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Friday, August 23, 2019

Campus

New bookstore provider promises affordability options


The new UH bookstore, now known as the UH Campus Store, has much of what the old store had, but students can look forward to an Apple repair technician onsite in the future. | Kathryn Lenihan/The Cougar

Barnes & Noble, the main textbook retailer at the University of Houston for more than three decades, has been replaced by Follett, another national bookstore chain.

The switch means new options for books and price changes on clothes, accessories and textbooks.

The rebranding happened over a few days in mid-June, and the retail outlet, now called the UH Campus store, opened with different merchandise and a redesigned interior.

“We believe our new campus store contract will bring additional benefits to help support student success by providing new affordability options for course materials and stronger options,” said Matt Prasifka, interim executive director of UH Auxiliary Services.

The bookstore is the only location on campus that sells textbooks and textbook access codes. The idea that prices could change is worrying some students, even if they mainly buy their books online.

“Sometimes textbooks and specific books you have to buy here,” said psychology junior Muscan Momin. “You never know when you need to buy in the bookstore, and (prices) will be a concern.”

Prasifka said students should not worry about price changes and that UH chose Follett, in part, because of their options for buying and renting used books.

“Follett will be required to provide as many affordable options as possible as well as educate students and faculty on options available to them,” Prasifka said. “Along with a large inventory of affordable new textbooks, students can save money by purchasing used books or taking part in the textbook rental program.”

Amy Turpin, Follett Regional Manager, said that Follett has several options that will allow students to save money, including many digital and rental books.

“The UH Campus Store helps students save on course materials by offering choices like rental, digital and the largest selection of used books in the industry,” Turpin said in an email. “Students have full access to these format options, and prices, in-store and online via our website.”

Follett will price match Amazon and Barnes & Noble only, Turpin said. They will not price match Chegg, Amazon Prime or Amazon warehouse deals. 

The new provider also has plans to discuss providing Open Education Resources, or freely accessible textbooks and other content.

“Follett does offer Open Education Resources (OER) content to interested universities through OER vendors such as OpenStax and Lumen,” Turpin said. “We plan to discuss this option with (the UH System) as part of its focus on affordability and value to students.”

Although the store has changed providers, much of it remains the same. Students can still expect to find apparel and other UH branded knick-knacks for about the same prices.

The large wall of hats in the back of the store now has hoodies instead. The majority of the new stock is short sleeve T-shirts, and the discounted apparel round rack that was at the entrance to the bookstore is gone.

“It does seem like the color scheme is pretty consistent here, whereas, I feel like they had a little more variety in the other one,” Ph.D biology student Sydnee Eldridge said. “They did have some out there colors, and this is pretty much like red, gray, white, black.”

The store will also include a small section that will sell and repair Apple products, something that Barnes & Noble did not provide.

While Follett is known for their textbooks, they will also sell fiction books in the store as well, just as Barnes & Noble did. There will be an entire area in the store dedicated to best selling fiction novels, Turpin said.

The change comes after Barnes & Noble’s nine-year contract expired and a committee made of representatives from different parts of the UH System evaluated their options.

The committee primarily looked for a provider that will offer affordability options for course material, new merchandise with different styles and prices, and more online resources, said Prasifka in an email.

Follett won out, beating the retailer that has been with the University for decades.

“We have served the University of Houston community for more than 30 years, providing a vibrant social and academic hub in the heart of campus,” said Carolyn Brown, Barnes & Noble’s senior vice president, corporate communications and public affairs. “While we are disappointed with the university administration’s decision to move in a different direction, we are very proud of our many years spent serving UH students, faculty and alumni.”

While the two providers are competitors now, they didn’t start that way. The stores can both trace their origins to Charles M. Barnes, who began selling used books out of his Illinois home in 1873.

While their name recognition may not be as notable to students as their predecessor, Follett is one of the largest book providers for K-12, college and even public libraries, according to their website.

The retailer operates about 1,200 local campus stores and 1,600 virtual stores. The contract with UH will add six more locations across the system.

Students will not immediately see much of a difference between the old store and the new one, but the store has not yet been picked clean, meaning students can get their sizes before they are gone.

“I’m just glad I found shorts that fit my size instead of just youth shorts,” said Ph.D biology student Jonathan Teetsel.

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