According to Forbes’ rankings, the Follett Corporation stands among the largest 200 private companies in America. According to Follett’s website, they serve more than half of the students in the entire country, in more than 80,000 schools and have physical locations on more than 940 campuses, including Brandeis. Last semester, I decided to rent my course books through Brandeis’ Follett store, and had quite an experience.
Upon checking out my five books, I felt that I had definitely spent far more than what was justifiably fair. I wouldn’t keep any of the readings at end of the semester, yet I was paying an amount only nominally less than it would have cost to buy the books at full price. I was even made to fill out collateral information in case I absconded with one of the worn out editions, which would have incurred upon the bookstore a mere $13 loss from the already lucrative rental. In the end, I decided to buy one of the books at the completion of my rental for a few extra dollars and return the others, one of which I discovered I didn’t even have to rent in the first place.
As the second semester closed in, I asked one of my friends how he shopped for textbooks. He directed me to TextSurf.com—just one of the many online tools available. In a process far more pleasant than navigating the Brandeis bookstore’s online site, I found all of my required books available from companies such as Chegg, Amazon and ValoreBooks for far less even than Follett’s cheapest prices. After a total of 15 minutes, I had placed orders for all of my books, including a new book from Amazon that cost literally a handful of pennies. Shipping was free and expedient, and upon arrival the boxes included a free handful of fun college essentials. All in all, the bill for my second-semester books was less than half of what the Follett bookstore would have charged.
So what’s the catch? Why is it that books from the university bookstore are often double (or more) than the cost of books online? With the Follett Corporation being nearly 150 years old, one would imagine it could figure out more than simple market domination and ability to dictate prices. With the costs of college fees and tuition rising faster than inflation, the last thing that students need is for their own campus bookstore extorting them. This streamlined monetary extraction process is something that shockingly continues even with the flourishing array of online retailers.
Follett, however, is not a business to which Brandeis should feel eternally bound beyond the terms of any existing contract. Recently, UMass Amherst rolled out a collaboration with Amazon to provide students cheaper textbooks with free shipping. There is no point in Brandeis continuing to push its students toward an inferior textbook delivery network when there are cheaper, smarter options available. There is no point for Brandeis to seriously consider proceeding with the Follett Corporation if Follett cannot provide the best prices and services for the university’s most valuable assets: its students. If a university can find it possible to keep with the spirit of the free market and competition while relieving an extra burden from the backs of struggling students, why shouldn’t it?