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The new college try: Barnes & Noble reshaping business model on campuses

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A look at the snazzy Barnes & Noble bookstore on the campus of Kean University.
A look at the snazzy Barnes & Noble bookstore on the campus of Kean University. - ()

People used to only go to their cramped, college basement bookstores just to buy books and college T-shirts. Now, faculty, students, staff and the community hang out in campus bookstores as if they were trendy new student centers.



Especially if they've got a Starbucks.

At least that's the philosophy of Bernards-based Barnes & Noble College, which is changing how students, faculty and even local residents view the traditional college bookstore.

Barnes & Noble College, a separate division from Barnes & Noble Retail Group — has officially taken over the traditional campus bookstore by acting as one of the largest contract operators of bookstores on college and university campuses with about 700 across the United States.

B&N College, which relocated from Manhattan 10 years ago, represented 26 percent of total business for Barnes & Noble Inc. in the last fiscal year by creating multiyear management service agreements with schools around the country to operate their official campus bookstores.

Presently, B&N College opens on average 40 to 60 new stores a year, the company said.

Howard Buxbaum, vice president for administration and finance at Bloomfield College, believes Barnes & Noble has successfully grown its business in this way.

“We construct and maintain the space and then receive a percentage of sales,” Buxbaum said. “For us, it's a break-even operation. The goal is to provide the service to students and the (Bloomfield) community.”

Those services include the B&N Bestseller Management Program, in which students can get practical, hands-on employment experience at their campus bookstore and interview after the course for a management position within Barnes & Noble.

Or FacultyEnlight, in which instructors can communicate with the bookstore about the specific needs for their classes to make sure that titles across all academic disciplines are available for students.

Perhaps most impressive, however, is that 75 of the B&N College bookstores around the country are considered “academic superstores” that serve not only faculty, students and staff at institutions such as Rutgers University, Rowan University and Kean University, but also the surrounding communities.

“Rutgers now has a world-class, full-service bookstore that provides a valuable educational and cultural resource for everyone who lives, works, studies and shops in New Brunswick,” E.J. Miranda, a Rutgers University spokesman, said.

That's the idea, said B&N College Chief Executive Max Roberts.

“These stores have the same amount of titles as Barnes & Noble Retail, plus cafés and the ability to sell lifestyle products for students such as dorm necessities, personal care products, cosmetics, clothing and alumni gifts,” he said.

For example, the new Green Lane building at Kean University in Union will house New Jersey's newest Barnes & Noble campus bookstore, featuring expanded space for college life and learning with hubs for reading and socializing, a representative for the university said.

And even though the 5,000-square-foot Broad Street location in Bloomfield — one-tenth the size of Rutgers' bookstore in New Brunswick — is not considered an “academic superstore,” it will still be open to the public and include resources such as a campus convenience store and Starbucks café.

Smaller bookstores can also be found throughout the state at Caldwell College, Cumberland County, Gloucester County, New Jersey City University, Salem Community, Sussex County and The College of New Jersey.

Institutions including Camden County, Rowan University and Rutgers University host multiple Barnes & Noble bookstore locations on different campuses.

“(Fifty-five) percent of university bookstores nationwide have been outsourced,” Roberts said. “We expect that with digital pressure on funding for higher education, rapid growth will continue to occur.”

And now that 40 to 60 percent of educational resources are digital, he said, “it's just efficient to have a single company provide digital content and complete course materials for the universities.”

This growth also gives students and faculty increasing opportunities and options to buy new, used or digital copies, or rent books altogether.

According to Rutgers University, more than 80 percent of textbooks are available for rental through Barnes & Noble at a savings of up to 80 percent off new book prices.

“Barnes & Noble's digital content library features the largest selection of academically relevant materials,” Miranda said. “Rutgers continues to work with B&N to develop ways to leverage technology to reduce student costs.”

Buxbaum says that diversifying its business to provide not only print but digital content and merchandise was the most strategic move for Barnes & Noble to make in the face of a declining market.

“The book aspect of the bookstore is less lucrative,” Buxbaum said. “Students will buy older editions of books on the Internet, or won't buy the book at all. It was a logical response to the market.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

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Meg Fry

Meg Fry

Meg Fry writes about women in business, millennials, food and beverage, manufacturing and retail. Meg joined NJBIZ with past production experience in the arts, film and television and continues to write and perform in theaters around the state. You may contact her at megf@njbiz.com.

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