The Middlebury bookstore has recently announced plans to switch its textbook distribution platform to a purely online system by the spring semester of 2018. This online platform will be run by the international textbook company MBS Direct, a change that the administration hopes will reduce students’ expenses while simultaneously improving convenience.
The bookstore has credited their desire to shift textbook distribution methods to a gradual decline in book sales, resulting from the growing popularity of websites such as Amazon among Middlebury students.
“With more and more students competitively shopping at other book retailers, such as Amazon, we have seen book sales declining,” college bookstore manager Erin Jones-Poppe said. “We cannot afford to continue in our current trajectory. It doesn’t make sense.”
The bookstore also believes that the large number of resources provided by MBS Direct will reduce students’ costs and improve the convenience of textbook purchases.
“MBS Direct and has 25 years of experience in the direct-to-student distribution with 20 of those being e-commerce,” Jones-Poppe said. “We’re limited in what we do here at the school, whereas the scope of MBS Direct is much larger.”
To provide additional context for textbook prices, MBS Direct will list offers from alternative market sellers on the same page as the MBS price for a given book. This feature is intended to limit the amount of price comparisons students must make in order to find the optimal deals for classroom materials.
“Students will be able to shop for their books not only from MBS Direct, but from other market place sellers all on one screen,” Jones-Poppe said. “It really is a one-screen, one-shot deal that shows you the money you could be saving.”
The bookstore does not believe that these alternative outlets will negatively impact business moving forward. The new online system is not intended to force students to buy from solely the bookstore, but rather to simplify price comparisons between multiple options.
“I think that MBS Direct is confident in their pricing, so much so that they will allow you to see other outlets’ prices,” Jones-Poppe said. “They know that Amazon is a huge competitor, and many students who already buy off Amazon will probably continue to do so. I don’t think that we are worried about losing business, but at least now students have streamlined options.”
The MBS Direct website will also feature the buyback price of a given book directly next to the purchase price. This system will more accurately communicate the net cost of each book, assuming it is re-sold at the end of the semester.
“MBS Direct will have what is called a guaranteed buyback,” Jones-Poppe said. “Right now, if you ask me how much you will get for reselling a textbook to the bookstore, I won’t really know as teacher’s plans and course materials might change. MBS Direct, from the beginning of buying your books, can tell you exactly how much you will get back for that text in December, so it really shows you the true cost of ownership.”
The new system is also intended to expand the availability of rental and electronic textbooks beyond the bookstore’s current offerings.
“Every title under [MBS Direct] will be available as a rental, whereas [the bookstore] only offers around 30% of its textbooks for rent,” Jones-Poppe said. “Also, I’m almost positive that every E-book [MBS Direct] has will be available, so there will be so many more options than what we can currently provide.”
The bookstore hopes to initiate additional conversations with faculty members to promote and facilitate the use of electronic books among students.
“We had a situation just this semester where a professor did not want laptops in the class room, but we informed them that the only option for their course materials was in e-book form, so therefore an exception had to be made,” Jones-Poppe said. “We are all in this together, trying to understand how [technology] will affect our day to day, and so as I cannot answer for specific Professors, these conversations will need to happen, and possible exceptions made.”
Under the MBS Direct system, the bookstore return policy will no longer require proof that a student has officially dropped a given class in order to return that course’s materials. Instead, students will be able to review their previous orders on the MBS Direct website, receive a return code, and ship their materials directly back to the MBS Direct facility for a full refund.
“The return policy will change as well, as returns will no longer go through the bookstore, but be returned directly to MBS, just as you would return any online purchase,” Jones-Poppe said. “That means student funds are no longer tied up in a store credit, but the student can receive the full value for their book via the original tender method.”
MBS Direct will continue to implement the voucher system currently in place for students receiving financial aid. However, the bookstore is working on alternative methods to aid students that do not qualify for the voucher program but still lack the means to purchase textbooks.
“MBS has a voucher system for low-income students that will be attached to a student ID and will provide a voucher total for students to use during checkout,” Jones-Poppe said. “So, these students will still be able to use the same system, but it will just be direct from the bookseller rather than going through us. The students who don’t qualify for vouchers will still have free shipping on orders of $90 or more, and we’re also working on obtaining really cheap flat-rate two-day shipping.”
The bookstore does not believe that the mail center will face unreasonable volume under this new system. Students’ textbook purchases will be shipped directly to the bookstore’s address in order to alleviate any additional pressures that would have been imposed onto the mailroom staff.
“Under MBS, we are working to make a default shipping address where student orders automatically come to the bookstore to alleviate shipments addressed to 14 Old Chapel Road,” Jones-Poppe said. “No one is really worried about potential increases in Amazon shipments to the mail center. I think it would be different if every single textbook order accidentally went down there, but I don’t think that should be an issue.”
Moving forward, the administration hopes that the upcoming shift to MBS Direct will increase the transparency of the textbook purchasing process.
“We want students to see how it would behoove them to use this system as opposed to going to Amazon,” Jones-Poppe said. “We really want to educate students on the entire textbook process.”