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Students Look Elsewhere for Books

by Ariel Whitworth

New classes mean new textbooks. Some students, refusing to buy books from the Barnes and Noble-owned Oberlin College Bookstore, look for alternatives in acquiring their texts.

In May 2000, President Dye announced that the Co-op Bookstore had been bought by Barnes and Noble and would be available in the fall for student textbook purchases. Many Oberlin students were not happy with this arrangement.

First-year David Adamson said, "A large chain like Barnes and Noble doesn't really have a place in Oberlin, a college town with such a strong cooperative history."

Jennifer Galt, manager of the Oberlin College Bookstore said, "People should realize that there's a difference between Barnes and Noble's college stores and the retail ‘cookie cutter' ones. College stores are on college campuses only, and there are not as many of them. We don't carry the Barnes and Noble name, and try to adapt to the surrounding campus and general interests of the students and community."

Sophomore Kathleen Berrigan is more cynical about the new ownership. "I have a problem with the fact that there is no acknowledgement on campus that the store is no longer the Co-op but Barnes and Noble. A lot of professors still call it the Co-op, and the management has deliberately not put a sign in the window saying Barnes and Noble, probably because seeing the sign every time they walk in would make a lot of students and professors think twice about buying things there."

In early November 1999, the Co-op Bookstore declared bankruptcy. Shortly after its closing, the store filed a law suit against the college and the store's management company CUBPaC (College and University Bookstore Partnering Concept), claiming that they did not support the Co-op Bookstore, indirectly accusing the college of conspiracy to shut the Co-op down. The Co-op dropped the lawsuit in February, after college president Nancy Dye's statement that a new bookstore would be opened by the end of the semester.

Spring semester 2000 brought a competition between online bookstore oberlinbooks.com and a temporary bookstore in South Hall's basement. Later that semester, Dye announced Barnes and Noble's purchase of the Co-op bookstore.

President Dye favors a independent bookstore but she thinks it is an impossibility. "It would be wonderful to have a nice, independent bookstore in Oberlin. I feel very sympathetic to that idea, but I also know, because I kind of went through the whole crisis of the bookstore, that it can't happen because the book industry is in a very different moment that what it was 15 or even 10 years ago. It is so dominated by the large firms, the large chains, that it is virtually impossible for independent bookstores, particularly in a town like Oberlin."

Alternatives to buying books from Barnes and Noble exist. Many students still use online bookstore oberlinbooks.com as well as other online booksellers, like amazon.com. Students generally find amazon.com reliable but some worry about not getting their books quickly enough. Other online servers include independent bookstores such as www.abebooks.com and www.booksense.com.

Some students prefer to go off campus to purchase textbooks. K&M Books, located in Shaker Heights has recently expanded its range of titles, especially online. Mark and Kim Neath, (both OC '93), own the store. Mark said, "Lots of Obies are getting their books from us rather than supporting Barnes and Noble." Kim and Mark feel that they offer a unique array of books from an independent store, with better quality service.

Galt does not feel particularly threatened by the competition. "Students buy books all kinds of ways on all kinds of campuses," she said, "Internet, especially, is a competition for any bookstore."

The internet and other bookstores are not the only competition. Some students get their books from friends, or advertisements that are posted many places around campus. Some claim that selling books to other students instead of to the bookstore yields more profit.

Dye thinks the bookstore is progressing into its market steadily. "My sense is that this bookstore has gotten stronger, as it's come along a few months, from where it was at the summer, and its managers have gotten to know Oberlin better and more of a sense of what people are buying."

Galt is hopeful and thinks the future of the Oberlin College Bookstore looks bright. "I see the new ownership as more progressive than the co-op," Galt stated, "Right now we're concentrating on catering to the diverse community and student body. I can see that we are lacking in areas, but I have ideas for ways to improve the store. I think it will take a full year before we are fully ‘gelled' in place."

Sophomore Shruti Sasidharan disagrees with these claims of progressivism. "The Barnes and Noble bookstore is just as expensive as the Co-op bookstore. I don't see the difference except that this one doesn't have an Asian American Studies section, and they replaced the radical books with children's books."

Berrigan also expressed resentment toward the College Bookstore. "Oberlin used to have a unique bookstore, and everyone loved it. Then the management got overly ambitious about stocking things for which there is no market. Barnes and Noble doesn't care how long it takes us to buy things from them because they have a huge corporation to pay the bills while they wait. Personally, it makes me want to scream when I go into Barnes and Noble. I only do to check on books for classes because the store is now just like any other Barnes and Noble store at any other college in the country: the only difference is the letters on the sweatshirts."

Other students did not feel as affected by the change in ownership. Junior Jorge Sanchez said, "I don't buy books [for classes] anymore. The books professor assign are great, but at the same time, when you only read two chapters out of a book, it's not worth it to buy. So I get readings from the reserve room and off of Ohiolink. At the same time, this is a reflection from a low income student. I'm not personally affected, but it definitely affects the town of Oberlin because most of the business is community based or community owned."

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Copyright © 2001, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 129, Number 13, February, 2001

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