Barnes & Noble takes over bookstore

Barnes & Noble takes over bookstore McGill University

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McGill Reporter
April 19, 2001 - Volume 33 Number 15
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Home > McGill Reporter > Volume 33: 2000-2001 > April 19, 2001 > Barnes & Noble takes over bookstore

Barnes & Noble takes over bookstore

McGill is closing the book on Chapters and turning a new, though familiar, page on Barnes & Noble. Though the five-year contract with Chapters Campus Bookstore Inc. is not up until March 2003, the Senate Bookstore Committee decided that rather than risk a repeat of last January's fiasco of textbook shortages, it would accept B & N's offer to take over the contract. The Barnes & Noble College Books Inc. division of the American chain had already been for the past year and a half the silent partner with Chapters in running the McGill Bookstore. Disappointed by Chapters' performance, B & N decided to make a pitch to manage the store on its own.

The move was timely. "While we were evaluating whether to continue with Chapters, Barnes & Noble raised its head, said it didn't want its reputation tarnished by a continuing association with Chapters and proposed taking over the operating control of the store," said committee member Alan Charade, director of Ancillary Services.

McGill liked the sound of the offer; the committee was reassured that B & N, around since 1873 and in the campus bookstore business since 1965, had a long and extensive record in running university bookstores. Furthermore, the situation gives the University two years, until the end of the contract, to assess the company's performance. According to Charade, Heather Reisman, owner of Indigo Books & Music Inc., also appreciated the offer, given that her company has to sort out what it will do with the Chapters stores it recently took over through its purchase of Chapters and that Indigo has no experience in running university stores.

As far as the McGill Bookstore is concerned, the only change will be in the hiring of a new manager, someone who will be a B & N employee but who will be hired jointly by the University and the company. "We're three on the selection committee and we have veto," says Charade.

The rest of the staff will remain McGill employees.

B & N, which runs 400 campus bookstores in the United States, including Harvard's, is paid for its management services through the proceeds of selling books, explains Charade. "They pay us an annual [undisclosed] fee for the right to manage the store and we apply that to the mortgage."

While there is a general sense of relief that a company with experience is at the helm, some expressed concern about the new arrangement at Senate two weeks ago. Political science professor and member of the bookstore committee Sam Noumoff felt that the Chapters experience should have been a lesson to the University. "My hope is that when the present contract runs out, we should seriously reconsider whether privatized management is the best option or whether we should return to a McGill-run bookstore," he said.

Whether the B & N takeover of this Chapters contract is the beginning of a trend and the entry of the bookstore giant onto Canadian campuses remains to be seen. The five college bookstores in Ontario formally run by Chapters in partnership with B & N are now, like the McGill Bookstore, being run solely by the American company though Chapters, as required by law, remains the Canadian -- and majority -- shareholder. McGill is the only Canadian university bookstore now managed by B & N.

Ben Dixon, vice-president of the company's Canadian operations, was at the bookstore yesterday to begin the process of installing the B & N software into the computers. "We use this to order books and to maintain a history of sales," he says, explaining that the system keeps track of the history of a book's sales, allowing professors to know if students are buying the books they order. "It's a system that works for us in the U.S. and it will work for us here," says Dixon, adding that B & N is now developing a Canadian database for textbooks and other merchandise.

Regarding the non-textbooks, Dixon says, "We're in the process of developing a bibliography of general reading books that will reflect the interests of the community. We're trying to develop this store as an academic university resource."

That could mean the end of such sections as gardening, cooking and children's literature, says Dixon, who aims to make the store distinctive from a general readership store. Furthermore, the partner company's parent company, Indigo, is just down the street and is well stocked in all those categories.

"We'll work with faculty. We'll bring our basic bibliographic lists and we'll take in their input and expand some sections for the more serious students," says Dixon.

As for the café, it's staying.

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