POLL QUESTION

A university without a bookstore? Just a sign of the times

The cupboards will soon be bare at the University of Maine at Machias bookstore, which is being closed as students are transitioning to buying new and used textbooks
Dan Barr | BDN
The cupboards will soon be bare at the University of Maine at Machias bookstore, which is being closed as students are transitioning to buying new and used textbooks Buy Photo
Posted Aug. 13, 2012, at 11:40 a.m.

Poll Question

MACHIAS, Maine — The University of Maine at Machias plans to close the only bookstore on campus this fall.

Faced with potential operating losses of up to $40,000, the University decided to try a different approach, deciding to abandon the bookstore in favor of having students order textbooks through an online vendor.

“We talked to a few other schools around the nation,” said Tom Potter, vice president of administration and finance. “We found that this is the direction other schools are taking.”

Machias is not the first school in the UMaine system to close its bookstore. University of Maine at Fort Kent closed its store at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year and, like Machias, contracted with an online seller.

“The quickly changing market appears to be going electronic,” Potter explained. “The old model is going to change, and this is the best approach to transition. We have to start looking at the bookstore as a service rather than a profit center.”

The university made sure the campus community was involved in the decision to close the bookstore, discussing the concept with the student senate as well as with staff.

Three Web-based booksellers offered proposals to supply textbooks for the campus. The firm selected — mbsdirect.net — will offer students new and used books, as would a conventional academic bookstore. The company also offers textbook rentals and e-books, services that the university thinks will benefit students more than a traditional bookstore.

Students will still be able to sell back their textbooks as they normally would at the end of each academic term. The website will send representatives to the campus twice a year to buy used textbooks.

What’s in it for the university? The school will receive a commission from online sales, which Potter expects will generate $10,000-$15,000 in revenue annually. The university also is able to eliminate costs associated with maintaining textbook inventory and employing bookstore staff, which Potter estimates at $30,000-$40,000 a year.

So far there hasn’t been much student response to closing the bookstore. Director of Public Relations Erik Smith thinks that’s because electronic retailing is nothing new to students.

“Students were already seeking alternative means for textbooks,” Smith said. “Our online bookstore is not far from what they were already experiencing.”

UMM is also taking advantage of its relationship with food service corporation Aramark, which runs both the student cafeteria and food operation at the student union. Aramark has agreed to expand its space in the union to sell classroom staples such as paper, pens, notebooks and art supplies, as well as carry books published by the school and its faculty.

As for the old bookstore, Potter said an on-campus planning and budgeting committee will consider over the next few months other possible uses for the space, which is adjacent to the university’s recreation center.

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