The UM Bookstore, a non-profit organization, has suffered financially due to falling sales, forcing it to reduce its staff and sell the University Center Market to UM Dining.
“We didn’t want to sell the Market,” said Matt LaPalm, the Bookstore’s marketing director. “That was very hard for us.”
LaPalm said the sale brought in $328,000.
“That’s helped us live another day,” said Eamon Fahey, the chief operating officer of the store. “But we’re also not losing money by continuing to operate that business.”
The Missoulian reported that tax forms show the Bookstore experienced a loss of $289,000 in 2014. Fahey said the Bookstore is running at about a similar loss today and there’s a one-to-one correlation between lower student enrollment and lower sales. LaPalm said every student not enrolled represents about $500-600 in lost revenue. Fahey placed the impact of lower student enrollment even higher, arguing the revenue lost is about $600-650 per every non-enrolled student.
Fahey also said that number was around $800 five years ago. “Students these days don’t buy as much stuff as students, say, 10 years ago did,” Fahey said.
Part of that decline is in Griz merchandise, which Fahey said is the second largest source of revenue after textbooks. “That is tied largely to the football team, for good and for bad,” Fahey said.
Sales have also fallen drastically in trade books (books other than textbooks). Fahey said the sales have been falling for at least 10 years, especially the last five years. “On campus, students just don’t buy books like they used to,” he said. Trade books have fallen from a high of $400,000-500,000 in annual sales on campus to around $50,000, accounting for less than one percent of total sales on campus last fiscal year.
In response, the Bookstore has moved most of its trade books to its Fact and Fiction location downtown, beginning last December. Griz merchandise has largely replaced the Fact and Fiction books section in the Bookstore.
To cut costs, the Bookstore reduced its staff by four people in 2013, and another five with early retirement incentives in 2016, according to Fahey. He said the Bookstore has not hired replacements for people who have left, which helped to absorb former Market employees.
Stuart Landers, a Bookstore employee, said they’re working more with fewer people.
The Bookstore still tries to make textbooks affordable, including a fee-based model. Students pay for course materials through a fee when they enroll in the class. Landers said the fee is usually around $50-75 cheaper than buying the books, depending on the class.
Fahey said around fifteen classes use the fee model—mostly large introductory courses. “We certainly have been pushing that model because it helps, not only with keeping costs low, but also with student success.”
“We’re a not-for-profit,” Fahey said. “And we exist to serve students.”