MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA Georgetown’s campus bookstore, which possesses an exclusive contract with Follett Corporation, has introduced rental and buyback programs to combat the challenge posed by alternative, affordable online vendors.
MICHELLE XU/THE HOYA
Georgetown’s campus bookstore, which possesses an exclusive contract with Follett Corporation, has introduced rental and buyback programs to combat the challenge posed by alternative, affordable online vendors.

The rise of online bookstores offering students textbooks at lower prices has prompted universities to launch rental and buyback programs in order to compensate for the loss of revenue. Despite their best efforts, however, Georgetown students still view the bookstore as the more overpriced option.

Georgetown’s campus bookstore has entered into an exclusivity contract with its manager provider, Follett Corporation. According to this contract, other rival textbook-selling businesses, such as Amazon and Chegg, are barred from selling or advertising on campus.

“We are the exclusive provider on campus, and we understand that there’s competition and that people have the right to make choices. But we also definitely support the university and the educational mission. We’re very involved with a lot of things on campus,” Georgetown University Campus Bookstore Director Janet Uzzell said.

The tension between online bookstores and campus bookstores reached its peak at Southern Connecticut State University when the university sent a cease-and-desist letter Aug. 29 to Chegg for illegally advertising on its campus.

Chegg Vice President for Communications Usher Lieberman said that the company was founded to create a “disruption” in the textbook industry by giving students more options, which has threatened campus bookstores.

“Simply put, the model that campus bookstores have operated under for a very long time has been put under significant strain because the Internet gives students lots of choices. Students are no longer a captive market, which is great news for the wallets of students and their families,” Lieberman wrote in an email to The Hoya.

According to Uzzell, Georgetown’s bookstore instituted the rental program in 2010 in response to a dip in revenue. Now constituting approximately 45 percent of the bookstore’s sales, the rental program has successfully boosted revenues since.

“That’s why we came up with rental,” Uzzell said. “I think it’s been a benefit for students.”

Uzzell maintained that the bookstore remains an attractive option for students because of the easy availability of books on campus.

“We’re pretty much in stock right now 100 percent,” she said. “If the professor communicated to us what the textbook was, we have the book.”

Shannon McNulty (COL ’16), however, said that the bookstore has not always had the books she needed in stock.

“Sometimes I have books that I can only get at the bookstore because they’re specially ordered, and they’ve gone out of stock, and that’s been a real hassle, because it takes a long time to get them back,” she said.

Despite the presence of their lower-cost options, students still voiced their dissatisfaction with the prices of books offered on campus as well.

“I buy the absolute minimum I can from the Georgetown bookstore, not because of the store itself, but because of the prices. The prices are, frankly, offensively high, like there’s a definite markup,” Ben Card (COL ’17) said.

McNulty agreed.

“The bigger ones, I buy online … They’re really expensive at the bookstore, and you can find them online cheaper,” she said.

Card noted that though he tried to buy as many books online as possible, some books were specific editions he could only obtain through the university.

“Some books — for instance, my Spanish textbook — the bookstore has a definite arrangement with the Spanish department, the administration and the textbook companies, so that’s a special Georgetown University Spanish book, and I have to spend $170 at the bookstore for this book. I can’t shop around,” he said.

Lieberman critiqued this practice as a common tactic used by bookstores to compete with online retailers.

“These custom editions are typically available only in the campus bookstore and again are not materially different than what can be found online for a fraction of the cost,” Lieberman wrote. “In our opinion, this is a shameful practice as it serves only to bolster profits on the back of financially struggling students.”

Hannah Shushtari (COL ’17), said that in her experience, the bookstore prices tend to not vary much from those sold by online sellers, especially paperbacks.

“Honestly, a lot of times, they end up being pretty similar,” Shushtari said. “In terms of paperback novels, the prices don’t really vary.”

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