When Follett Higher Education Group announced a new textbook rental program open to independent bookstores, "we instantly had people signing up," said senior vice president of intellectual properties Gary Shapiro.
"The issue of textbook affordability is huge," Shapiro said, for students and for college bookstores. Follett hopes that the rental program, piloted at 27 stores last year, will not only allow students to cut their textbook expenses, but also serve as an effective inventory management and customer relationship tactic for bookstores.
The rental program, which will be in place at several hundred stores this fall, makes a national textbook inventory available to students. Although Follett and BookRenter will handle the back-end logistics, local bookstores and bookstore websites will be students' points of contact. Stores can take advantage of the lower rental prices to "enhance the relationship with the customer," Shapiro said.
Follett is drawing from its experience managing inventory and demand across all its managed campus stores, and sees its broad footprint as an asset. "We have visibility of inventory levels in all of our stores as well as the demand," said Shapiro. "Most independent stores don't have the ability to aggregate" that information or use it to shape purchasing decisions.
"By aggregating all of the demand," Shapiro said, "we can offset the risk" stores run in carrying large, specialized inventories. "I wouldn't be surprised if there were hundreds of independent stores" eventually taking part in the program.