College Bookstores Embrace E-Commerce, a developer of campus oriented Web sites, and the National Association of College Stores (NACS) announced plans today to launch, a new service for selling textbooks over the Web. The announcement indicates that 300 online storefronts are set to launch by April, with the potential to have more than 1,000 signed on by the end of this year.

As the trade association that represents more than 3,000 college and university retail stores, NACS clearly has the influence and the reach to make such a deal happen.

To promote the new service, reports that it will spend some eight million dollars over the next year on advertising.

Who Wins, Who Loses

The biggest winners are the founders of, and their venture-capital investors. Started in 1996 by four University of Texas undergraduates, has already grown to a nationwide network, supported by advertisers, with a presence on more than 200 major U.S. campuses. Now, by working in cooperation with the well-entrenched National Association of College Stores, those entrepreneurs will surely make a mint.

Students who can now avoid the semi-annual hassle of searching for the right titles and lugging an armful of heavy books through their crowded college bookstores will also benefit., when it becomes available, promises students the simplicity of online purchasing, the assurance of accurate booklists, and the added convenience of local service for easy returns and exchanges.

On the losing side, perhaps, are the college bookstores, whose managers are concerned about losing millions of sales to online competitors. By publishing the titles and prices of required textbooks for each college course online, bookstores give students an easy way to compare prices and shop elsewhere. That’s not something they can easily do when buying the traditional way.

Competitive Concerns

While NACS realizes the need for its member stores to embrace e-commerce and sell online, the association is also sensitive to competitive concerns. Bookstore managers seem to have mixed views on whether they should post their course booklists online.

The NACS Web site points out that making booklists available on the Web gives competing booksellers free access to booklist information, without compensating the store for the extensive effort expended in collecting and compiling up-to-date adoptions from faculty.

In fact, NACS reports that its legal counsel is researching each state’s Freedom of Information laws concerning provision of adoption booklists. As part of that project, they are examining whether some sort of model state legislation could be developed that, if enacted by individual states, would reclassify booklist compilations as a type of “trade secret” not subject to Freedom of Information laws.

The NACS Web site currently has an Audio Forum and message board addressing the risks and rewards of e-commerce. See for more information.

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