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Should Your Campus Bookstore Sell Books?

Should Your Campus Bookstore Sell Books?


How Changing Market Dynamics are Driving the Need for a Hybrid Bookstore Model

By Stuart Grinell, Vice President of Business Development and Ande Jenkins, Senior Director of Business Development, Ambassador Education Solutions

It may seem like common sense. The premise of an on-campus bookstore has traditionally been to sell books, among other course and school-related items. That said, bookstore operations are far from business as usual these days.

The college bookstore is a fundamental part of the campus experience. It serves the dual objectives of providing a primary retail operation for course materials, supplies and merchandise; while also creating a place for students, faculty, parents, alumni and the community at large to connect. That said, changing market dynamics, namely textbook pricing increases, are causing schools to reconsider the mission of their on-campus bookstores so they can continue to deliver value and service while still being a social hub of the institution.

The cost of course materials, specifically textbooks, has been steadily increasing over the last decade without a clear end in sight. In fact, since 2006, the cost of an average college textbook has increased by 73 percent, more than four times the rate of inflation.1

Simply put, the continued rise in textbook prices is having a dramatic impact on student purchasing behavior, and in turn, has institutions questioning whether or not the traditional campus bookstore model can be sustainable in the long term.

Such sharp price increases are causing students to seek out more affordable course materials options, often online. Additionally, staffing and overhead expenses are leaving campus stores little room to compete with the online giants.

Yet this doesn’t mean the demise of the once central on-campus bookstore hub, but rather an opportunity to reposition the store itself. Enter, the hybrid bookstore model, which enables the bookstore to remain the centerpiece that connects an institution’s constituents, while at the same time improving course materials affordability through convenient online purchasing channels. At a high level, a hybrid bookstore model should enable a school to lower the price of course materials to students and eliminate the financial risk that comes with carrying course materials inventory in a physical store.

How does a hybrid bookstore model work?

Under a hybrid bookstore model, colleges and universities are not burdened by the costs and logistics associated with carrying course materials inventory. All books and course materials are sold through a school’s dedicated online bookstore, which is integrated with other campus enterprise systems to ensure students’ required materials for their enrolled classes are clearly identified and accessible. This frees up the on-campus store to focus on higher margin, non-course materials, such as school logo spirit apparel and merchandise, as well as other student-focused services. Students can also visit the on-campus store to pick up their pre-boxed online orders (if set up by the school), as well as meet with peers. A hybrid bookstore model merges the convenience of an online store and the importance of an on-campus hub.

What market conditions are influencing the move to a hybrid bookstore model?

Pricing isn’t only impacting student purchasing behaviors, it is also affecting other pieces of the course materials puzzle, including publisher models, student outcomes, and the emergence of digital resources. However, a hybrid bookstore model can ideally address these various dynamics.

To start, rising textbook costs and increased competition are forcing publishers to alter their distribution strategies. The emergence of third-party online retailers has significantly impacted the profitability models of publishers, forcing publishers themselves to take action. This includes releasing new and customized editions, bundling textbooks with digital access codes for supplemental materials, and transitioning traditional textbooks to exclusively digital products. A hybrid bookstore model creates parallel workflows for the purchasing of traditional and digital resources.

Secondly, rising textbook prices are causing some students to opt out of purchasing materials altogether, yet having the required course materials for those courses is critical to a student’s success.

A U.S. Public Interest Research Group survey found that 65 percent of college students have refused to purchase a textbook due to price, and 94 percent say they’ve suffered academically as a result.2 When student performance is negatively impacted by course materials affordability, the repercussions on learning outcomes can be drastic. Under a hybrid bookstore model, the entire course materials acquisition process becomes more cost-effective and efficient, putting the right materials in students’ hands, the right way and at the right price.

Lastly, rising textbook costs are forcing some students to go digital, either out of want or necessity. While usage of digital products has not increased at projected rates, it is still widely accepted that this shift will happen. Laying the foundation of a bookstore model that will enable schools to manage the distribution and fulfillment workflows for digital products is key to their long-term success. To prepare for this shift, schools must focus on creating a consistent user experience that will support both traditional and digital purchasing and fulfillment workflows. This can be accomplished under a hybrid bookstore model, so the transition is seamless.

Why is a hybrid bookstore model a win-win?

Consider this, if costs were equal, 74 percent of students say they’d prefer to obtain their course materials from the school store.3 If students are confident that the pricing offered through the institution’s online store is fair, they likely will continue to purchase their print and digital materials through the institution rather than engaging the time and effort it takes to research the best price possible. When students don’t have good reason to go elsewhere for their course materials, they enhance a reciprocal bond with their school.

Through a hybrid bookstore model, students can access more affordable course materials, navigate a dedicated online bookstore with various delivery options, and purchase online anytime with optional and convenient in-store pick up, all while relying on the on-campus store to socialize with peers and purchase logo and spirit apparel.

A hybrid bookstore model also benefits the institution itself. Schools can lower the price of course materials while providing students with greater choice. Additionally, not only can they reduce cash outlay and reallocate resources for other student services, they can generate revenue from the sale of course materials and logo merchandise. A hybrid bookstore model can be just the thing to drive down costs while delivering the kind of support students have come to know and expect from their school.

