Business

Amazon to take over textbook sales at UMass Amherst

The UMass Amherst campus.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The UMass Amherst campus.

The campus bookstore, a seeming anachronism in the digital age, will soon become history at the University of Massachusetts.

Starting next fall, students at the flagship Amherst campus will buy almost all textbooks from Amazon.com. The online retail giant has struck a deal with UMass to replace an on-campus “textbook annex” run by Follett Corp. with a smaller Amazon distribution center.

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UMass officials hope the arrangement will save students money.

“We really recognize that textbooks and course materials are a major expense for students, and those have continued to go up over time,” said Ed Blaguszewski, UMass spokesman. “This is about convenience and saving money for students.”

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Amazon told UMass that it could save students an average of 31 percent, or $380 annually, compared with prices at the old store.

The Amazon system will offer students access to digital textbooks and, for old-fashioned ink-and-paper texts, free one-day delivery to addresses on campus and apartments in nearby towns.

Students can also pick up texts, ordered online, at an Amazon-staffed storefront in the campus center that’s set to open in June.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

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The Amazon system will also be integrated into the school’s course-selection software, letting students see exactly which books they need to buy for each class they are registered to take.

Under terms of the five-year deal, the online retailer will pay UMass Amherst a 2.5 percent commission on most sales to students through the school’s dedicated Amazon storefront. The company has agreed to pay at least $375,000, $465,000, and $610,000 in the first three years, respectively.

This isn’t Amazon’s first foray onto campus. In 2013, the company launched its first textbook partnership with the University of California Davis, followed by Purdue University in 2014.

The company said it is negotiating similar contracts with a number of other universities and colleges.

“Many schools are feeling pressure to control the cost of education, and textbooks contribute to that,” said Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs. “Many are also seeing revenues in their bookstores flat at best, or even going backward, so they’re looking at ways to stem that trend. We’re trying to reinvent the bookstore experience.”

Blaguszewski said Amazon was chosen over five other companies bidding to replace the textbook annex because of its low prices and familiar interface.

KAREN BLEIER/AFP/Getty Images

“Clearly, they’re renowned for their ability to manage technology and deliver prompt customer service,” he said. “We think it’s a great match.”

‘Many schools are feeling pressure to control the cost of education, and textbooks contribute to that.’ --Ripley MacDonald, Amazon’s director of student programs

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Amazon said it bid for the UMass contract because of the school’s large student body, proximity to existing Amazon distribution centers, and the relative lack of nearby retailers.

Follett will continue to operate the university store, which also sells mugs, hoodies, and other UMass-branded tchotchkes.

Dan Adams can be reached
at dadams@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielAdams86.
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