GCC will privatize struggling bookstore

Glendale Community College officials are pushing forward with plans to outsource the student bookstore, announcing Monday that a contract agreement could be in place as early as next month.

The college began soliciting proposals in May from private bookstore operators to take over the store, a move expected to bolster revenue and customer service while simultaneously transitioning the operation into an era of digital copy.

“A growing number of colleges are asking private companies to manage their bookstore operations,” said Paul Schlossman, dean of student affairs.

Glendale Community College received proposals from the three biggest names in the business — Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Follett, and Validis, a subsidiary of the Nebraska Book Company — Schlossman said. A formal contract will be brought before the college Board of Trustees sometime next month, and the new operator could be in place for the start of the spring 2012 semester.

The student bookstore, which includes a 5,329-square-foot retail space on the main campus, as well as a satellite store at the college’s Garfield campus, is currently run by the Associated Students of Glendale Community College, the student government organization.

It is one of just two community college bookstores in the state of California that continues under the model — the other 120 are operated by the colleges themselves or have been contracted out.

Revenue generated by the store is earmarked for student government programming, including activities put on by the college’s approximately 50 student clubs. But recently it has been a financial drain, losing tens of thousands of dollars annually in three of the last four years, Schlossman said.

The 2009-10 year was the worst on record, with the store finishing $142,937 in the red.

The bookstore is financially independent of the college, meaning the Associated Students has been dipping into reserves to absorb the losses, Schlossman said.

The challenges mirror those in the larger publishing and bookstore industry, including increased competition and emerging technology.

“The Amazons of the world have made it tough for any brick and mortar bookstore, whether it’s a retail store out in a mall somewhere or a college store,” Schlossman said.

A private company will be able to implement a book rental program while also increasing the availability of used textbooks, college officials said. It will also help integrate the registration and book buying processes, enabling students to purchase textbooks online at the same time they sign up for classes.

Any contract would also protect the jobs of the eight full-time employees who currently work at the student bookstore, officials said.

And under the new model, the college would receive a commission based on net sales.

Suzanna Sargsyan, president of the Associated Students of Glendale Community College, said she was initially skeptical of the proposal, “because nobody is going to take care of what’s yours better than you are.”

Chief among her concerns were meeting the needs of the students and the faculty, as well as protecting bookstore employees, she said.

But after a period of research, Sargsyan said she determined that a private operator “can take care of us better than we can now because of the resources that they have.”

“I feel like it is a great opportunity for Glendale Community College and I hope that we follow through with this,” she said.

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