Strong sentiments echoed across campus this semester when students went to pick up their books and found empty shelves.
“I signed up for the Early Bird thing, and when I went to pick them up, they only had two of my books,” Kim McBride said. “My English book wasn’t in for a week and a half, and then my calculus [book] wasn’t in for a week or so.”
Student attitudes varied from slightly irritated to irate.
“The UMKC Bookstore is dead to me,” Crystal Henry said.
Minju Park considered herself lucky to have books the day after classes began.
“When I tried to buy the books, they didn’t have them in stock, so I had to wait for them,” Park said. “I never knew how to use the online store in America, so I just decided to buy the books [at the bookstore].”
“This is probably, in the past 5 years that I’ve been here, the worst semester I’ve seen as far as orders getting turned in,” bookstore manager Pete Eisentrager said. “Not only does that affect books not being here on time, [it] basically eliminates our ability to get used books. It delays shipping because every bookstore in the country is ordering books. So, they’re backed up, [and] we’re backed up. It’s kind of a lose, lose, lose situation for everybody.”
According to Eisentrager, the bookstore requests faculty submit orders between late April and early May for summer and fall semesters. The deadline for spring semester is Oct. 31.
This allows the bookstore to purchase used books from wholesalers and buy books back from students.
“We want to buy as many books back as we possibly can from our students,” Eisentrager said. “The last option we do is going to a publishing company. It costs our students the most money and the university the most money in freight and costs.”
Last spring, only 26 percent of orders for summer and fall semesters were submitted by the deadline.
“Roughly 74 – 75 percent of the textbooks were not eligible for buyback,” Eisentrager said.
This translated to students missing out on between $150,000-$200,000. It equaled a loss of money for the university.
The bookstore gains the highest profit margin when selling a book bought from a student. Usually, the buyback price is up to 50 percent off the new book price. The bookstore sells it back for 25 percent off the new book price. For example, if a new book sold for $100, a used book would sell for $75 and the university would buy the book from a student for $50.
This is more favorable than the wholesale price, around $60-$70. Buying the book from the publisher is even less desirable. However, this was the option the bookstore faced this semester, given the lack of timely orders.
“One of the biggest problems we have each year is sticker shock when students come in and see a book priced at $150 [or] $200,” Eisentrager said.
Buying a book from the bookstore is not the only option. Brock Lamkins said he saved “around $300-$400” by purchasing his books online.
While Lamkins’ story may be atypical, book pricing is a concern for financially-strapped students. Although the vast majority of the books are not marked up 50–70 percent, the bookstore does have to mark up books somewhat due to its auxiliary status.
The bookstore, like parking is an auxiliary operation run by the university.
State law dictates all overhead costs must be funded through profits gained by the books. It must be an entirely self-sustaining operation.
“We receive no state money, no university money whatsoever,” Eisentrager said.
However, unlike parking, any remaining funds flow directly into the UMKC general fund. Each year, the bookstore contributes approximately $1.5–2 million to the general fund from profits.
Despite its lucrative nature, Eisentrager said his first priority is to reduce textbook costs for students.
“I’m the biggest advocate on campus for reducing textbook costs for our students, Eisentrager said. “Believe it or not, that’s our mission. Textbook prices are out of control.”
The bookstore has instituted programs to help augment some of these costs, like the rental program. However, the most effective way to avoid costs, Eisentrager said, is to make sure orders are submitted on time.