It was only a matter of time: College bookstores go online

Like diligent parents doing their best to be hip, textbook retailers are closely tracking the college generation.

And they've grasped an important concept: Today's youth uses the Internet - a lot.

In response, two major operators of campus bookstores, Follett Corp. and Barnes & Noble College Bookstores Inc., this year launched online bookstores (efollett.com and www.textbooks.com). Between them, the companies operate about 1,000 college bookstores.

Given the current stampede among companies to offer products and services online, the idea of a cyber-college bookstore isn't surprising.

"Those retailers that are going to be successful in the future are going to be multichannel," says Jim Baumann, president of Follett's Higher Education Group. He sees the online option as a complement, rather than a replacement for current bookstores.

The launches come at a time when textbook publishers' profits are sagging. Many students forgo buying required materials. Figures vary - some put the number purchasing textbooks at about 40 percent, and others say it hovers around 60 percent.

One of the reasons could be long lines at the bookstore.

"There's a line to get into the bookstore and then a line to pay for them," says Jule Zuccotti, a senior at Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass. "I'd definitely buy online to avoid that."

Baumann hopes the online option will address these problems and also boost numbers.

In its first month, Follett's site -which is open to the public - logged 15.8 million hits.

Both new sites offer similar features: online ordering, used books, buy-back services, and instant availability information.

Mail orders do carry a shipping fee, though, so cash-strapped students may prefer walking to the store rather than using the Web.

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