Search for Bookstore Operator Nearing Conclusion

Abstract image of textbooks at a bookstore. (iStock Photo)
Affordability, robust online capabilities, and community engagement have been key factors in the selection process. (iStock Photo)

UConn has narrowed its search for its next campus bookstore operator and expects to make a final decision in the next few weeks.

Based on the recommendation of a committee of student, faculty, staff, and alumni representatives, University officials reported to the Board of Trustees today that UConn is in negotiations with Barnes & Noble and Follett, both of which operate hundreds of campus bookstores around the nation. The final stages of the selection process are expected to conclude in the next few weeks.

“A bookstore is a critical component of every campus and college town,” said University President Susan Herbst. “UConn is very excited by the prospect of being home to a high-quality bookstore that meets the needs of our community across the board. In an era of constant reductions, rescissions and fund sweeps with respect to the University’s state appropriation, a relationship with Follett or Barnes & Noble also represents new revenue to UConn – into the millions annually – which the University has decided it will devote to student financial aid and student support.”

Herbst noted that the affordability of academic materials is a focal point of the evaluation process, and both companies have aggressive and demonstrated strategies to provide lower-cost alternatives to students, as well as price-matching programs.

As a result, not only will course materials not be more expensive than the UConn Co-op currently offers, they likely will be more affordable. Furthermore, language will be included in the final contract that restricts the ability of the chosen company to increase the cost of academic materials.

A third finalist, the UConn Co-op, recently was advised that its proposal was no longer under consideration.

The UConn Co-op, an independent non-profit created in the 1970s to serve as UConn’s bookstore, approached the University last year with concerns about its financial troubles and its overall long-term sustainability as an entity. Those conversations led the University to issue a request for proposals in December, seeking alternatives in the marketplace to manage bookstore operations.

The business model of campus bookstore operations is changing dramatically nationwide. Currently about 50 percent of colleges and universities outsource their college bookstore, a number that has grown significantly over the past five to 10 years according to Campus Bookstore Consulting, an independent firm that assists colleges and universities with developing and implementing effective campus store solutions.

In its report to the board, University officials cited affordability and other factors influencing the direction it wishes to take with bookstore services. The capabilities of both finalists to offer robust online platforms that often result in broader and timelier textbook adoptions from faculty is important.

Both vendors also have indicated their strong interest in maintaining and growing existing bookstore outlets in Storrs Center and other campus locations, including a potential new outlet in downtown Hartford to coincide with the opening of UConn’s new campus there.

The University expects that a final contract with the chosen vendor will include important provisions requiring public engagement – such as author talks, books signings, and other events – as these are important to the community.

“Above all, we wanted a bookstore that was as good as the university it serves, especially with respect to meeting the needs of our students and faculty,” said Herbst. “A campus bookstore must provide sophisticated, high-quality service to the university community and be a lively place to attend events, read, interact, study, and relax, in addition to just buying books and Husky gear. And UConn’s bookstore will do just that.”

University officials expect to present their final recommendation on a bookstore vendor to the Board of Trustees this summer.