Often, the relationship that many students experience with the AS Bookstore is established before they even begin attending classes. While the bookstore knows which books we need, and usually stocks them with plenty of time until the quarter starts, textbook prices are often disproportionately priced to a student’s meager wages, which, in a bustling textbook market like Bellingham’s makes shopping in places other than Western more than a temptation. So, in this day and age, when community loyalty and local support are dropping out of sight in favor of big-box retailers and online retailers, should students still be shopping at the AS Bookstore?
In order to get a better understanding of the AS Bookstore’s place in the community, I sat down to speak with the AS Bookstore Manager, Lara Mann.
“We’re quite different from a traditional retail bookstore,” Mann said at the beginning of our talk. In fact, the AS Bookstore’s goals run directly opposite to a tradition bookstore’s; instead of operating with the express intent of producing profit for its owners or stockholders, the AS Bookstore’s mission statement proscribes the Bookstore’s mission as operating “in partnership with the Associated Students of Western Washington University for the benefit of all Western students.” The actual translation of the mission statement into reality has come to mean two giant benefits for all Western students.
The first deals with the shelf price of each textbook at the bookstore. Before the costs hit your wallet, the bookstore takes an automatic 10 percent discount off of all textbooks. When you consider that the National Association of College Stores estimates the average income from textbooks for college stores nationally is only 4.9 cents for every dollar, this automatic 10 percent discount drastically reduces the income of our college bookstore to only 2.2 cents.
This discount benefits the students in more than the obvious, lesser-amount-at-the-cash-register way. “We benchmark ourselves against other college bookstores,” said Mann, “because it’s a good way for us to see how we compare nationally, regionally, and locally.” In the end, the discount drives the local textbook market’s prices down by forcing them to compete with our bookstore. This, obviously, benefits you by lowering the prices of textbooks at both the AS Bookstore and at other local textbook retailers.
The second benefit that comes from the bookstore’s mission and operating practices comes from the large amount of money that the bookstore gives to the Associated Students each year. This means that part of every dollar that you spend in the AS Bookstore will come back to you, and to your fellow students, by way of the AS programs, events, and offices.
Sometimes, however, you can’t afford the high price of a new textbook. The bookstore knows this, and, of course, offers used textbooks. It is not uncommon, however, to find deals that are often even more economically sound than purchasing used textbooks from the AS Bookstore. The bookstore knows this also, and is actively working to help students with this endeavor.
When I spoke with Lara Mann, she explained to me that right now, the AS Bookstore is currently working hard to develop a system that would be accessible from their website and would allow students to connect with each other, facilitating the trading of textbooks between them. The bookstore will be providing this service free of charge or obligation.
In addition to this, the bookstore is already providing the ISBN to all the textbooks they carry on their website. This enables a student to search for, find, and purchase a textbook elsewhere, remaining sure the whole time that the book they ordered was the right one.
According to Mann, this is all part of the AS Bookstore’s mission to serve the students as best as possible. I asked Mann what students who have questions and concerns about the bookstore should do. She said, “Tell them to come see me.”
If you have a question about where the money you spend at the AS Bookstore goes, or are wondering about anything regarding the bookstore, Lara Mann is an excellent source of information. You can get in touch with her by asking anyone at the customer service desk of the AS Bookstore.