University Shop proposes changes



Lee Betancourt

Villanova’s University Shop has begun looking into a new book-buying policy. The preliminary idea, as conceived by University Shop Director Frank Henninger, adds a book fee cost to the price of University tuition.

The policy is far from a reality, both Henninger and University Vice President for Communication Ann Diebold said. The policy has to be presented to the Administrative Planning and Budget Committee, chaired by University Vice President for Finance Ken Valosky, which will not happen until early 2008.

If the idea is approved by the APBC, it will then be presented to the Board of Trustees, which would have to approve the idea in the same manner that it approves tuition cost adjustments each year.

The earliest that the concept, after it is altered or finalized, could be put into action, is the fall of 2008 or the fall of 2009, Henninger said.

Although the plan will not be put into action for months and could be rejected or greatly altered, it has already generated student response on campus. A Facebook group titled “The bookstore wants to include all books in your tuition this January!” complains that the bookstore is overpriced and will establish a monopoly on textbook sales to Villanova students.

Henninger, however, explained his concept for the new policy and outlined a number of proposed benefits to students, including lower costs, no waiting in long lines and one-stop shopping on campus.

The business model would best be described as a “tuition-based book fee model,” Henninger said, and it would be the first of its kind in the country.

“It’s a business mode that’s dramatically different from the way that anyone does business,” Henninger said. “It’s radically different from the same old, same old.”

The impetus for a new business model came from seeing a problem and looking for a solution, Henninger said. University Shop employees saw the long lines of students wind around the bookstore and wondered how they could eliminate the line.

“Eliminating the line, not a new mode of payment, was the original question,” Henninger said. “Then we realized that we could get all these other improvements to be true.”

Besides the time-saving factor, Henninger says that the new plan will save students money.

The bookstore currently has to estimate the number of books to order based on “the history of each book and course,” Henninger said.

The University Shop currently orders about 65 percent of the number of books that a full class of students will need. This is due to the numbers of students who buy books elsewhere, share books or don’t purchase books at all. Still, there was $1 million worth of unpurchased books sitting on shelves in early November.

“In an ideal world, our shelves would be empty,” Henninger said.

The objective, he said, is that everyone who needs a book should get one. As such, the shop errs on the side of ordering more books than necessary.

“We understand that books are expensive,” Henninger said. “That’s why we have a WildCard discount and sell used books.”

The problem, Henninger said, is that students don’t perceive textbooks as worth the price.

His proposal for a new bookstore policy would solve some of the problems, he hopes.

“What’s not working any longer is business as usual,” he said.

As he explained it, publishers would be willing to work with the University Shop to offer books at a discounted rate because the University would not be selling back unbought books. In addition, the publishers would not be losing money on used books; all books sold in the preliminary plan would be new.

Because the “sell-through” of every title would be 100 percent, Henninger said that the eight biggest textbook publishers have already agreed to give the University a discount.

“As exact as we can be with enrollment, we can be with books,” Henninger said.

This would also mean that the University would have guaranteed revenue on the books. The University Shop is wholly owned by the University, so all profit goes directly to the bottom line. Henninger explained that because of this, the University could decide exactly how much revenue to make from textbook sales.

“It’s another opportunity to lower the cost of books,” he said. “How much can we afford to discount it? We can pass the savings on to the student.”

Henninger presented it as an opportunity for the administration to make a conscious decision of what’s right to make off of textbooks, whether this profit is high or makes the University Shop into practically a non-profit operation.

“I will not support charging the most money possible,” Henninger said. “We have to have a discount. Otherwise, if it’s not a benefit to students, why change?”

To determine the discount and other statistical information needed to come up with a specific project proposal, Henninger surveyed about 600 students, including undergraduate and graduate students.

Henninger’s proposal to charge for books by credit hour would save students who buy their books new at the bookstore money.

He said that the change would save the average Villanovan about 16 percent. In most cases, he said, students who bought used books also saved money.

“We knew that we could save a considerable amount for students who buy new books [before the survey],” he said. “What we didn’t know was that we could save others’ considerable amounts, too.”

The convenience factor, too, should appeal to students, Henninger thought. He envisioned a book pick-up service as a part of the program. Students would be able to pick up their books at the University Shop. They would not have to order them online or wait in line.

Henninger said that current popular features, like book buyback, would still be made available to students. Although these are not popular with publishers, he noted the value for students.

“Overall, this would be a system where everybody can win,” he said. “That’s not popular with the current system.”

The current system is under review at numerous other universities as well.

“There are about 40 universities wanting to look at this idea,” he said. “Everyone wants to see who tries it first, and I’m hoping it’s us. I’ve been incubating this idea for four years.”

For the project to get off the ground, it has to first be approved by the APBC and the Board of Trustees. Henninger expects to present to the APBC in early 2008.

One motivating factor that Henninger mentioned was that this program would “differentiate” Villanova.

The University already includes the cost of a laptop in the University tuition.

“We’re advertising a better deal at Villanova,” Henninger said. “It’s more value with this added feature, just one more thing. We can show that we’re not nickel and diming people. The tuition price you see is what you actually pay.”

Although the idea is only in its first stages of development and could meet numerous reviews before it is ever implemented, Henninger said that he’s excited about the plan’s potential.

“It’s a whole different paradigm,” he said. “It’s a better deal for the students and they don’t have to do any of the legwork.”

The Villanovan will continue to follow the potential of the University Shop proposal as it is presented to the APBC.