Book co-op’s success in Calif. may not transfer to NU

Ryan Haggerty

Before every academic quarter, Northwestern students are forced to flock to Norris Bookstore to buy textbooks for their new classes. Other than buying books online, NU students don’t have any options because competition in the textbook market at NU would seem to be a thing of the past.

The same could have been said about the textbook market at University of California at Santa Cruz until the spring of 1996, when Cooper Marcus, now a Kellogg graduate student, started selling textbooks for a small number of classes in an attempt to quickly raise money to start a student-advocacy group.

The success of his small-scale operation convinced him to scrap the idea of an advocacy group and develop a student-run co-op, now known as Slug Books Co-op, that provides direct competition to UC-Santa Cruz’s campus bookstore, Bay Tree Bookstore.

It is unclear to Marcus and others whether such a risky business venture could be as successful at NU as it has been at UC-Santa Cruz.

According to Arthur Coulston, Slug Books’ book buyer, the co-op supplies books for just less than 20 percent of the classes offered at UC-Santa Cruz and had revenues last year that were slightly more than $900,000.

Marcus said situations are different at NU and UC-Santa Cruz. He said students at UC-Santa Cruz “hated the bookstore” and his co-op took off partly because of the “widespread dissatisfaction” students had with the campus store.

Running a full-time bookstore does not fit into the schedule of the average college student, and the co-op members need to have “a real priority to make it last,” Marcus said.

Scott Ross, Slug Books’ current director of finances, said he agreed that starting a small business is no easy task.

“It took two to three years to get off the ground,” he said, adding that this is the first year Slug Books has turned a profit.

Bill Johnston, executive director of Norris University Center, said Norris Bookstore would not be opposed to a competitor entering the market.

“We have no strong desire to be the only game in town,” said Johnston. “If students can get textbooks less expensively, I’m all for it.”

Johnston said the high price of textbooks is due to the markup publishers place on books, not simply the prices the bookstore charges.

Kevin Miller, a graduate student in the Integrated Marketing Communication program at the Medill School of Journalism, said independent bookstores could survive in the area if they were willing to look beyond NU to expand their market.

“The challenge is extending sales to schools like Loyola (University),” Miller said. Kate Ward said she is satisfied with Norris Bookstore.

“It is convenient and I’ve never had a problem with it,” said Ward, a Medill freshman. “But in theory it’s always better to have competition.”

The result of Slug Books’ entrance into the market at UC-Santa Cruz validated Ward’s belief about the benefits of competition. According to Marcus, Slug Books “lowered prices for everybody, which is what competition is supposed to do.”