More campus stores selling more than books

A student reads a textbook in Blackwell bookshop as Oxford University commences its academic year in Oxford, England.

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Kai Ryssdal: Bookselling just ain't what it used to be. Not only are there eBooks, but online bookstores still selling actual books have completely changed things. Online retailers have been giving college bookstores a run for their money for years now. Sites like Amazon and Half.com offer cheaper text books that ship in a day or two.

Spending per student at college bookstores is down. So a lot of those stores are fighting back by branching out. Marketplace's Jennifer Collins reports.


Jennifer Collins: At the University of California, San Diego, students can still buy a Psych 101 book. But they can also get their laptops fixed, buy surf wear for the beach, print out a research paper or shop for groceries.

Store director Don Moon has been leading the effort to make the book store an all-purpose store, starting with a new green grocer.

Don Moon: Most of the items they want are "eat it now," like the sandwiches.

Collins: And fruit salads and things.

Moon: Yes, cut up, ready to go. We also sponsor a farmer's market every Tuesday.

A bookstore with a farmer's market -- that may seem like something you'd find only in California. But campus stores across the country have been beefing up their offerings to fend off online competitors. Many schools are also facing limited enrollment and limited sales in the economic downturn.

Don Moon has taken a page from the Barnes & Noble playbook and added a coffee shop with a lounge and performance space.

Moon: A lot of students come in just to study, because it's warm, it's comfortable, they like the environment. Hopefully while they're studying, they'll buy a candy bar and a coffee at the same time.

Charlie Schmidt of the National Association of College Stores says selling candy bars and coffee can be more profitable than Psych 101 books.
On a $100 text book, stores only earn about $6.50.

Charlie Schmidt: The margins are much better on the hoodies and the sweaters and the shot glasses.

Schmidt says stores are selling computers and other gadgets, some have even added dry cleaning services.

Schmidt: It's something that students will say, "Wow, I didn't know I could come to the college bookstore for that." In fact, we don't even want to say the word "book" in the name of the college store anymore. It's the college store or the campus store.

He says as long as the college stores remain campus-owned, their profits pay for school programs, scholarships and student services. That money has become even more important at a time when states face huge deficits, states like California.

Todd Summer is the director of stores at San Diego State University.

Todd Summer: We're in the main SDSU bookstore.

Collins: And right now we're looking at a giant iPhone.

Summer: A giant iPhone, yeah.

Summer says San Diego State is the first school with an AT&T presence in the store. The first school store with a MAC cosmetics counter. And the store's gotten $1 million grant from the Department of Education to rent textbooks to students, like Hector Lopez.

Hector Lopez: I didn't have the money to buy it, so it made it easier for me just renting it out.

Collins: How much cheaper was it?

Lopez: It could have been another $60 or $70.

Lopez pays for school with scholarships and a part-time job, so $60 or $70 is a lot.

Lopez: It is 'cause that's pretty much another book that I could be buying.

Or maybe a monthly phone plan or maybe a fancy calculator or maybe a year's worth of study snacks. It's all at the store.

Cashier: Here's your receipt for returning your book, thank you very much.

Lopez: Thank you.

I'm Jennifer Collins for Marketplace.

About the author

Jennifer Collins is a reporter for the Marketplace portfolio of programs. She is based in Los Angeles, where she covers media, retail, the entertainment industry and the West Coast.

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