In an unusual new approach, several college bookstores have announced a partnership with college e-retailer to have the startup handle the sales of new textbooks.

Under the alliance, Alaska Pacific University, Heritage College and the College of Aeronautics (as well as some secondary schools) will cease processing orders for new textbooks and instead direct students to Varsity. In return, Varsity will guarantee the books' availability (the schools will provide course adoptions to the online bookseller). Varsity will also share revenue with the stores. But the primary advantage, according to the Washington, D.C., company, lies in the "service and fulfillment" Varsity will provide.

"For many colleges, the economics of running a bookstore d sn't make sense," Varsity CEO Eric Kuhn told PW . "We're bringing efficiency to an industry that has long been known for its inefficiency." Given the margins for used books and other merchandise, many of Varsity's partners might continue to run their stores, albeit with a different focus.

Although startling because of how it unites a bookstore with its competitor, the deal leaves open questions of how bookstore owners will steer students to Varsity and away from other college e-tailers. (Varsity cites such things as links on the schools' Web sites.) It is also unlikely to affect larger colleges, many of which feature stores that already have online initiatives, though Kuhn said that he is "negotiating with many other schools."

The move is the latest attempt by Varsity to create buzz. The newly announced program helps spread the word to students via bookstores. In addition, it helps Varsity acquire course adoption information, something the company currently must obtain under the Freedom of Information Act.