Are College Bookstores Obsolete?

The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s College 2.0 blog reports that the continued rise of on-line bookstores and e-books are causing college bookstores to rethink their business models.  It is a pretty varied response.  Believe it or not, some of the stores are getting out of the book business altogether and will focus on providing such services as dry cleaning, flu shots and  photo printing, or even serving as performance spaces or study spaces (a la Starbucks).

Some stores are sticking with books in one form or another.  More campus stores are installing “print on demand” technology to cut their own inventory costs, while offering students a timely and less expensive source of books.  Others are outsourcing their textbook services to Barnes & Noble and similar commercial enterprises, that are looking to expand their share of textbook sales (both digital and analogue).

The bottom line?

In the end, though, someone else may end up winning the role of course-materials broker. Perhaps the college library will take over, buying licenses for online textbooks. Or colleges will charge students a course-materials fee that will go to buy e-textbooks, as a few colleges are now trying.

College bookstores occupy prime real estate on campus and have huge advantages, like access to data on students and the ability to accept campus debit cards, often paid for by parents. So what should they sell now?

The larger question is when did merchandising become so central to higher education?  The full post is here.