In what might foreshadow the tone of similar industry events, including BookExpo America, the National Association of College Stores annual meeting and CAMEX trade show, held in Los Angeles February 20—24, was smaller than in past years both in terms of attendance, exhibitors and frills, but organizers maintained an emphasis on the most important things—speakers, panel discussions and opportunities to network and buy and sell.
The travel budgets of college bookstores, especially those owned by states, have tightened dramatically because of the recession. Moreover, some people are apparently still nervous about traveling after September 11. One official estimated that member attendance and exhibitor count were off as much as 15%.
Faced with the downturn, NACS decided to opt for a somewhat less lavish affair. For example, there were plastic utensils at the big buffet breakfasts, and sessions were no longer taped for audiocassette sales.
But the association put on its usual range of panels, seminars, parties and meal events. A continuing hot topic: the importance to booksellers of being in the loop, if not the authority, on campus in matters involving the digital delivery of course materials to students. Some stores have become important participants in the process, but others might be missing opportunities as digital delivery becomes ever more important in academia.
Among the other CAMEX highlights: talks by David McCullough and Jamie Lee Curtis, both of whom drew standing ovations. Speaking most of the time about John Adams, the subject of his current bestselling biography, McCullough offered a powerful discussion of the presidency as well as the importance of education, values, ideas, writing—and booksellers. After the attacks of September 11, his avuncular style and faith in character and American ideals seemed to resonate even more than they might have otherwise.
Curtis was funny and quick-witted as she spoke at length about the inspirations for her children's books and the importance of listening to one's deepest thoughts and feelings. The best achievements in life, she said, come from "doing what you enjoy doing and doing for yourself." (Next week's issue will offer fuller coverage of the authors at this show.)
Unlike the general bookstore world, where the American Booksellers Association represents only independents, NACS aims to include all types of college bookstores, whether institutional, leased, independent, cooperative or otherwise. While this can cause some tensions, it also helps the industry, its proponents believe, if only to have a united front in some major battles.
In this light, the association was pleased that Follett Higher Education Group recently enrolled all of its 680 campus stores as subscriber members in NACS. Association CEO Brian Cartier commented, "As the largest contractor of college store services, the participation of Follett's stores in NACS programs will undeniably help to strengthen the industry's knowledge and voice and will help both our organizations work to maximize potential opportunities for supporting college stores in the future."
New NACS president Ken Bowers, director of the UCSB Bookstore at the University of California at Santa Barbara, emphasized that one of the "big issues is getting people involved in the association and getting more people involved."
He said he hoped that every college bookseller "would do their best work and not be afraid... and be the best possible bookstore whether it remains independent or is outsourced."
This was also the first of the newly scheduled CAMEX shows, which are being held earlier in the year than the traditional spring date. CAMEX was also held for the first time concurrently as the winter meeting of the Association of Collegiate Licensing Administrators and with the Connect2One show (Connect2One is a large college bookstore buying group), which Bowers called a great success. NACS is hoping in the future to "co-locate" with other groups as well, perhaps even some of the chains.
The importance of college booksellers in being a part of the growth of digital delivery of texts was another focus of the show. While some stores have made strides in this area, many have not, and they were urged by several speakers to have a role in such matters on their campuses.
Speaking of the potential threat posed to traditional textbooks, John Twist of Cuyahoga Community College said that during his long career, he had been "invited to funerals for the traditional textbook six or seven times." He added, "I delight that it and I are still here."
"You cannot hide from technology," Twist continued. "You have to realize that the world is changing and you have be a source and expert on your campus when the faculty comes for a question.... You don't have to know it all, but know how and where to get information."
Emphasizing how much things have changed in just a few decades, Larry Daniels of Retail Alliance/RATEX Business Solutions noted that some college booksellers entered the business "on ditto-masters and slide rules."
Jackie Middleton of the Florence O. Wilson Bookstore, Wooster, Ohio, emphasized the importance of on-campus partnerships in allowing stores to stay in "control of our own destiny." She urged booksellers to work with copy centers, libraries, faculty and students, either formally, or in the case of students in particular, asking about the preferences in texts.
As an example of such partnerships, Karen Cormier of the University of California at San Diego outlined the cooperative effort of various groups on the UCSD campus. The bookstore has joined with key campus departments, including the university's libraries; a student-run service that supplies copies of homework, exams, class notes and outlines, among other items; the school's Web development center; and a printing center. The informal group already has completed its first joint project, a well-received faculty guide about instructional materials services programs and contacts, and is embarking on several more, including a one-stop e-shopping site for students and one-stop e-shopping site for faculty.
Maria Murtagh of the University of the Pacific Student Store, San Francisco, Calif., recommended that stores that can afford it hire a digital delivery expert. "The good news," she added, "is that we still have 8-—10 years until this becomes a big thing." Eventually though, it will like become commonplace for students to come to a store, log onto kiosks, use a debit card and leave with several custom-printed books, custom CDs and several URLs—and perhaps a traditional book.
Several speakers referred to a Forrester study that found that four million e-book units were sold in campus stores in 2000 and predicted that figure would rise to 140 million in 2005. Among examples of e-programs: The University of Phoenix will soon be the first "bookless campus," requiring digital texts only. Adobe has begun a year-long test at 12 campuses in using e-books. And GoReader has more than 350 texts available.
Still, according to a recent NACS member survey, more than 50% of respondents were not involved "in determining the role of digital delivery." Murtagh emphasized that "if we don't, someone else will provide" texts that have been the domain of bookstores. She was also somewhat disappointed that more than 26% of respondents "don't know" if "digital course materials will have a significant impact on sales of traditional course materials." She commented that when certain technical and rights issues are settled, "our business could be changed overnight."
NACS Honors Bob Cross
Given out only six times in 11 years, NACS's Order of the Eagle award was given at the CAMEX show in Los Angeles to Bob Cross, the longtime general manager of the University Bookstore, Seattle, Wash., which outgoing NACS president Dennis Mekelburg of Matthews Medical Books called "the industry's first big box retailer."
The Order of the Eagle honors NACS members for service "above and beyond expectations" and those whose "influence is truly profound."
Cross, who is retiring later this year, "defined his store's core values 40 years ago and stuck to them," Mekelburg continued. "He has built an exemplary path for our industry."
With sales of more than $50 million and some 300 employees, the University Bookstore also has eight branches. It was founded in 1900 and is a corporation owned by the Associated Students of the University of Washington.
Over the years, Cross has gently but persistently reminded us at PW—and the industry—that college stores are major outlets for general books as well as textbooks and should be considered among the giant independents.