Wednesday, January 8, 2014

A little lesson in supply and demand

Classes start next Monday and I'm already steeling myself for the complaints from students who can't POSSIBLY be expected to do the reading because they don't have the books. In the past I might have flippantly suggested that they go to the bookstore, but I'm not doing that this semester. I have been to the bookstore, and it wasn't pretty: I saw four copies of the textbook for a class of 22 students, two copies of each book for a class of 9 students, and no copies of any books whatsoever for my two other classes.

So I talked to the manager, who gave me a lovely little lesson in supply and demand:

Bookstore Manager Who Can't Be Much Older than Twelve: We sold both copies of the books for that class.

Me: You only ordered two copies?

BMWCBMOTT: We don't order many copies of texts for upper-level classes because usually juniors and seniors find other ways to get their books.

Me: Maybe because they've learned that the books aren't available in the bookstore.

BMWCBMOTT: If they need it, we can always special-order it for them.

Me: They need it next Tuesday. If they come in on Monday, will they be able to get it on Tuesday?

BMWCBMOTT: That's why we're promoting this amazing new program!!!

[I'll spare you the sales pitch, but the essence of the plan is that the entire campus has to agree to order all textbooks through this program and the books all arrive at the student's doorstep at the beginning of the semester, but faculty have little freedom in selecting editions.]

Me: How about the books written by that author who's coming to visit in a few weeks? Are they in yet?

BMWCBMOTT: They should arrive in time for the reading.

Me: But what about before the reading? Don't you plan to do a display about this author and promote her books?

BMWCBMOTT: People who want the book can buy it the night of the reading.

Me: But what about people who might want to read the book before the reading? For instance, my students are reading the first chapter for class, and some of them might be inspired to read the rest of it before the author's visit.

BMWCBMOTT: They can always order it from Amazon.

Me: Wait, isn't this a bookstore? Don't you want to encourage students to come in and, you know, buy books?

BMWCBMOTT: We just don't do it that way.

Me: Yes. Right. I'll try to remember that next time. And when my students complain that they don't have the books, I know where to send them.


  1. There is way too much truth in this post.

  2. I've given up on the bookstore, and I have told my students so, and why. I provide the ISBN, well before the start of the semester, and turn them loose.

    Our bookstore is now managed by Engulf and Devour, so I have no "campus loyalty" to them. It is a glorified gift shop.

  3. That sounds familiar. The bookstore at the place I used to teach at was hopelessly mismanaged for most of the time I was there. Hardly anybody seemed to know what was going on or where anything was, including the purchasing agent.

    There was one person who had an idea and she did her job well. Often, when I had problems in locating books and such, she was the one I contacted. If she didn't know, she said so and did her best to find out. Unfortunately, she quit after a few years, leaving me at the mercy of the buffoons who were still there.

    Then again, the bookstore became an anything-but-books emporium. You could buy everything from NHL tickets to the latest potboiler in paperback.

  4. Yes, there's a good reason a retired colleague always refers to the bookstore as "The T-Shirt Shop."

  5. We teach at the same school with the same bookstore, don't we? When our bookstore was taken over by Barnes & Noble, this is what happened to us.

    1. What I get is:

      Bookstore: We only ordered 15 copies because last year when you taught this, we only sold 15 books.

      Me: Yes, but last year, I only had 15 students in the class. Notice that all 15 bought the book from you.This year I have 20 people registered. That means you should order at least that many, since we can likely say that 100% of those you bought were sold.

      Bookstore: But last year you only bought 15.

    2. I think this is one of those subjects that can leave us wondering whether we all teach at the same school (and, if so, whether we could possibly stage a coup, or at least meet for coffee in the student center).

      In fact, our bookstore's site redirects to a site belonging to, yes, B&N. I'm not sure there's any difference between it and the bookstore site of hundreds of other schools, except, of course, the school colors. Gotta have those school colors, even if most of your online classes (and some of your in-person ones) are run on third-party publishers' platforms, and you share a considerable portion of the (adjunct) faculty teaching your intro courses with your 3 nearest neighbors (including the local community college that charges considerably less for what is, in every significant way, the same course). Branding is very, very important, even (perhaps especially) when substance is lacking.

  6. All of this sounds so very familiar. I have to fight to have my bookstore order enough copies because they too make the assumption that a given percentage of students will acquire the book through other sources. And that's even if it's the first time I've used a given book and it is NOT available through Amazon. So in return I often give students in my upper-year courses enough warning so they can buy from another source. Heck, I don't really care if it is Amazon. If they can get Aspects of oral traditions in diaspora Golden Age Gerbil tragedy to my student within two days of her ordering it, I'm going to cut them a lot of slack.
    Sadder, our bookstore has a woefully inadequate non-textbook section. Even faculty publications are rare with the exception of a few who are particularly good at self-promotion.

  7. Here they sell used copies of lab manuals every single semester. I call and say they can't be reused because the pages are ripped out and to stop offering that. They always say "We don't do that". It's always an option. There is always a little "USED" link that dumps a $60 piece of shit into a shopping cart. The students buy them to save $20, the semester starts, they discover the problem, they attempt a return and there are no new books to relpace them with. EVERY FUCKING SEMESTER FOR EIGHT YEARS!

  8. Our bookstore is on its last legs, but I still have them order my textbooks, just to support them. I also make a point of always picking a text that has a Dover edition, costing no more than $25. There are some real old-school math and physics classics there, originally written about 50 years ago (hardcore, no bells, whistles or colorful boxes), and that's fine for UG courses.

    Our school started a ridiculous policy of "requiring faculty" to order textbooks for the next semester sometime around the middle of the current one, when we don't even know who will be teaching what. So far I've managed to completely ignore that, and go to the bookstore myself and place a book order on the last week of classes. The texts still get here on time, and so far I've had no problems with ordering too few of them.

    1. In some places, those early orders are a matter of legislative fiat -- so students can tell how much the course + required materials will cost at registration time (and, supposedly, to keep us from profiting by assigning textbooks in which we have a financial interest -- another one of those myths, like the professor who works 6 hours a week, that seems to be widespread in the world beyond the ivory tower, however ridiculous it sounds to us).

  9. Oh, my bookstore isn't so bad. It's where I get (Twitch! Twitch!) STAPLES!