Oberlinbooks.com and South Bookstore Competeby Nick Stillman (2/11/00)
With the start of classes this week, students flocked both to the South Hall basement and to online student-runbookstore Oberlinbooks.com to purchase textbooks. Both Dean of Students Peter Goldsmith and bookstore manager Karen Long stressed the temporary nature of the current South bookstore. "This is a temporary, one semester textbook solution," Long said. She added that it probably will remain in business only until spring break.
Addressing the vacant Co-Op building, Goldsmith said, "Our hope is that before long there will be a full bookstore of the kind we're accustomed to...hopefully in the same building." The College has issued a request for proposals to various book merchants stipulating what Oberlin needs in a bookstore. Both independent booksellers and national chains will likely submit requests. Goldsmith stressed the necessity for a more comprehensive permanent bookstore. "Although we're a huge reading community," he said, "books are only part of what we need from a bookstore."
Long emphasized the arduous nature of providing an adequate student bookstore in such a short amount of time. "If you had only been down here December 10...since then it's been painted, had lights and phone lines installed, and we cleaned everything and installed shelves, she said. Although the biggest task for Long was ordering books, the bookstore also had to extensively advertise its location and hours.
Long acknowledged that although buying online can at times prove the cheapest option, shoppers at the South bookstore pay partly for the convenience of receiving the books instantaneously. "It's just a tradeoff," she said.
She said the competition from Oberlinbooks.com has been perceptible. "A lot of students are checking prices, a lot of students are researching their options, and a lot of people are talking about Oberlinbooks.com," she said. Goldsmith said that although administrators didn't respond to the website disapprovingly, "we didn't celebrate it...we need the South bookstore to break even."
"For us, reaction from the administration has been twofold," senior and co-founder of Oberlinbooks.com Sam Taylor said. "In one sense they think it's great. They have said we're entrepreneurs and have been very positive. The negative reaction has come from our competing with the South bookstore and in that regard they'd rather us not be around," he added.
Taylor said sales have been decent thusfar, and that he hopes to receive even more orders next week. Along with Junior Daniel Kimmell, Taylor spent January in Seattle working at Microsoft. "Working there sparked an interest in both of us," Taylor said. "We saw the opening when the Co-Op closed and this was our chance to fill a void."
Taylor stressed that having the website ready for the beginning of the semester was a massive job. "I didn't sleep the week before school started," he added. Along with creating the website, Taylor and Kimmell also had to conduct time-consuming negotiations with Varsitybooks.com and Amazon.com. Oberlinbooks is currently affiliated with each online company and Taylor hopes it will become affiliated with other online book companies soon. Although Taylor and Kimmell initially wished to work strictly with Varsity, they became affiliated with Amazon because of Varsity's relatively low stock.
Taylor admitted that the site is still incomplete. "We're still missing parts we'd like to add - it's an ever-growing project. It's also part of why m not taking a heavy course load this semester," he said.
Taylor stated his hope for the College to join the Oberlinbooks project, possibly in the form of buying the site from them. However, Taylor and Kimmell would like Oberlinbooks to remain student-run, regardless of ownership. The site will be open for business throughout the semester as well as next year. Kimmell will return as a senior and Taylor will be working in Cleveland. After the busy buying week Taylor and Kimmell hope to add to the site.
Taylor added that part of what he hopes will make Oberlinbooks successful at Oberlin is that it is run entirely by Oberlin students. "We tried to make our site speak directly to the student while not talking down to them," he said. He admits that the website may be too new to achieve significant financial success this year. "But," he said, "I think the people that buy from us this year will
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