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The Georgetown University Bookstore was busy this year. Bustling with students just returning to the Hilltop, it reported a successful back-to-school season, with faculty order numbers up 3 to 4 percent from last year. However, despite the bookstore’s high numbers, several professors are finding creative alternatives to help their students save a little money.

The university bookstore is owned by Follett Higher Education Group, and according to Follett’s communications office, nearly all professors order their course materials through the bookstore.

“All professors are asked to order from the bookstore,” they reported in an e-mail from Jim Kuhlman, director of bookstores at Georgetown. “In return, Follett supplies a commission back to the university, which holds down tuition increases to students.”

Elio Distaola, director of public and campus relations at Follett Higher Education Group, said in February that the bookstore sells at the suggested retail price of the publishers or at built-in pre-prices.

“Our pricing is controlled by our contract with the university and is constantly audited,” Follett’s communication office said.

But some professors offer students other options to look elsewhere than the notoriously high-pricing bookstore. Arik Levinson, an associate professor in the economics department, ordered a textbook for his Principles of Microeconomics course through the university bookstore, but also presented other options to his students.

In an e-mail sent out over the summer, Levinson told students they could either buy a new copy of the latest edition of the book, a used copy of that same edition from the Georgetown Bookstore, or they could “save piles of money by finding a used copy of the 7th or 8th editions.”

“Economists believe in choice; I’m giving you choices,” Levinson said.

While Follett said that one of the bookstore’s advantages is that it provides a “one-stop shop that is convenient for all students to purchase their academic needs,” Vincent Miller, an associate professor in the theology department, sends his students elsewhere.

Though he ordered most of the books for his courses through the Georgetown Bookstore, he had students find the text of one book at ecoBrain.com, a Web site that supports environmentally friendly e-books.

“I chose ecoBrain.com for one book in particular that focuses on calculating the environmental footprint of consumption decisions. The site offers electronic versions of print books. This was appealing because it foregrounds the issue of the origins and impact of the book itself as a material object,” he explained.

Other professors look to local bookstores. For her entire career at Georgetown, Libbie Rifkin, an adjunct assistant professor in the English department, has exclusively ordered books through Bridge Street Books on Pennsylvania Avenue in Georgetown.

She said the small, intimate nature of the local bookstore separates it from the larger, university-style stores.

“I’m sure [the Georgetown Bookstore] probably could do all of it, but I just knew that Bridge Street could do it,” she said. “It was just that personal relationship, none of the paperwork, none of the bureaucracy, and the immediate feedback on the availability and all that kind of stuff, and their knowledge of the field in which I teach, which is 20th-century American poetry,” she said.

Philip Levy, the owner of Bridge Street Books, estimates that around five Georgetown professors ordered books through him this fall.

Tod Linafelt, an associate professor in the theology department, has ordered books through Bridge Street for about the past six years, though this year he is teaching at Loyola College in Baltimore, Md., as a visiting professor.

“For my first couple of years at Georgetown, I had a lot of the problems that many faculty have with the campus bookstore – not getting books in, or getting them late, or getting the wrong books,” he explained.

Furthermore, Linafelt said “the last straw” for him was when he found that one of the books he ordered was priced higher than the list price.

“So, for the last six years or so, I have been using [Bridge Street Books] instead of the campus store. They are very reliable and charge a fair price, and there is the added bonus of supporting a real neighborhood business,” Linafelt said. “Local bookstores are a dying breed, and if we can help support one in our neighborhood, while also getting much better service, I am all for it.”

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