Sales at the University of Arizona’s bookstores have dropped 11.5% in the last year. (Photo by Matt Scott)

An administrator at a local Arizona college caused a bit of controversy recently when she sent out an e-mail to the school’s faculty about where she believes students at the school should purchase their textbooks.

Per this story in the Arizona Daily Star, Deborah Yoklic, the vice president of instruction at Pima Community College’s east campus in Tucson, Arizona, wrote in a mass e-mail that instructors should be encouraging their students to get their books at the campus bookstore rather than patronizing online retailers.

“I have received information that faculty are telling students to go online to buy textbooks, rather than going through the bookstore,” she wrote. “If you have done this, please discontinue this practice immediately. You are expected to support the policies and procedures of the college. This includes placing book orders only through the bookstore, and not suggesting to students that they purchase books anywhere else or even encouraging the practice.”

Yoklic later backtracked after faculty members informed her that the school does not have any rules about where students are allowed to shop for their books.

Perhaps a big reason that administrators like Yoklic are a bit disappointed is that sales at campus bookstore around the country have dropped in recent years. Sales at the Pima Community College bookstore have fallen roughly 10% over the past two years after surging from 2007 to 2010. At the University of Arizona’s on-campus bookstores, textbook sales are down 11.5% this year compared to those from last year. Johnny Cruz, a spokesperson for the school, attributed this drop to the fact that more students are renting their textbooks rather than purchasing them. Rental prices tend to be much lower than purchase prices, but students are then unable to recoup any of this money on buybacks since they have to return their rentals to the store.

BIGinsight, a trend analysis organization, conducted a survey in July by asking over 8,500 college students across the nation where they plan to buy their course materials and supplies this fall. According to the results, only 41% said they intend to shop at their local campus bookstores. This is a 16% decline from a 2007 study that asked students the same question.

Even though college bookstores may be hurting for business more than they used to, students still have the right to buy their books wherever they choose. Bookstores have started up rental programs to help bring in more business from students looking to save money. However, with all of the online options for textbooks these days – many of which you can find by using – campus bookstores are simply one out of many industries that have been affected by the Internet. Learning to change with the times is challenging but a necessary reality.