|© J. Adrian Wylie|
by Sally Mitani
Michigan Book & Supply closed in March, leaving two campus textbook stores standing: Ulrich's and Barnes & Noble @ the University of Michigan. Ulrich's isn't out of danger: like Michigan Book, it's owned by the Nebraska Book Company, which is in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. A much smaller competitor, Shaman Drum, whose textbook division served mostly the humanities, folded in 2009.
That's a lot of textbook carnage in a short time. With B&N's lease for its Michigan Union store up for renewal this year, the question needs to be asked: is there a future for the local college textbook store?
It was Karl Pohrt, owner of Shaman Drum, who first alerted Ann Arbor that textbook stores were in crisis. In an open letter to the community in 2009, he claimed that "it's impossible for local textbook stores to compete." Saving Shaman Drum instantly became a cause for several hundred U-M faculty and concerned citizens, who signed a petition bemoaning "the university's policy that favors Internet shopping by students."
The "university policy" was the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act. HEOA is, among other things, a kind of "truth in advertising" law that obliges universities to disclose titles and prices of required textbooks early rather than a few days before classes begin, so that students won't be stuck with hundreds of dollars in unexpected fees. But as Pohrt found out, early disclosure tempted students to shop for textbooks online--even when local store prices were competitive.
Just how many students are making Amazon their textbook supplier these days? And was that what brought Nebraska Book Company to bankruptcy?
Ulrich's staff is not allowed to answer such questions, and the Nebraska Books media line didn't return calls. Brad Braun, Barnes & Noble's local manager of textbook sales, says he as yet has no official news about whether the company will renew its lease in the Michigan Union. But Braun was happy to discuss the textbook industry from his vantage point--and, full of plans for the future,
What's happening in local stores and eateries, and restaurant reviews.>> Blogs