Chegg on Campus

Fewer and fewer students are buying their textbooks at the Bowdoin College bookstore, so the college is outsourcing its textbook center to Chegg.

June 5, 2015

Chegg, the textbook and student services company that has long been a nuisance to physical campus bookstores, will this fall take over and run the textbook center at Bowdoin College.

Bowdoin will still keep its campus store, which will sell school supplies and college-branded gear, but the majority of the textbook shopping will be done online through a Bowdoin-themed website, developed by Chegg. Each semester, the college will create a pop-up space on campus where students can pick up the books they ordered. That frees up space for the college, which will use the old textbook center as a new IT space.

The shift won’t come with significant savings for the college, said S. Catherine Longley, senior vice president for finance and administration, but students will save an average of 20 percent compared to what they now spend on textbooks.

Bowdoin is responding to a development colleges of all sizes have experienced over the last decade: the college bookstore, facing competition from online retailers and rental outlets, has become a less popular destination for buying textbooks. Administrators, faculty members and staffers, faced with that trend, recently reconsidered how Bowdoin does textbook procurement, picking a partner many students already ordered their textbooks from.

“We saw over time that the number of books we were selling from our own campus textbook center was declining -- almost 50 percent over the last eight years,” Longley said. “[Chegg] can offer much higher discounts than we can running our own textbook center. It’s a question of scale. We see it as a great way for students to save on their book purchases.”

Chegg will be able to provide 80-90 percent of the books students will need for their courses, while the college will handle the rest, Longley said. The two staffers working on textbook procurement today will be shifted to other roles, for example to the bookstore or working on specialty publications or textbooks for faculty members, she said.

Bowdoin is the latest college to hand over textbook distribution duties to an online partner, but with about 1,800 students, it is also one of the smallest. Amazon, another newcomer to the campus bookstore market, has exclusively picked large universities for its Amazon Campus program, like Purdue University, the University of California at Davis and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Companies such as Barnes & Noble and Follett, meanwhile, are common choices for colleges that decide to outsource bookstore operations.

John Squires, CEO of the bookstore services provider Akadémos, said many colleges are seeing less than 20 percent of their students purchasing textbooks through the campus bookstore. The declining use, combined with the cost of procurement and the space occupied, is leading many institutions to reconsider having a physical bookstore.

“There’s no institution in the future that’s going to be able to avoid the question of whether or not the best form of getting books for their students is having them physically on campus,” Squires said. “It’s extremely difficult to provide great value and service if you’re limited to what books you can put on a shelf for twice a year in a college bookstore.”

Akadémos provides bookstore services to more than 120 colleges and universities, including the City Colleges of Chicago and Davenport University. Squires said he welcomed Chegg’s entry into the market, saying it “validates what a company like ours does” and increases the chance more colleges will consider rethinking their bookstores.

Squires also suggested Chegg is treating its partnership with Bowdoin as a pilot to determine if a more pronounced presence on a campus can improve its customer pipeline. Chegg last August struck a deal with the Ingram Content Group to handle the physical textbook side of its business, and the company over the last several years completed a number of acquisitions to expand its college planning, counseling and internship services.

Longley, Bowdoin’s chief financial and administrative officer, said Chegg agreed to “beta test the small school [bookstore] experience,” but Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Chegg, played down the significance of his company running a college’s textbook center.

“We were approached by a very forward-thinking president [Barry Mills], who said [his] goal is to lower the cost of materials for students, increase the convenience for students and liberate real estate that is no longer effectively being used on behalf of students,” Rosensweig said. “Our goal is to save students money. We would be happy to help them.”

Bowdoin’s agreement with Chegg lasts for three years with an option to renew it, a college spokesperson confirmed.

Chegg has worked with bookstores before, Rosensweig pointed out. In 2010, for example, the company piloted a system where students could order textbooks from Chegg from a tablet mounted in select campus bookstores.

Rosensweig declined to say how many Bowdoin students currently use Chegg. In general, the company’s penetration ranges from 15 percent to as much 40 percent at some colleges, he said.

Rosensweig also estimated Bowdoin students will save more than the college projects. Rental books can cost up to 90 percent less than buying the textbook, he said, and used textbooks are normally 30-35 percent less expensive. The students will be able to buy new or used textbooks, or opt for a rental, he said.


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