If college classes are the vehicles that help college students learn, grow, and become contributing members of society, then textbooks are the gas that keeps those vehicles going. Every college course requires students to obtain textbooks to read, study, and grasp the material. And in times past, students had only one place to get those textbooks: the campus store.
But today, colleges and college bookstores have changed. Thanks to the internet and virtual booksellers, more and more students are purchasing their textbooks virtually rather than visiting a physical bookstore. This has led some campus stores to adopt online-only book-ordering policies, which comes with both pros and cons.
Ordering books online is quick and easy. It also allows buyers to shop around, compare item quality, and search for the lowest prices. It’s no wonder that so many students have turned to the internet to order their textbooks, the same way they order clothes, shoes, gadgets, and other daily necessities.
With the rise of the internet, it has been easier than ever for students to buy books from alternative sources, not only the school bookstore. Students can purchase used textbooks from each other, or go online to rent or swap textbooks from other students, with or without a middleman.
With so many students purchasing their textbooks from alternative sources, it’s far more financially savvy for bookstores not to order textbooks until they know that there is a demand, to cut down on extra shipping costs. It just does not make sense for bookstores to keep stocking books in light of the stiff competition and declining sales triggered by online retailers and e-stores.
Online-only book-ordering systems allow students to pick and choose the books that they want. They also allow school campus stores to order specific books for students who actually need to purchase texts through the bookstore. That may be because they cannot find the particular book elsewhere, or because their scholarships require them to purchase through their school bookstores.
And without hundreds of unused textbooks taking up space on the store shelves, the school may dedicate the space to selling other items that will bring in a profit.
It’s easy to see the pros of an online-only book-ordering system, mostly because it’s a common way for people to order ALL books nowadays, not just textbooks. The rise of Amazon has seen to that. But in the world of academia, campus stores without books poses a severe problem for many students and teachers, in unexpected ways:
The first week or so of classes is a time when students are still undecided about their classes. Some will drop and others will add courses until the deadline. Until students have their schedules finalized, most of them will not purchase required texts.
Once they have decided on a final schedule, a good portion of time has already passed. Students who choose to order textbooks through an online-only book ordering system must wait even longer for their order to be processed and their books to arrive.
Yet without textbooks, students—particularly those in text-heavy classes—quickly fall behind, unable to do the readings or the homework that their teacher assigns. And sometimes, students who receive their books weeks after the start of the course are never quite able to catch up to their classmates.
On the other hand, expediting the books’ arrival costs students more, and some cannot afford the extra financial strain. This leaves students stuck between a rock and a hard place.
As an article printed by Inside Higher Ed observes: professors, trying to help their students keep up, waste time and resources copying materials or helping students chase down the texts, distracting them from their main business of teaching.
In short, when textbooks are not readily available, the quality of teaching and learning decreases. When this happens, both students and teachers suffer.
Times have changed, and people will not go back to a physical-store-only method of ordering textbooks. But does that mean the pendulum must swing the other way so that all colleges embrace completely online-only book-ordering systems?
We here at Trimdata Corp don’t believe so. A robust, full-service campus needs to have both online and in-store options, physical textbooks as well as ebooks. For some students, it makes sense to purchase online and save some money. For others, students need access to physical textbooks through their local school bookstore. BOTH need to be able to apply Financial Aid funds to purchase.
A good balance might involve having a campus store stock copies of the most popular textbooks or textbooks from the largest classes on campus, and then leaving the more specialized textbooks on their online catalog for students to order, as needed. Some stores offer an option to order through the Campus Store on the web and have the option of getting their books at the campus location.
Supporting Ellucian Banner and Colleague and Peoplesoft Campus Solutions, FA~Link makes all variations of book-selling work with Financial Aid. Students who choose to purchase with their Financial Aid funds can access those funds both with virtual and campus stores. A campus can support one or many booksellers and give students the ease of using financial aid and sponsorship funds to purchase their books as soon as they are registered for classes, or whenever their campus rules allow it. Because charges are authorized in real time, both the school and the purchase systems are in balance at all times.