New textbook deal targets affordability, guaranteed fulfillment


In an effort to create a more affordable, streamlined and reliable experience for students and faculty, the University of Michigan will begin working with Barnes & Noble College as its preferred textbook vendor starting with the fall semester.

The agreement signed this month establishes an online portal for selecting, purchasing and returning textbooks, and includes a provision requiring the company to provide all specified textbooks and course materials.

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It’s a fulfillment guarantee the university has never before had with a vendor.

“Students having access to all the textbooks and course materials they need — when they need them — was our top priority,” said Susan Pile, senior director of University Unions and Auxiliary Services. “This agreement will correct fulfillment issues we’ve had in the past, make materials more affordable and ensure our faculty and students are set up for success.”

The new online process is designed to provide more cost-effective options to students, simplify the faculty experience, ensure texts are available when students need them and address customer service issues efficiently.

Two on-campus Barnes & Noble locations — one in Pierpont Commons and one in the renovated Michigan Union when it reopens in winter 2020 — will no longer stock textbooks on shelves. Instead, the locations will serve as hubs to pick up and return textbook orders.

Once implemented, the online process will work like this:

• Students and faculty will have access to an online portal that is integrated with U-M course information and customized to their class schedules.

• Students can opt to have textbooks shipped to designated campus locations or to their homes.

• There will be free shipping for students who send their purchases to campus pick-up locations.

• Returns sent from the campus locations will also be shipped for free.

• Students and faculty will have access to numerous customer service options, including face-to-face assistance at campus locations, a customer support phone number with extended hours, virtual assistants and a dedicated campus textbook liaison.

Barnes & Noble College, a Barnes & Noble Education company, was selected from among several retailers that submitted bids through a request-for-proposal process coordinated by University Procurement and led by a committee of faculty, staff and students, including representation from Central Student Government.

In addition, a faculty-led task force met several times this fall to discuss the university community’s textbook needs. The task force included members from the Office of Student Life, Registrar’s Office, Provost’s Office, U-M Library, Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design and several departments within LSA.

“Barnes & Noble College stood out for its commitment to student affordability, user-friendly web interface, variety of textbook offerings, and ability to function both online and in a modified brick-and-mortar setting,” said Paul Robinson, associate vice provost and university registrar.

Robinson added that the new agreement helps bring the university further in line with the Higher Education Opportunities Act of 2008, a wide-ranging law with a textbook affordability component.

Barnes & Noble Education operates 1,480 physical and virtual bookstores, serves more than 6 million students and faculty, and operates one of the largest textbook wholesale distribution channels in the United States.

As part of the agreement, Barnes & Noble College’s online store will provide students with a variety of options to buy new or used, rent, or download as digital. It will also host a marketplace for students to resell to one another and offer selection tools, such as cost comparisons.

In addition, many textbook titles will display a guaranteed “buy-back” price before students order them, so the true cost of ownership is better known at the time of purchase.

Prior to this agreement, the university facilitated a process in which faculty entered requested textbook selections into an online portal for numerous companies to fulfill, none of which were required to provide all course materials.

“With the new system, Barnes & Noble College will get our book lists and it’s guaranteed via the agreement that the books will be in stock,” said Katherine French, professor of history and a member of the selection committee.

For the first time, faculty will be able to see the cost of books before they make their textbook selections, French said.

The agreement does not prevent faculty members from continuing or developing relationships with local bookstores to fulfill their course needs.

Riley Langefeld, an LSA freshman and CSG representative on the committee, said students are accustomed to hunting for the best bargains online.

“Ideally, students will find the process easier and more efficient than what we currently have to do,” Langefeld said.

While the on-campus locations will no longer stock textbooks, other elements of a traditional campus bookstore will still be present, including student academic and art supplies, U-M branded gear, commencement regalia and other retail goods.

Faculty and students should expect to receive more information regarding the new selection and purchasing processes by email this spring and summer. Students and faculty should continue to utilize the current processes through Wolverine Access until the change is finalized.


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