Beating the competition
Another bookstore is on the block, but whether students will buy their textbooks there over other marketplace options is still to be determined.
Beat the Bookstore UH, 3704 Scott St., is the latest franchise of a Utah-based textbook company that has 24 stores in 16 states.
"College students are only interested in their textbooks for one semester, and they want to get those books for the cheapest price," said Rickey Grant, one of the co-owners of the BTB UH franchise. "What we do is to give students the book they’re looking for at the cheapest price."
While each franchise has freedom in setting the prices for the books they have in stock, each must set prices within parameters that the BTB Corporation has created, BTB co-owner April Booker said.
Unlike other college bookstores, BTB will sell only textbooks, Booker said. The BTB will not sell UH paraphernalia or other University merchandise, she added.
Booker said she expects the BTB book supply to be divided between 75 to 80 percent used and 25 to 20 percent new.
For the fall semester, UH Bookstore’s book supply was divided between 60 percent used and 40 percent new, UH Bookstore Manager Felix Robinson said.
For the Got Used Bookstore, 3503 Elgin Ave., the used-new stock splits 50-50, said Matt Bublitz, general manager of the Got Used Bookstore.
And while the grand opening is slated for today, BTB hardly has any books in stock.
"We’re not going to buy textbooks just yet – this being the beginning of the buyback season," Booker said. "But we’ll be here building up our supply on the books students bring."
BTB has leased the suite on Scott Street since July in anticipation of being in operation for the beginning of the fall semester, Booker said.
But problems with the building’s owner and lack of amenities, such as Internet access and air conditioning, pushed the opening to late fall, she said.
For today’s grand opening, patrons can tour the new store and receive free gifts, such as T-shirts, food and book vouchers that range from $50 to $200.
One of the advantages of purchasing books from BTB is students not only have access to the local franchise, but to the entire BTB network when they’re searching for textbooks, Booker said.
"If a student comes in and looks for a textbook we don’t have in this location, we can send out an e-mail to any of the other stores to see which ones do have a book," Booker said.
The only other Texas franchise for BTB is located at the University of Texas at Austin.
Robinson said he doesn’t see the new bookstore as a threat to the UH Bookstore’s revenue and said BTB is concerned with only one thing: "Lining their pockets with students’ money."
"It’s not surprising that there’s a new bookstore opening on campus; textbooks are a lucrative form of business," Robinson said. "I hope that (the new bookstore) is as concerned about the students and the University as we are here at the UH Bookstore."
Bubliz expressed the same sentiment and said the new bookstore opening today would not have much affect on book sales for the Got Used Bookstore.
"It’s a big enough market place for everyone to find their own niche," he said.
Robinson said student convenience, and the fact the bookstore is "part of the fabric of the University," will push students to use the official campus bookstore.
Robinson said the campus bookstore made about $478,000 from student buybacks in Spring 2007. He also said he predicted this semester’s buyback revenue to be around $500,000.
Buyback guidelines for the UH Bookstore include various factors, such as the demand for the book for the following semester, whether professors will continue using the book and the condition the book is in when the student brings it. If all the criteria are met, the buyback price will be 50 percent of the sale price, Robinson said.
The number of copies of each book the UH Bookstore will buy back, however, are dependent on the enrollment of the classes that use that particular book and if it will be used next semester, he said.
While the bookstores battle it out in the local market place, many students are turning to the Internet to purchase their books.
The Washington Post reported in August 2007 that about a quarter of college students buy books online at various Web sites, such as www.amazon.com, www.half.com and www.ebay.com.
Like Booker, Robinson said he acknowledges students use the Internet for purchasing books but said students are taking risks when ordering online.
"If a student orders something off amazon.com, they’re taking a huge risk with their books," he said. "The student might have the correct ISBN number and book edition, but when using those Web sites, they’re receiving books from an individual, and sometimes students don’t get what they pay for."
Some students, however, say the risk is worth taking if the price is right.
"Don’t get me wrong – I’ll buy the book from the student or online if it’s cheap enough," chemical engineering junior Kevin Burkart said. "We shouldn’t be at the mercy of the prices publishers and bookstores set."
Chemical engineering senior Christian Dang also said she explores different avenues when searching for a book for class.
"I usually buy my books online or from other students -†it’s a lot cheaper," Dang said. "And while I know there’s the risk of not getting what I want, I do as much research as I can to avoid that problem."
For history senior Javier Rodriguez, the Internet offers good deals -†when carefully researched, however.
"Most Web sites have a rating system about the user who’s selling the books, and I’ve never had a problem when buying a book online," Rodriguez said. "Even with the advent of the Internet, it seems bookstores have a large monopoly over textbooks."
Rodriguez said he also visits used bookstores, such as Half Price Books, when purchasing books for the coming semester.