Faculty, students struggle with textbook market

With the spring semester underway, professors and students have experienced difficulties with their textbook orders at the Geneseo University Bookstore. For the past three years, the Follett Corporation has been the main textbook provider for the bookstore in the College Union.

Rose McEwen, department chair of languages and literatures, said that there have been problems on multiple occasions with the bookstore, especially dealing with her department. She said that the new “corporate mentality” of the bookstore isn’t the best when trying to fulfill the individual needs of student and faculty, as Sundance did.

“These problems are not an issue of [Campus Auxiliary Services’] administration of the bookstore. CAS and Mark Scott have been very helpful in expediting a resolution to the issues we have faced,” McEwen said.

Although she said that these problems may be no one’s fault, McEwen also said that the “take it or leave it” way of doing things doesn’t work for a small school such as Geneseo and many other professors agree.

The foreign language department often orders texts from different countries and these must come from international distributers. This caused significant problems last year when the book orders were placed the weekend before the semester started. The syllabi of certain classes had to be rearranged to accommodate for the texts that weren’t currently available.

Sundance was Geneseo’s main textbook provider up until three years ago, when Geneseo contracted with the Follett Corporation. According to Scott, Follett was the only company that had made a proposal at the time.

“Sundance wasn’t being responsive to changes in the textbook market,” Scott said.

Store manager of Sundance Jim Matson agreed that Sundance didn’t have the resources to keep up with the changing market. Matson said that the way the whole exchange works these days is very different than it was a couple of years ago.

Instead of placing your order at one bookstore and physically exchanging money for books, it has become more of a “smart shopping” kind of event. Most students search for the cheapest version of their textbooks online and usually end up buying from multiple websites.

“It’s just the way the market has become,” Matson said. “Over the years Sundance has seen a fairly steady decline in the number of textbooks sold.”

Matson says that they continue to sell approximately 10 percent less a semester.

Geneseo had two five-year contracts with Sundance Books prior to switching to Follett about three years ago. There is a “state-bid” process that companies must go through. CAS put a bid out for a contract and companies put out proposals.

A lot is taken into account when CAS accepts a bid. The company’s insurance and willingness to hire students and invest in the school are all factors. Follett provides a $5,000 textbook grant as financial aid for students who are unable to afford their books and, in addition, two $2,500 grants for student-faculty research programs.

In addition, roughly 40 percent of Follett’s 1,300 adopted book titles are available to rent, which offers opportunities for student savings. Although Scott admitted that the last couple of years haven’t been perfect, he said, “Follett is just as committed now as they were three years ago.”

Geneseo currently has a five-year contract with Follett with about two years remaining. Scott said that during this time, “we will consider all the options.”

Scott added that Geneseo could also consider going “self-op” and run its own bookstore, cutting out the middleman and ordering directly from the book distributers. Many other schools – Alfred University, SUNY Fredonia and Monroe Community College, for example – do this and it would allow for a little more flexibility.