UNI Bookstore to return to private operation

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  • While the bookstore has seen a number of changes over the past few years, including a name change from University Book and Supply, Pete Moris assured that lowering prices for students remains a priority.

  • UNI acquired the bookstore in 2018 for nearly $3 million. It is now going to return to private operations due in part to the greater negotiating power and marketing access of third-party operators.

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At the March 27 UNI Faculty Senate meeting, it was announced that UNI will be taking the next steps to transition the UNI Bookstore to being operated by a third party.

UNI acquired the bookstore in 2018. The intention was that operating the bookstore as a not-for-profit entity through the university would allow them to offer the lowest textbook prices for students.

However, according to Director of University Relations Pete Moris, due to recent changes in the textbook industry, operating through a third party may now allow for lower pricing.

“There’s a handful of rather large players on the market, and they have an advantage in terms of the volume of [bookstores] that they do across a number of colleges and universities, which really puts them in a better position to negotiate in terms of pricing, selection and a number of other items,” Moris said.

“The biggest thing that we’re trying to ensure is that we’re in a position as a university where we’re getting the power that some of these providers have in terms of their leverage, their access to the marketplace and their buying power in the marketplace,” he said.

The current timeline is to have a request for proposal (RFP) out in May, which would allow different vendors to bid on operating the bookstore. Once a buyer is identified, the university hopes to have the transition complete by spring 2024.

UNI originally paid nearly $3 million in 2018 to acquire the bookstore, previously called University Book and Supply. While the university will no longer operate the store, Moris said that making textbooks affordable has remained a priority.

“As our team really evaluated it here, it became more and more apparent that going back to a third-party operator really might give us the best opportunity to sustain or even improve that level of pricing and selection service that we’re aspiring to provide to our students and faculty,” he said.

Operating through a third party has been a growing trend for college bookstores. Follet Higher Education Group is the largest campus store operator in North America with over 1,200 local bookstores under their management. Follet currently operates the Bulldog Shop at Drake University along with the University of Iowa Hawk Shop and University Bookstore. The partnership with the Hawk Shop came into effect in April of 2021.

Another key business is Barnes & Noble College, which operates stores at 11 Iowa colleges, including Hawkeye Community College and Upper Iowa University.

Iowa State University’s bookstore is still university-owned and operated.

Despite the changes the future may hold, Moris assured that no matter who the operator ends up being, they will still need student employees to help serve the community.

He also stated that while operations will be outsourced, the university will continue to own the building the bookstore is housed in.

As this transition is still in its early stages, the coming months will reveal more details about what the future of the bookstore will look like.

“We’ve communicated with our faculty about this timeline, and students aren’t going to see a change for a while,” Moris said. “Once we get more details, we’ll certainly be wanting to share that with the campus community.”