By Natalie Lutz
Nonprofit OSU Beaver Store works to provide lowered course materials costs for students through “Back to Beavs” discount
The average Oregon State University student spent $569 on textbooks in the 2015-16 academic year. Despite textbook costs being a large portion of many students’ budgets, OSU’s textbook prices are the lowest in the nation.
The OSU Beaver Store offers the “Back to Beavs” textbook discount, which is currently the highest of any university store in the country, according to Erik Anderson, the merchandise manager for the OSU Beaver Store.
“Our staff is extremely proud of our mission to champion textbook affordability because it truly helps students to be successful. Paying for all the costs associated with a university education is becoming increasingly challenging, so whenever we reduce that burden we feel good about our efforts,” Anderson said.
The store is directed by a board of OSU students and staff, and the last century’s student savings have added up to around $1 million saved each year.
As a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt nonprofit company run by OSU students and staff, with no stockholders or owners, the OSU Beaver Store is able to direct all financial resources to providing students with course materials at the most affordable prices possible. Initially, the “Back to Beavs” textbook discount for OSU students began as in-store rebates. Students were encouraged to keep their receipts from textbook purchases and bring them to the Beaver Store at the end of the academic year for a rebate. However, the company found that this method only reached a small percentage of the Beaver Store’s customers, according to James Howard, the academic materials manager for the OSU Beaver Store.
In 2004, a new discount method for applying the 11 percent “Back to Beavs” discount to textbooks was put in place. According to Howard, the 11 percent discount was immediately applied to textbooks at the point of purchase.
The OSU Beaver Store is now split into two pieces. The course material side of the Beaver Store is the nonprofit part of the company, while the merchandise side of the store is profit-based and assists with providing finances for the textbook discount.
The bookstore, as a whole, operates on a 25 percent initial margin. This margin covers the cost of labor, freight and other processing fees associated with purchasing textbooks and running the bookstore. Upon purchasing textbooks, the 25 percent initial margin minus the 11 percent “Back to Beavs” discount, is applied to the original textbooks’ costs. Students are therefore purchasing textbooks with only a 16 percent achieved average margin applied.
According to Anderson, this 11 percent discount allows OSU to take the claim of the highest textbook discount in the nation, with the University of Oregon following in a close second. A study was conducted by comparing the annual cost of all course materials for OSU students and university students nationally. The study showed that during the 2015-16 academic year, the Beaver Store beat the national average by $33.
Revenue made from textbook sales is then circulated directly back into purchasing textbooks for the next term. Surplus revenue from OSU logo apparel and souvenir merchandise sales from the Corvallis, Keizer and Portland Beaver Store locations are used as the primary resource for covering the deficit made by the “Back to Beavs” discount, according to Anderson.
“The better we are at retailing OSU gear to students, alumni and fans, the more resources we have available to fund our course materials discount,” Anderson said.
On top of the 11 percent textbook discount, the Beaver Store offers a rental option for a variety of course materials. The option is created when another organization, such as an independent buyer, wishes to purchase certain course materials from the Beaver Store. When a third-party buyer places a purchase offer, this amount is directly discounted from the textbook price.
For instance, a company may offer $35 to purchase a textbook at the Beaver Store that costs $75. A student is then able to rent this textbook for a discounted $40. At the end of the term when the student returns the textbook, the Beaver Store sells the textbook to the other organization for the offered $35, covering the entire price of the $75 textbook.
“Everybody’s doing rentals now and that helps reduce the initial cost for students,” Howard said.
Not only does the Beaver Store work to lower textbook costs, they also supply various textbook styles and link students to free course materials when available, according Rileigh Nielsen, an OSU sophomore working as a textbook clerk at the Beaver Store.
“The Beaver Store is very helpful. We provide multiple options for textbooks, whether it be loose-leaf, e-text or hardback, there is something that will provide you with the information you need for your class that is within your budget,” Nielsen said.
The bookstore, as of the start of Fall term of 2016, now offers online rentals, thus providing rental options not only for resident OSU students but non-resident and Ecampus students as well.
“Doesn’t matter where you are; if you’re enrolled at Oregon State University, you’re a Beaver,” Howard said.
Although the Beaver Store is constantly working to maintain and potentially increase the 11 percent textbook discount, many still agree that course material prices are quite steep, and in many instances textbooks can be found for lower prices elsewhere, according to Howard.
“We get it. Sometimes we’re not the best, and that’s OK,” Howard said.
A price comparison tool is included on the Beaver Store website. This tool allows members to compare course materials costs at the Beaver Store to various websites that provide the same materials.
“We do a price comparison so you can make that call,” Howard said. “Our goal since 1914 has been to find the best cost for the students.”