June 8, 2012 in City

Reins shift at Zag Shop stores

Ownership group sees savings for students with book rentals
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Wide reach

Illinois-based Follett Higher Education started with three stores and now manages more than 900 at colleges and universities across the U.S. and Canada.

Gonzaga University’s main Zag Shop bookstore reopened Thursday under new management: Follett Higher Education Group.

The university joins more than half the nation’s colleges and universities by making the switch, which is expected to save students money on textbooks and return more money to the institution.

Students will be able to rent textbooks for half the price of purchasing a new one, said Elio DiStaola, Follett’s director of public and campus relations. Since 2009, “we’ve saved students over $300 million just in rentals.”

On Thursday, the store was buzzing with employees and Follett representatives who were restocking and reordering shelves. Students who wandered in were thrilled to find much of the Gonzaga merchandise on sale at clearance prices; at the same time, they were curious about the change in management.

“With rentals, it’s a lot of risk on our part,” DiStaola said. “But it’s been a large-scale impact on making sure students have the materials they need to succeed. This is not just an affordability program, it’s an access program.”

And the company doesn’t penalize students for writing in the margins, highlighting text and folding page corners.

In addition to renting physical texts, students will also be able to rent digital books or e-texts.

The reason higher education institutions are turning campus bookstores over to private companies is because of the high cost of running an independent bookstore and the evolution of education texts, according to numerous news reports. Washington State University’s bookstore is managed by Barnes & Noble, Follett’s biggest competitor.

“There’s a lot of change in that world and I was concerned about our ability to manage that change and what we see coming, as well as foreseeing what’s still to come,” said Marty Martin, GU’s executive vice president. “One of the great advantages to working with Follett is this is what they do. That was a big piece of it.”

Making the switch only worked because Follett was a good fit for GU, Martin added.

“We have a unique approach,” DiStaola said. “It’s campus to campus. The company adjusts to the needs of the university.”

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