The digital-first, student-run magazine of the University of Massachusetts Amherst Journalism Department

Is [email protected] measuring up?

September 30, 2015

The Textbook Annex, described by one University of Massachusetts Amherst campus official as “brick-and-mortar,” is now a thing of the past.

Starting this semester, UMass has partnered with online retail giant Amazon to create a virtual bookstore where students order their textbooks. Books are delivered to a central pick-up location on campus.

According to school officials, students will save money with this new system.

“We know students struggle with the high cost of textbooks and other course materials, and they have been moving to online purchasing. We are delighted to help them get the most competitive prices and first-rate service,” Vice Chancellor of Administration and Finance James P. Sheehan said.

The central pick-up location is in the Campus Center. Orders can also be picked up from Amazon Lockers at residential areas on campus. Off-campus students are eligible for one-day shipping on textbooks and course materials within the campus area.

Joshua Johnson, a senior communications major, said his experience at the Textbook Annex last year was “ridiculous.” The 22-year-old spent more than an hour scouring the book shelves to find the right books, navigating through crowds of students and waiting in line to check out.

Johnson prefers the convenience of the new [email protected]. He said he can order his textbooks without hassle and they arrive on time.

“The good thing about [Amazon] is, if I order an item the night before, I get it within two days or so. Mainly, I get it at the beginning of the next morning. It’s quick,” he said.

The motivation for this new arrangement is the student satisfaction, said Executive Director of Strategic Communications Ed Blaguszewski. As the first month of the new arrangement comes to a close, Blaguszewski said in a phone interview last week, it appears that things have gone as planned.

“For the most part, I’m getting very good feedback,” he said.

UMass is the third school in the country, and the first in the Northeast, to implement this new program. Blaguszewski said that the Administration and Finance Department sought a replacement for the almost prehistoric concept of purchasing books at the annex.

The Textbook Annex had seen a decline in book sales over the past few years, he said. Students had been purchasing a large amount of their textbooks from Amazon already, but with a partnership, both sides would get a cut. The money earned by UMass, a commission of 2.5 percent of sales, is sure to advance the university.

Blaguszewski said change was needed to have a share in the textbook market.

“Over the years, the business has shifted to an Internet market,” he said. “Students want an easily identifiable way of getting their textbooks.” 

In a press release last January, Ripley McDonald, director of Amazon Student Programs, estimated the  potential annual savings of up to $380 per student on textbooks. “We calculated the savings rate by comparing our prices of more than 1,500 course materials used in UMass Amherst classes during the 2014 spring semester with prices at the Textbook Annex,” he said.

Blaguszewski confirmed that it’s not clear whether students using [email protected] will save that much, as the arrangement is still new. 

As with any new system, issues do persist. Johnson said that although his experience was favorable, a student in one of his classes complained she had to wait longer than a week for a book. Students have also complained about the fact that used books take longer to get delivered. In an op-ed piece in the UMass Daily Collegian, columnist Ian Hagerty argued that the Amazon move was “a step backward” for UMass. 

Blaguszewski also explained that recycling is an issue at the central pick-up location on campus because packaging from shipped textbooks can pile up quickly.

UMass is ready for any challenges that come with the new arrangement, Blaguszewski said, and with no other large scale textbook operations such as this, there is little to base their actions on. He did say, however, that feedback from students would make solving any issues easier.

What was your book-buying experience like this semester? Let us know.

Email Patrick MacCormack at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @patjomaccormack.
Email Kevin Kim at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter @StatisticalLens

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