly looking to online retailers for their textbooks.
“It’s a challenge – this is a tough time for everyone,” says Piaget. The bookstore is responding to this challenge by taking measures to cut overhead and deliver low prices to students.
All branches of the USM bookstore have suspended hiring new full time staff in favor of filling positions with work study funded students. In addition, Piaget says that empty positions will not be filled for the foreseeable future.
Another way that Piaget says the USM Bookstore is cutting overhead is by reducing hours of operation. She says that the Portland campus will not see its bookstore’s hours reduced but the Gorham branch already has.
Piaget says the bookstore plans to attract students by continuing its ongoing membership in a buying consortium. The USM bookstore is one of 70 in a regional buying consortium that use their collective buying power as a bargaining chip with wholesale booksellers.
Piaget pointed out, however, that the tactic doesn’t work with publishers who rarely, if ever, make any sort of concessions for the consortium.
When it comes to staying competitive with the slew of online booksellers like Amazon and Half, the USM Bookstore has adopted an ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’ strategy.
In line with the mission to provide every book for every class, the bookstore has been able to use Amazon to find obscure books, and Half to sell ‘dead books’ that wholesalers won’t buy.
Dead books used to represent a real monetary loss for the bookstore, but now it can at least recover some of its investments by selling them online.
“Online textbook sales from the USM bookstore website have increased every semester, in spite of the recession,” said Piaget.
She also expects USM branded merchandise to make up ten percent of total sales.
Piaget says that to provide the best service to students, the bookstore will continue to “work closely with faculty to obtain textbook requisitions in order to pay students as much as possible at buyback.”
She says that it makes a big difference when she is able to work with faculty.
In spite of the cost-cutting measures taken by USM Bookstores, Makalya, a USM freshman, says that her books are still so expensive that she has begun to plan her classes around her ability to buy them.
If a class uses a book she can’t afford and she can’t find a copy to borrow, Makalya says she’ll just wait to take the class. She also admits to taking a class with out buying the text but says it “doesn’t work out as well.”
According to Brewer, professors are catching on.
“I think that recently professors are trying more and more to request affordable books for students because they understand that the prices are high,” Brewer said, as he left the bookstore with the one required text for his class.
At least for Brewer, it would seem that the measures taken by his professors and USM’s Bookstores are enough to get him by.