Barnes & Noble Will Take Over College Bookstore
By Benjamin Pontz, Editor-in-Chief
Barnes & Noble will operate the Gettysburg College Store beginning in late May, Gettysburg’s Vice President of Finance & Administration Dan Konstalid announced in a campus-wide email Tuesday.
At a faculty meeting in March, College President Janet Morgan Riggs said, “We cannot continue to provide affordable course materials and excellent service without losing money.” At the time, she suggested it was likely the college would decide to outsource the operation of the store by the end of her tenure in June.
Konstalid called Barnes & Noble an “industry leader in campus bookstore operation” who would help the college meet goals including:
- “affordable in-store and online course materials for students;
- open educational resources (OER) and OER-based digital courseware;
- faculty assistance in identifying course materials that meet their desired student learning objectives, along with ease of adoption;
- and, merchandise that continues to reflect our greater Gettysburg College brand, including Bullets logo apparel and gifts for alumni, family, and friends.”
Barnes & Noble operates more than 700 college stores nationwide.
Janelle Wertzberger, Assistant Dean and Director of Scholarly Communications at Musselman Library, which has been working on textbook affordability for the past five years as textbook prices have increased by more than 200% since 1997, expressed concerns about how the new contract with Barnes & Noble will impact the college’s ongoing efforts to promote affordability and the use of open educational resources.
“The larger library community is cautious when for-profit enterprises like Barnes & Noble claim to value affordability for their non-profit clients,” Wertzberger said. “Sometimes contracts contain clauses which thwart those very goals. We have heard from colleagues at other schools with B&N bookstores. They shared boilerplate B&N contracts that limit how faculty can access and disseminate open textbooks to their students. Of course, we would like to prevent negative impacts like this at Gettysburg.”
College spokesperson Jamie Yates did not offer a specific figure as to how much the college expected to net from outsourcing the store’s operation, but she reiterated that market forces necessitated seriously considering Barnes & Noble’s proposal.
“[D]isruption in market has led to decreases in sales and operating margins while at the same time, staffing and support costs increase from year to year,” she said. “As a result, net returns have been on the decline. Barnes and Noble made a compelling offer that was thoughtfully deliberated by the College and will be financially advantageous to the institution.”
A working group has been meeting to discuss the store’s future and considered at least one other offer, a source familiar with the deliberations said.
Yates said that the savings Barnes & Noble can achieve will come through “economies of scale” rather than decreasing employee compensation or benefits, though she acknowledged that employees of the new store likely would not enjoy the full range of benefits available to college employees.
“Barnes and Noble will offer competitive salary and benefits however it is unlikely they will offer the same level of tuition benefits as the college does,” Yates said. “Barnes and Noble employees will have an array of benefits that includes; medical, prescription, dental and vision benefits. They will also have access to life insurance coverage fully paid by Barnes and Noble, some would even qualify for a bonus.”
Current bookstore employees will have the opportunity to interview with Barnes & Noble, but they will not be guaranteed jobs. Although Riggs said in March that the college would do its best to find other positions for any displaced employees, Yates emphasized that they will go through the normal application process for any open positions at the college.
“While the College will assist employees impacted by the transition, it was never the case that the College would find them another position on campus,” she said.
Presently, Yates said the college has no plans to outsource other areas of campus operations, but that it would endeavor to practice good financial stewardship and, as such, will continue to “assess operations from time to time to ensure they are still offering cost-effective, high-quality service.”
The college has outsourced mail room, copying machine management, and some print services to Ricoh and, for a time, dining services were managed by a company called “Servomation.” The name “Servo” stuck, but, a 1981 report in The Gettysburgian found that when a student group took over operation of the Bullet Hole based on findings from a seven-year study in its previous operation, the students ran it more efficiently than the company with whom the college had previously contracted for service.