UMass considers a virtual bookstore

By Aishwarya Vishwanath

Collegian File Photo
Collegian File Photo

Due to the high price of textbooks and declining sales figures, the University of Massachusetts is exploring the option of switching to a virtual bookstore to supply textbooks and course materials.

Currently, students can purchase course materials from the University Store, the Textbook Annex and the bookstore website. The proposed virtual store would sell both digital and physical textbooks, and would have a delivery service so students could have their order sent to their residence hall or elsewhere on campus. The Virtual Course Materials Store would be available to both undergraduate and graduate students and accessible to students taking online or distance education courses, according to a Campus Bookstore Consulting report

The reasoning behind the possible shift involves not only students’ concerns over the high costs of textbooks, but also the availability of new technology, such as digital textbooks and Massive Open Online Courses, as well as new teaching methods that require virtual course materials.

Textbook sales at on-campus bookstores have been on the decline. According to the report, sales decreased by 30.2 percent from 2009-2013. During the same time, used textbook sales dropped by 62.5 percent.

A Virtual Course Materials Store is being touted by the UMass administration as an attempt to lower textbook prices for students. However, it is still unclear how the new prices will compare with those of competing retailers.

The amount of money spent on course materials is on the forefront of some students’ minds. When asked what he thought about the administration’s potential plan for the virtual bookstore, UMass sophomore Jacob Lytle expressed skepticism.

“I fail to see how UMass can make things cheaper than,” he said.

Later this month, the University will issue a request for proposals from various publishing companies and companies like and Google to see what they have to offer in terms of virtual store services and details. Information will include pricing models, payment methods, such as UCard debit and details on materials deliveries and potentially reduced shipping charges.

With the introduction of a Virtual Course Materials Store, the current Textbook Annex and other bookstores on campus would be either eliminated or be significantly downsized. According to UMass spokesperson Daniel Fitzgibbons, because the University has not made any concrete decisions yet, any changes to the current on-campus job market is uncertain, but student jobs will be a consideration in the discussions of the Virtual Course Materials Store. However, the virtual store would also create new jobs, such as those involving liaising with the provider company and organizing and managing order deliveries.

More information will become available after the administration receives requests for proposals later this month.

Aishwarya Vishwanath can be reached at [email protected]