The current bookstore model needs an overhaul, both in how it supports students and how it survives financially, avoiding the risks and costs associated with textbook inventory. Student behavior has shown that affordability is the number one motivation in course materials purchases, which in turn, needs also to be a school priority for conceptualizing new and alternative bookstore models going forward.

A hybrid bookstore model enables schools to meet the needs of their students without having to forgo any financial return for themselves.

Additionally, these schools now have an alternative that does not involve relinquishing complete control of their store to a corporate leaser.

Giving students a robust and dependable online source for course materials coupled with a tailored and social physical source for other school-related items can create meaningful and relevant savings for students, not to mention enabling the school to meet its service and financial goals.

How can Ambassador help you implement a hybrid bookstore model?

Ambassador is an early innovator of transitioning schools to the hybrid bookstore model. Under Ambassador’s expertise, course materials are moved to a school-dedicated online bookstore maintained and managed by Ambassador, providing the best of both worlds for print and digital content offerings, while the on-campus store continues to sell school spirit apparel and merchandise. Ambassador’s pricing model delivers complete transparency as it identifies the best pricing for print and digital resources, ultimately lowering the cost for students.

Ambassador’s proven online bookstore delivers simplicity, support, accuracy and quality controls. Ambassador custom-designs each school’s online bookstore website and brands it with your school’s logo and colors. Students can easily log in to the online bookstore or leverage one of its Single Sign-On options 24x7x365 to view a list of required and optional materials, place their orders and pay for their purchases by credit card or school voucher. Digital materials are automatically added to the student’s LMS or electronic bookshelf. Print materials and other non-book items are shipped to either the student’s address or the school’s address, as specified, which is verified prior to shipment.

Ambassador’s team can also help set up and stock your on-campus store with school logo items, as well as other ancillary items, which increase school spirit and students’ affiliation with the institution. Ambassador works with you to strategize, develop and actively market the on-campus store. Ambassador also assesses purchasing trends to align stocked inventory with student demand.

Ambassador’s analytics and reporting services give you the ability to measure outcomes and student success. Tracking course materials usage and engagement against student progress and success rates provides insights into how and how much students rely on their course materials. You can see immediately who is and who is not using and engaging with resources, which provides the opportunity to create a plan for early intervention. Data available through Ambassador from the purchases of course materials also allows schools to compare student preferences between print and digital. Additionally, access to digital metrics through Ambassador’s reporting functionality, which assembles the usage and engagement data for the school, provides a clear indicator of student participation.

Under Ambassador’s hybrid bookstore model, your school is able to lower the cost of course materials for students, minimize the financial risk for your school and help faculty select print and digital products. What’s more, Ambassador’s approach frees your institution to retain control of the identity of your on-campus store as a social hub for building community, promoting your brand and serving students, reinforcing its integral role in both the education experience and the bond your students form with your institution.

To request a free copy of Ambassador’s full white paper, “Should Your Campus Bookstore Sell Books,” visit www.AmbassadorEd.com/white-paper/ or contact info@AmbassadorEd.com.


  1. Covering the Cost, February 3, 2016, Student PIRGs, http://studentpirgs.org/reports/sp/covering-cost
  2. High Textbook Prices Have College Students Struggling, January 28, 2014, U.S. News & World Report, http://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2014/01/28/report-high-textbook-prices-have-college-students-struggling
  3. Key Findings Report: Student Watch Spring 2016 Academic Year, NACS, http://www.nacs.org/research/studentwatchfindings.aspx

Stuart Grinell

STUART GRINELL has been part of the Ambassador team since 1989, supporting and leading the company’s sales and marketing teams in a variety of capacities. He previously served as an instructor at Indiana University, and was on the faulty at University of Louisiana Lafayette (formerly University of Southwest Louisiana) and Louisiana State University. As a seasoned academic, Stuart’s insight into faculty and administrative challenges and opportunities enables him to identify and deliver course materials solutions specific to the higher education marketplace. His work has been published in library and other industry journals, and he holds a Bachelor’s of Art in History, a Master’s in Information Science and a Master’s in United States History, all from Indiana University.

Contact Information: Stuart Grinell // Vice President of Business Development // Ambassador Education Solutions // 800-431-8913 // sgrinell@ambassadored.com // www.AmbassadorEd.com // Social media: ambassador_ed

Ande Jenkins

ANDE JENKINS EdTech and digital content expert, brings tremendous insight into innovative, customized content distribution models. He works closely with Ambassador’s prospective and current client institutions to explore, strategize and develop modern course materials management and delivery strategies that meet the evolving needs of schools and students alike. Prior to joining Ambassador, Ande spent a decade at Blackboard in various leadership roles, where he earned Blackboard’s Content Provider Group MVP Award. Earlier in his career, he held software engineer and web developer positions across a variety of consumer and government verticals. Jenkins earned his BA in Computer Science from Washington and Lee University and his MBA from the University of Virginia.

Contact Information: Ande Jenkins // Senior Director of Business Development // Ambassador Education Solutions // 800-431-8913 // sgrinell@ambassadored.com // www.AmbassadorEd.com // Social media: ambassador_ed


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