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The Co-op Bookstore and the University Bookstore: A Comparison

Thursday, September 5, 2013

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Written by Peter Miller

Some students, and many first-years, do not know about the two bookstores on campus. One store is the University Bookstore run by the university, and the other less known store is the Co-op Bookstore located in the basement of Johnston Hall on campus. The Guelph Campus Co-op is run by students and operates the Co-op Bookstore, as well as, affordable student housing initiatives. Both bookstores sell course books to students on campus. However, this may be where their similarities stop.

At the Co-op Bookstore students that pay a membership fee get five per cent off textbooks. The Co-op can do this because it is not for profit and gives potential revenues back to students, according to Debra McKay, the manager of the Co-op bookstore. 

The Guelph Campus Co-op has reached its 100-year this year. As a non-profit option that is run by students, students that support the co-op and become members help the co-op provide services for their peers.

McKay also highlights: the Co-op Bookstore strives to provide the best possible service, at the best possible prices for students, as a unique full-service store.

Being a full service store means students wait in line and meet workers at the bookstore counter. Students simply provide their classes to the Co-op and the worker retrieves the books for the customer.  “There are not too many places you get that experience,” says McKay.

At the University Bookstore the structure is different. Students are to find their books and bring them to checkout.

Ed Townsley, the departmental head of Hospitality Services at this university, spoke about some special features of the University Bookstore.  The campus bookstore has the course book, “no matter how small the course.” Townsley says. According to Townsley, the University Bookstore also meets with professors and encourages them to reuse books instead of use more expensive, newer options for their courses.

Both the Co-op bookstore and the University Bookstore have some similarities. Both buy back textbooks from students for 50 per cent of the purchase price. Both also provide used books that are a cheaper option for students.

Ed Townsley and Debra MacKay agree that course book prices are very expensive. According to Townsley, publishers are the main player that sets textbook prices, and the main reason why prices are so high.

In a recent piece in The Atlantic, Jordan Weissmann describes how publishing companies keep prices steep.  Tricks publishers use to increase profits include adding software to textbooks that students need to fully participate in courses, and suing low cost textbook providers over copyright claims, says Weissmann. In an article from Slate, Kevin Carey describes how publishing companies often add meaningless content to create new additions in order to sell new textbooks at high prices.

Some professors at the University of Guelph recognize that steep textbook prices can be stressful for students in financial difficulty. That’s why some professors leave textbooks on course reserve for students that cannot afford to buy their own book. 

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