A Textbook Case

Will e-tailers eliminate the university bookstore?

Even without fancy codes or the irrepressible Hobot, good indies die hard. The NYU Book Center, one of the few remaining independents, seems to have secured a hold on its particular market. Long before NACS's lawsuit, NYU quietly began to outsmart the competition with its own Web site in 1997. Unlike BigWords, which has to push to connect with professors, the NYU site gets its information directly from the school's registrar.

Professors provide the Book Center with a syllabus, and all that remains for the student to do is log on and tell the site who they are. A list of all the books they'll need that semester will appears. The store also e-mails students to tell them when required out-of-stock books have arrived. Assistant director Phil Christopher rhapsodizes over the system's efficiency. "The beauty of using the Internet for college campuses is that students and faculty can get us information quickly and find it quickly."

illstration by George Bates

Still, the lure of a deal is hard to beat—this is what drives shoppers online in the first place. Cliff Simms, owner of Labyrinth Books, an independent serving the Columbia University community, admits that textbook prices are inordinately high, but adds that publishers establish the price. And he's quick to point out that this isn't the only unfair financial drain on student wallets. "Tuition prices at universities are also too high."

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