By Mandy Hathaway September 12, 2020
Significant changes are coming to the Metropolitan State University bookstore on the St. Paul Campus. According to Metro State’s chief financial officer Tracy Hatch, on October 15, the bookstore will be taken over by an outside vendor, Barnes & Noble College.
In 2015, Barnes & Noble Booksellers launched a separate business, Barnes & Noble Education (the parent of Barnes & Noble College) which sells and rents books and academic supplies. Since that time, they’ve opened about 1400 of these branches, collaborating with hosting colleges and universities.
When asked how the bookstore space is expected to change, Hatch said, “The look and feel of the space is likely to be different, although there are not expected to be significant changes in the space design at this time. BNC is providing about $62,000 in funds to refurbish the space, but there won’t be time to have that completed prior to them taking over the bookstore.”
Barnes & Noble College’s regional manager Michele Yanko says the funds will be invested in creating a “welcoming and dynamic shopping experience for the Metropolitan State University community.” These changes are expected to include layout and cosmetic aspects of the physical store. There is no indication of when all the changes will be completed.
In addition to changes in the physical space, students can expect other changes to the bookstore. Price match programs will reportedly provide cashback, rather than gift cards. Additionally, partnerships with VitalSource and textbook publishers are expected to result in some reduced prices for students. Yanko also says, “students can expect to see an enhanced assortment of merchandise in the store, including branded apparel, gifts, technology and more.”
When asked about the job security of current bookstore employees, Yanko declined to make any commitments; however, she did say, “We are still in the process of making staffing decisions for the store, but we are working closely with the current bookstore staff to ensure a smooth transition.”
Students are likely to find that the new retailer has a strong focus on digital offerings and online services. This is due in part to the fact that Barnes & Noble Education recently completed a strategic review related to falling profits. While their financial concerns began before the COVID-19 pandemic, the new focus on online learning is bound to be a complicating factor. New digital partnerships were a significant portion of the reasoning behind the decision not to sell the business off, so expect to see more digital content offerings.
Barnes & Noble College has a specific focus on students and academic titles. With a strong emphasis on online retail and social media presence, they appear committed to meeting their potential customers where they are most likely to be found.
While they are separate entities, the creation of Barnes & Noble College is a sign of Barnes & Noble’s desire to stay relevant. We’ve seen the fall of plenty of retailers who couldn’t compete or maintain relevance in a changing world. In the 1990s, there was a Blockbuster movie rental store in almost every American town. Less than 30 years later, only one store in Oregon remains open. But the Barnes & Noble name appears determined to avoid sharing their fate.