Used Textbook Program Excels


Northern has one of the most successful used textbook programs in the United States, which saved students an estimated $1.7 million last year. For the fall semester, 62 percent of the sales at the NMU Bookstore were used editions—more than double the nationwide average of 30 percent.


“I don’t know of any other full-service college bookstore as high as we are,” said Paul Wright (Bookstore), who directs the textbook program. “When I got here, it was better than average, at about 40 percent. I’m fortunate that Mike [Kuzak] gave me the freedom to get creative and try new ideas to make it even better. It’s a lot of work, but fun. I compete against myself every year to get more used books. Eventually it will plateau; surprisingly, it was up again in the fall.”


Wright works aggressively with eight wholesale companies. He sends out a “want” list of used titles to some of them daily and contacts the others at least once each week. Timing is critical. Wright compares used books to produce—both have a limited shelf life.


“If you hold on to them too long and the professor chooses the new edition, you’re left with a bunch of books that are essentially worthless,” he said. “My relationship with the faculty helps. I might call someone and say, ‘I know you requested a new edition, but can we wait one semester?’ That faculty connection is important in creating a strong used book program, which leads to a strong buyback at the end of the semester. We sell about 80,000 books each year and buy back close to 40,000. It also helps when faculty get their textbook requests in by the deadlines because it's harder to get some used titles close to the semester.


While other stores and Internet sites can impact sales, Wright said the NMU Bookstore offers students convenience, security, timeliness, online services and other benefits that might offset the price differential. Aside from no shipping charges, students can obtain a refund within the first three weeks of classes.


Another advantage is the new automated reservation program available through Bookstore staff will pull a student’s schedule, gather the required textbooks, charge the student’s account and have them ready to pick up. In fall 2008, about 2,000 students took advantage of this service. The number climbed to 3,500 in fall 2009.


Wright stays “in the loop” on textbook trends through his participation in professional organizations. He is chair of the course materials committee for The National Association of College Stores.


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Updated: January 14, 2010

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