Many Cornell students have come to expect some moaning and grumbling over textbook costs as part and parcel of the start of any new semester. When it comes to buying textbooks, Cornell students traditionally have had few alternatives to the campus store. However, beginning next semester, the campus store may have competition right in its own backyard.
Borders Books and Music, a chain-superstore that has over 360 locations across the country as well as 22 stores internationally, is scheduled to move into Ithaca’s Pyramid Mall late this May and open in early June. Borders normally tailors 50 percent of its inventory to the particular community, and according to Emily Swan, a public relations specialist with Borders Group, Inc., it is likely that the Ithaca franchise will carry school books for members of the University community.
David Daniels, the trade book buyer for the Campus Store, explained that although he expects that Borders will draw away some business from the Campus Store, he does not foresee much competition in the textbook market.
“Borders is well run and they carry a large assortment of books and we expect that they are going to discount things to try to compete with us,” said Daniels. “However, publishers set the prices for textbooks and we deal with whatever price the publisher sets. There’s not very much leeway with textbooks for discounting.”
Daniels further mentioned several aspects of the Campus Store that will give it some advantage in competing with Borders, for instance its location in the center of campus and the fact that students may use their Cornell card at the store to charge books directly to their University bursar bill.
“I’m not sure we’ll see a huge change [in the Campus Store], but we will continue to emphasize and market ourselves with what makes us unique as a store,” said Daniels. “We’ve enjoyed a long time without any major competition and we feel competition from Borders will only make us better at what we’re good at.”
A number of students, although excited at the prospect of Borders locating in Ithaca, said they have doubts about whether anything will change with regard to textbooks.
“I don’t think Borders will make a huge impact because there are already online book dealers,” said Troy Urman ’05, who says he has bought textbooks online in the past.
Urman also was unsure whether Borders would be reliable for students if they were to carry textbooks.
“Even if [Borders] tried to carry textbooks, they might not order enough of a certain book or they might order to many,” said Urman.
Tameka Scarlett grad said that whether or not Borders creates competition for the Campus Store depends on how convenient it is for students to shop there.
“The main thing is the distance for underclassmen who don’t have cars. If you don’t have a car, it’s difficult to get to Pyramid Mall. I think competition would be heightened if Borders located somewhere closer, like in Collegetown,” said Scarlett.
Other students like Rebecca Bixby ’03, expressed concern about having a store like Borders in Ithaca.
“Borders is a one-stop mega-supplier, which certainly makes it easier to find everything at once,” said Bixby. “However, I greatly prefer perusing through the bookstores on the Commons, which also have textbooks available, and provide a more intimate sense of community through their location, individual proprietors, and activities.”
According to Jack Goldman ’68, owner of the Ithaca independent bookstore The Bookery, the danger with stores like Borders is that they aggressively seek to eliminate all competition.
“The problem with a chain store of that magnitude in the book industry is that, unlike other products, books require a diversity of tastes, opinions, and general approaches to the entire process of writing,” said Goldman. “If you only have a very small number of people controlling what books are sold, you have a form of censorship, a censorship that is not intentional, but a censorship nonetheless.”
Although Goldman said he has great confidence in his customers and is not worried about his own business, he said his concern is that Borders may cause other small bookstores to fail and thus accelerate the trend toward concentration rather than diversification in the book industry.
“Stores like Borders are corporations that have the goal of maximizing profits so as to achieve the maximum return to shareholders. The trend with such stores will inevitably be to favor certain authors that are more popular,” said Goldman. “We should instead be trying to foster a system that encourages the greatest variety of writers in every field because no one can predict where the next good book is going to come from.”
Archived article by Harrison Leavens