Riding the book-rental wave
A.S. Wildcat Store looks forward to increased textbook rentals with new, more comprehensive rental program
The last time we checked in with David Buckley, executive director of Chico State’s Associated Students, back in January 2011, rapidly declining book sales at what was then called the A.S. Bookstore had forced the store into decreasing its staff, going into the book-rental business and diversifying its merchandise.
The store, which also underwent a name change to the A.S. Wildcat Store, now offers a wide range of Chico State clothing and such, as well as Clinique cosmetics and “C-Store”—industry shorthand for “convenience store”—goods.
“The text[book] floor space [on the second floor of the Wildcat Store] has decreased,” said Buckley recently. “If you go up there, you will see that years ago the text area took up the majority of the space. But now it’s reduced to maybe half to two-thirds of the floor space compared to five years ago.”
The first floor of the store is filled with “general merchandise, clothing, computers and ‘C-Store’—what it’s always been,” Buckley said. However, “general books”—novels and other nonacademic books—has switched places with supplies (binders, pens, paper, etc.); supplies are now downstairs, and general books are on the second floor with textbooks.
“We felt that moving supplies down would generate additional sales because they are more visible,” said Buckley. “And general books—we’ve seen a continued decline in general-book sales due to people buying online at Amazon [and] Barnes & Noble.”
The continuing decline in textbook sales has resulted in the Wildcat Store’s becoming more competitive in the text-rental market by creating its own rental service this past school year, as opposed to partnering with major textbook-rental firm Chegg.com, as it did in the spring semester of 2011.
“We got a small commission anytime someone would rent [from Chegg] through our website, but we wanted to give students options. … With Chegg, there were limited rental options,” Buckley said.
Now, said Buckley, most Chico State textbooks are available for rent or purchase, both new or used. ”We saw considerable increase in rentals now that we have our own system,” he noted, adding that with Chegg, students “had to wait for books to be shipped to them; now, the books are here [in the Wildcat Store].
“What we are seeing is students like that option [of renting],” Buckley said. “We expect [rentals] to increase. Since last year was the first year [for the new rental program] …we don’t have a history on establishing a rental increase; we have nothing to compare it to. But we’re anticipating an increase of 20 percent [in rentals this school year]. I think we’ll get that because we saw such a strong response this past year.”
The second-floor textbook area will continue to shrink, Buckley said. “We’re moving text to half the space [it currently occupies]; the other half will be for other student services yet to be determined. The point is, if you don’t need all that space, maybe there are other uses that would be of more benefit.”
Buckley said that he is waiting “until after fall rush”—by mid-September—to decide what to do with the floor space. “We have to ask, ‘Have text rentals really increased by 20, 30 percent? How are text sales?’ If we’re hitting our target, we’ll make one decision; if we’re not hitting our target, we’ll make another decision.” Regardless, he said, the text area will be made smaller.
“We are doing well in all other areas—clothing, gifts, computers, supplies, C-Store, Clinique. Clinique’s a big seller,” said Buckley. “If we are off on our [textbook sales and rental] estimates for 2012-13, then we would assess whether we would just move all of text down to the first floor.” However, such a move would require careful assessment, he said. “We would have to assess what [moving all the textbooks downstairs] would do to decrease of sales in those other areas [clothing, gifts and so on], because clothing, etc., would have to shrink.”
Regardless, Buckley anticipates that “over the next four to five years, text inventory will decrease.
“So that’s kind of where we are,” he said. “I’m optimistic. The staff has worked really hard. I’m very proud of the way they have addressed the challenges we’ve faced for the past three years.”
Buckley is upbeat as well about the Wildcat Store’s new, incoming director, Rob Meyers, most recently an associate director of textbooks at Arizona State University’s Phoenix campus, to replace Steve Dubey, who left in March for a job at the University of Nevada, Reno.
“He’s a very talented guy,” Buckley said of Meyers. “We’re looking forward to him being here and sharing his expertise.”