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Elusive bookstore may provide students best economic option

Submitted by Ryan Guinee on March 16, 2014 – 1:42 pmNo Comment

Illustration by Logan Sturgill

The UALR Bookstore and Barnes & Noble have a long history together. Almost as long as store manager, Brenda Thomas, has worked for the bookseller.

Just shy of fifteen years ago, UALR chose to partner with the Barnes & Noble Booksellers campus program to manage an inventory of books, clothing, supplies and snacks. A wise decision on the university’s part at the time, it has been an issue of contention for students who have seen the prices of textbooks rise.

“Publishers set the prices of the books,” Thomas said. When purchasing books, most students do not account for the cost that booksellers pay publishers for these textbooks. For those sources that offer lowest prices, it is usually because they buy in bulk.

At least, that is how it works for Textbook Brokers. The local company benefits by using economies of scale to deliver discount prices to students for used books. Across the board, book rentals are the most economical option for students. It is a matter of how the bookstores set the rental price which determines the price spread. Thomas’ recommendation is that “for the UALR Bookstore, renting new or used is the way to go.”

Comparing the prices to rent a used copy of “Psychology” by David G. Meyers, a book any PSYC 2300 student will need, shows that renting on campus is $90.90. Renting the same textbook straight from Barnes & Noble’s website is $54.02. While renting from Chegg.com is $43.49. The prices are nothing short of curious.

According to Thomas, there is little to be done. “We’re owned and operated one-hundred percent by Barnes & Noble. Myself and all the staff work for Barnes & Noble. We are a licensee of Barnes & Noble, and we have a contract with UALR,” she said. The university comes into the picture through the Bookstore Advisory Committee, a task force composed of faculty and staff on campus that help regulate the processing and honoring of textbook scholarships awarded to students.

The scholarships are provided each year. They are awarded to twenty-six students who fill out a single page application by the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. The scholarship pays for nine hours of textbooks. The application includes questions that seek to better understand how the scholarship makes a difference in the applicant’s educational career.

Thomas believes that it is efforts like these and others that add value to the campus. “When we sell a book here, the school gets something back. Whether it’s the sale or donation of merchandise, or scholarships or jobs provided to students, we give back.” Any branded merchandise sold by the bookstore helps the university earn royalties. Details on the percentage aren’t available.

The job opportunities Barnes & Noble provides can lead to more than just a part-time gig. “We give out a lot of first jobs for many students, and we always provide a reference where deserved.” An impactful program that Barnes & Noble provides is the Bestseller Program. It gives sophomores the opportunity to work fifteen to twenty hours a week per semester for the duration of their college career. By graduation, Barnes & Noble guarantees a position at a store on any campus in the country where there are college partners and availability.

“Tara Wilbanks, a student from UALR, started as a cashier in my store. She graduated as a front-end manager, and now works as a store manager in Pine Bluff at Southeast Arkansas College,” Thomas said. Normally students will start as an assistant manager or textbook manager. Students must be willing to relocate, but Thomas said the starting salary is worth it.

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