By Matt Blair

Where do you buy your books? This question is strangely valid given that a couple of decades ago the answers may not have been that varied.
Prior to a digital marketplace, book dealers and used book stores were a few of the only places students could get a hold of their much-needed textbooks. Like many media markets, the invention of online culture has driven more people to rely on online distributors for their book needs. With the advent of internet shopping Western students no longer solely rely on the AS Bookstore for their textbook needs.
Still, according to the AS Bookstore’s interim manager Leigh Ann Giles, competing in the new digital market is an ongoing challenge. The rise of online bookstores, in some cases, has made it easier and cheaper for students to find their books online. Web sites like Amazon.com and halfpricedbooks.com offer one stop shopping and delivery right to your door. Western’s Bookstore also sells books online and offers returns without shipping costs and buyback at the end of the term.
“We are a self-sustaining entity, so we aren’t worried about the budget right now,” Giles said. “But the biggest change in the future is the slow shift to a digital market.”
New technologies have created a different market for textbooks. As more texts are converted digitally and stored online, the need for material textbooks may be obsolete some day. Beckman said that the AS bookstore will continue to look for ways to operate in a more digitally efficient manner.
One prospective idea that’s being considered is a new pilot program which would allow students to access digital texts through a “reader” that would display them, like a DVD player that only plays literature.
“Part of our mission at [the AS] bookstore is to provide supplies for the lowest cost possible,” the AS Bookstore’s Division Director of Budget and Administration Linda Beckman said. “We operate much like a non-profit co-op.”
Beckman oversees management of the AS bookstore and the distribution of its funds. About 2 percent of total sales made by the bookstore is returned to the AS through funding of AS programs, such as AS Productions, clubs and other AS sponsored activities.
Beckman believes that the AS bookstore is a benefit to students because of its location on-campus and the fact that they are able to sell used books at a discounted markup.
Textbooks make up 73 percent of the AS bookstore’s total sales. Of those sales, used books made up 40 percent. Each used book is priced at 75 percent of the original price of a new book, which according to Beckman matches the national industry standard.
“Our markup is fairly low when compared with other universities nationwide,” Beckman said. “In partnership with the AS our bookstore has worked to maintain a 10 percent discount on all textbook sales, which is rare.”
During Western’s 2008 fiscal year, the bookstore had a sales of $6.4 million. The AS bookstore retained about $148,000 of that total.
Net revenues are broken up between the bookstore, athletics and the operation of AS programs. Five percent of total sportswear sales are given back to the athletic department. This amount made up roughly $35,000 during the 2008 fiscal year. The justification behind giving the athletic department money is that Western’s athletic programs help drive clothing sales and athletics has agreed to refrain from selling sportswear themselves, Beckman said.
Of the remaining funds, exactly $25,000 was kept before any other money was spent for maintenance to keep the book store operating properly.
Half of the funds (after $25,000 and 5 percent for sportswear are removed) are reserved for software upgrades and other layout modifications, as well as other future expenses the AS bookstore might have. The remaining half ($123,110 in 2007-2008)was given back to the general AS funds, which help support concerts, films and other AS sponsored events.
Washington State is also close to passing legislation that would encourage faculty members to adopt lower-cost options for course materials, so the AS bookstore would stock older editions of textbooks as requested. AS VP for Business and Operations Virgilio Cintron agreed that this tactic could be a solution for lowering the textbook burden on Western students.
“We want to be able to ask, what books are faculty members using?” Cintron said. “Do they need to use the newest edition, or can an old one be used?”
However, the issue with new editions is a catch-22, said Beckman. Because the AS Bookstore must keep up with each new edition and faculty requests, publishers determine the price of their own textbooks, and the AS Bookstore is essentially left at the mercy of the publishing company’s prices. At the same time, if they fail to update textbooks frequently enough, the information being taught to students could be outdated.
Cintron said that he hopes to reestablish an advisory committee to help monitor the AS Bookstore’s operations. This task force would be made up of faculty members, the AS VP for Business and Operations and a few members of the student body. By inviting members from both sides of the issue, Cintron believes teachers can hear price concerns directly from students and students can reason with teachers on which reading material to select.
“I’m interested in getting everyone involved together in a complete conversation,” said Cintron.