How ZTC is impacting revenue

Robert Pierce, @RobertP_EXP

Last semester, Los Medanos College hosted 100 sections marked as Zero Textbook Cost or “ZTC,” designating that students are not required to purchase any textbooks to take the class. This semester, the number climbed to 115, and the program is working to rebrand itself as Open Educational Resources or “OER.”

The program has received a great deal of praise and saved students a great deal of money. Approximately $177,600 during the Fall 2018 semester alone. However, a question few have asked is what effect the continued expansion of the program might have on LMC bookstore profits.

The bookstore is a self-supporting enterprise directly affiliated with LMC, its revenue is used to keep itself open and contribute to student and staff events and fundraisers as well as the Los Medanos College Associated Students budget. The bookstore is also one of the largest student employers on campus.

“We must make enough money to cover our salaries and expenses. Bookstores that are unable to do that are inevitably leased to an outside company,” said bookstore Manager Robert Estrada. “Our preference is obviously to keep the bookstores institutionally owned and keep whatever profits are made here at the campus.”

Estrada supports the OER program, but acknowledges that it could negatively affect the bookstore’s finances. Between the 2016-2017 and 2017-2018 fiscal year, when the OER program began to rapidly expand, the bookstore reported a four percent drop in textbook revenue.

“We have no way of determining with any certainty how much of that drop is due to ZTC, although it’s logical to assume some connection,” Estrada commented.

ZTC Grant Director Edward Haven stated that zero cost sections “would be difficult to disambiguate… from other factors” that could have contributed to the drop in revenue. Still, Haven stated that bookstore revenues have always been a factor in ZTC planning.

“We have been working very closely with the Bookstore from the beginning of this project and believe that the bookstore is an essential part of the college,” said Haven. “We are lucky to have one of the few college bookstores that is not under corporate ownership, which means we have a bookstore which can prioritize students. We want to keep it that way… and wish to implement a ZTC culture which is beneficial to the bookstore.”

Haven believes that proper implementation of ZTC could actually benefit the bookstore in the long run by allowing them to sell OER materials at the cost of printing for students that prefer paper copies, bringing back in money usually lost due to overhead costs from publishers or students choosing to purchase materials from cheaper alternatives such as Chegg or Amazon.

“By lowering the cost and making it accessible, more students are buying the book from the bookstore,” Haven said. “I hope this is a model that if followed will lead to more sales at the bookstore.”

According to data from Haven, switching every section on campus to zero cost could save students over $2 million, but that is not a stated goal of the OER Board. Even still, the OER Board is actively working to grow their program which, puts pressure on the bookstore to secure alternative revenue streams.

“There really is no silver bullet that can replace the revenue from textbooks, so we are looking at a number of ideas, small and medium, that will hopefully add up to minimize the damage,” Estrada commented.

Estrada also cited the sale of graphic novels, a reorganization of their display area and a new food vendor partnership as recent successful ventures, and stated that more are in the works.

“In the future, we are looking into the possibility of selling merchandise at school sporting events as well as expanding the array of food items,” Estrada also said. “And a year from now, we look forward to moving into our new space in the Student Union, which should present a number of new opportunities as well.”