WU bookstore seeks new options to stay in business

With changes in the book publishing industry, fewer students are buying books in the campus bookstore and it has been struggling to make ends meet. A search committee is looking at new options.

“We are trying to look at neutralizing the loss,” said Brian Benzel, vice president of finance and administration.

The bookstore committee will assemble a RFP, or request for proposal. That will go out to popular vendors and they will return with a proposal of their services and prices.

The committee is currently made up of Benzel, bookstore manager Nancy Loomis, senior Blaine Eldredge, senior Jonny Whitmore and a faculty member yet to be named.

The lure of cheap prices, textbook exchange and guaranteed buybacks has pulled students away from purchasing from the bookstore.

“There is a lot of turbulence in the book publishing world,” Benzel said.

Whitworth is not the only university considering this option.

“A lot of universities are making this changeover,” Loomis said. “It’s mostly due to losing market share from our customer base and also the many and complex changes in the book industry.”

No decision has been made about using a vendor or which one; this process simply allows the university to “evaluate in a more formal way,” Benzel said.

It is possible, however unlikely, that no vendor will be chosen and the bookstore will operate as it has previously, Benzel said.

In 2006, the average dollars per student spent at the beginning of fall semester was $223.28. In 2012, the average was $161.15.

“Each the year the transaction per student is less,” Loomis said. “We are making less money and working harder than ever.”

This struggle and lack of revenue has spurred the search for a potential new vendor.

“We are kind of fighting a tide that is really hard to fight from a little tiny store point of view,” Loomis said. “I want to see that number of what it costs students to buy their books continue to go down or at least to bottom out and not go up.

"That’s my goal, to provide the lowest-priced books possible for our students.”

Benzel plans to talk with major stakeholders, including traditional day students and continuing studies students.

Whitmore seeks to represent students’ needs as well as promote ethical purchasing on campus.

“One of the issues for students is, and always has been, book cost,” Whitmore said.

The issue of fair trade is hopefully being raised, Whitmore said. As of publication, the committee has yet to meet and therefore the agenda and key items are in flux.

Whitmore encouraged students to talk with members of the committee and voice their opinions.

The potential shift is not a reflection of the bookstore staff or management, Benzel said.

“It’s acknowledging that business forces are bigger than us. This is not approached as a reflection of the service or effort of our current staff,” Benzel said.

A decision is expected to be made in tDecember or January. If a change is to take place, it will be implemented in late Spring and will affect the 2013-2014 school year.

Caitlyn Starkey Staff Writer

Contact Caitlyn Starkey at cstarkey13@my.whitworth.edu