Co-opting the Market
As UT students started the summer session last week, they faced a challenge other than the typical parking quandary and add/drop nightmare -- buying textbooks with only one option.
In April, the University Co-op announced it was buying out Bevo's Bookstore, a Drag fixture since the 1970s, so it could expand its software department. Meanwhile, Texas Textbooks blamed its closure -- announced about a week after the Bevo's buyout -- on a downward spiral that began with a faulty computer system. So the Co-op has abruptly become the only textbook store near campus -- and students are beginning to wonder what the future will hold for a campus with only one bookstore.
With more than 17,000 summer school students, the university doesn't have anywhere near the numbers of a busy fall semester (50,010 last year), but the Co-op is already feeling congested to some students. "It was pretty crowded," said UT senior Dominic Joseph. "I was here for another summer, and I thought I was buying books kind of late. But there were still lines."
But according to Co-op President George Mitchell, the bookstore is "absolutely" ready for the extra demand. While Mitchell acknowledged that there is a lot more pressure on the Co-op thanks to the recent slew of closures, he is confident they can get the job done. "We find out how many students are in a class, and that's how many books we order," Mitchell said, adding that overenrollment at the university is often a challenge in terms of ordering books. Mitchell promises that prices won't rise because of the lack of competition, and said the fact that the Co-op is the largest seller of used books in the country helps prices remain low. Mitchell said the main objective in terms of keeping prices down is "to be bigger." But because the Co-op holds all the cards in terms of textbooks sales and buybacks, students remain concerned. "The Co-op has a hold on books on the Drag," said UT senior Jay Punita. "Because they're taking up all the used books, they're making all the money."
UT Student Government President Matt Hammond is confident the Co-op will be able to serve the additional customer load. "I think the Co-op can handle the traffic, and they will be fair to students," Hammond said. "There's a lot of money being made. But it goes right back into student hands via rebates or programming."
Profits from the nearly $30 million per year operation support awards for faculty as well as student groups. Last year, the Co-op gave more than $1 million to the university. But all that is little comfort to students such as Punita, who also said he hasn't been able to purchase all of his textbooks yet because of the expense. Punita said rising textbook costs are making him think about turning to Internet booksellers.
Students looking to avoid long lines won't be able to rely on Austin Community College bookstores. A manager at Bevo's ACC said that they will continue to concentrate their business on community college students.
A Web site sponsored by the Texas Union -- www.texbooks.com -- could provide some relief to line-weary students. The site, created by computer sciences doctoral candidate Emery Berger in 1995, allows students to post their textbooks for sale. After finding the book they need, potential customers can contact the sellers to make the deal. According to Berger, the site already gets hundreds of hits per day at the beginning of each semester, and he imagines this will increase because of the store closures. According to Berger, it's a better deal than selling books back to the Co-op.
"There's certainly more incentive to do so," Berger said. "There are always tons of people waiting to get a nickel on the dollar back on their books. The Co-op was never particularly good in terms of their price."