More Details Behind the Closure of WUSA Used Books

Published: Wednesday, August 30, 2023

On Monday, August 28, WUSA announced that the winddown of WUSA Used Books over the fall term would end with the closure of the store by the end of the year. Since then, we’ve received questions from students about the rationale behind this decision and we want to provide a summary of the rationale used to reach this conclusion.

Financial Decline

Over the past decade, sales at WUSA Used Books have been declining steadily, from a historical high of over $2.2 million, to less than $200k this past fiscal year. The margins on this revenue have always been kept low to keep books affordable, but these margins are currently not enough to cover the costs of staff, space, and other necessary operational supports. To try and sustain the business, we have attempted reducing costs by operating without a full-time manager and using exclusively part-time staff, with an increased focus on obtaining online revenue by selling excess inventory, but these efforts have still not been enough to keep the doors open. WUSA strives to ensure that our commercial operations are viable long-term so that student fee revenue is not used to subsidize ongoing operations, but that would not be possible moving forward in this case. The decrease in sales has been accompanied by a significant decrease in students selling their used textbooks to the store. We have had to source them from external suppliers to keep our inventory in line with student needs. Trends in the textbook industry have been a challenge for our efforts to create value for students.


Link to the Power BI Report

Changing Textbook Industry

The rise of e-textbooks and digital access codes have meant that used textbooks often don’t meet the whole of students’ needs anymore. Over the last decade, students have largely shifted to peer-to-peer transactions made easier via social media and online platforms, which has steadily directed significant business away from WUSA Used Books and provided similar value to students looking to buy and sell their textbooks. 

Decision and Rationale

After regular review of the feasibility of this business over the last few years and a final evaluation this spring of the current financial situation of the store, upgrades required, and the state of the textbook market, we feel this business no longer makes sense to continue. A significant investment would be required to continue the operation as the current inventory system we rely on is being shut down, and the cost to undertake that update, along with the declining business, means it’s finally time to wind down operations. Heading into the fall, we also have the opportunity to move the students employed at the bookstore to other WUSA operations so that no employment opportunities are lost. Based on all of this, the decision to wrap up the business was a clear one; it is no longer financially viable. Usage figures and market trends demonstrate the greatly reduced value that students receive from the operation and there is nothing to indicate these trends will be changing. 

This direction has been brought to WUSA’s Board of Directors through the budgeting process for multiple years now, and its imminent closure was included in this year’s Annual Plan approved and published by the WUSA Board, as well as this year’s commercial budget.

Future Focus

WUSA Used Books’ purpose was to improve the affordability of courseware that is required for success in undergraduate studies. With the changing reality of e-textbooks, access codes, and proprietary platforms, it has become far more difficult to meet this mandate, and WUSA has had to change its approach from offering used books for sale to education and advocacy to professors, the University, and the government on the use of and funding for Open Educational Resources (OERs), which has been a key part of WUSA’s work with UW and OUSA going back several years.

With this additional information, we hope the decision to discontinue this service and focus our efforts on other services that can better benefit students in the current climate is more clear. 

If you have further feedback or thoughts on how we can better support affordability and other key student issues, please do not hesitate to fill out our feedback form, which will ensure that we can direct it to the right place and better meet your needs.

 

 

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