Textbooks are now history at college bookstores across the country. American, Bowling Green State and Stony Brook universities all moved their textbook retail online, and GW followed suit. School spirit stores are kicking out hard covers of McGraw Hill and HarperCollins to sell only a labyrinth of logoed hoodies, adult coloring books, lanyards and water bottles.
The University announced in an Infomail last Thursday that all course materials, including textbooks, used copies and rentals, will be exclusively available online at gwshops.com. Students will no longer be able to purchase these items in person at the campus store, instead they will need to order them in advance online. The Infomail claims that most items will have one business day shipping. GW hasn’t offered an explanation for the textbook change, but whatever that reason may be, it’s not worth the loss in convenience for students.
Although many students are turning to discount retailers like Slugbooks and Chegg, one survey found that about 50 percent of college students still buy their books at the bookstore. By taking books off the shelves altogether, GW disadvantages a large percentage of students who still rely on their brick-and-mortar location. These students include those who wait until the first day of class to buy their books after the professor goes over the syllabus, those who forget to buy one until after the semester begins, or those who decide to take a new course and need materials immediately. Almost every college student has taken an emergency Saturday run to the campus store to buy an overpriced writing guide that the professor is going over the following Monday. One business day shipping is a lot slower than a panicky freshman’s legs as they sprint to the checkout.
Outsourcing course materials from bookstores onto websites comes with the possibility of receiving incorrect course materials. Last year, American University made the switch to online textbook sales. Charles Smith, AU’s director of auxiliary services, said to The Washington Post that students’ main concerns were about not seeing and handling textbooks they might buy. Not long after Stony Brook made the change to selling textbooks online, a sophomore received a disc meant for a political science class instead of his calculus course material. Without stocking physical copies of textbooks in the bookstore, GW is forcing students to buy products that they cannot see before purchasing.
GW should provide solutions to students’ unanswered questions that were left out in the University’s Infomail announcement last Thursday, including whether or not the price-match program is still available. Previously, GW has offered a price matching program to reward students who could show proof that another seller offers a lower price on the same textbook. Back in November 2016, before the change, a University spokeswoman said that students will get the difference back in the form of a gift card. But GW hasn’t said if the policy will remain after the online change.
Receiving the wrong course materials, factoring in shipping times and price matching are just some of the kinks to be worked out as students start the new school year. In the meantime, the bookstore should detail the specifics of the change in a frequently asked questions section of their website or send out a more detailed Infomail. The campus bookstore is turning a new page by supplying course materials through only an online supplier, but it’s not a happy ending for the students at GW.
Sydney Erhardt, a junior majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet columnist.
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