As students searched for affordable textbooks this past week, many were upset to learn that Penn Book Center, which has supplied primarily humanities course books since 1962, no longer sells texts for classes at Penn. Most students have been directed to the Penn Bookstore to purchase course resources.
Penn Book Center announced its transition to sell only trade books over email in February, citing Amazon and the Amazon@Penn store on Locust Walk as the reason for the “decline in … coursebook sales and profitability over the past several years.”
Course instructors who are accustomed to ordering their texts from Penn Book Center have faced some difficulties placing their orders through Barnes & Noble, which operates Penn Bookstore.
Lily Applebaum, assistant to the Faculty Director of the Kelly Writers House Al Filreis, said she begrudgingly switched her normal order for the texts of English 261, "Representations of the Holocaust," from the Penn Book Center to Barnes & Noble. On the first day of the English class, College freshman Anthony Lagana said the store hadn’t ordered enough of the book he needed to read for the following class and he couldn’t get a copy.
Applebaum said bookstores usually under-order the volume of books requested by instructors in anticipation of under-enrollment, but that in the past, there has usually been enough books are available for everyone in the class.
“Penn Book Center was never problematic,” she said. Even when the center under-ordered, it would check in with Applebaum before the semester began to be sure that all students had resources, she added.
Lagana said he eventually ended up purchasing the e-book. “It gets the job done, but I prefer to have the paper book," he said.
Although Penn Book Center has officially stopped carrying course books, a staff member at the store who did not wish to be identified said that they had actually bulk-ordered a few popular course books, just in case students would run into trouble purchasing the appropriate materials form Barnes & Noble. Those texts include Hebrew language books and standard editions of novels commonly used in English classes.
Some instructors have opted to bypass the brick-and-mortar Barnes & Noble altogether. Creative writing instructor and Associate Director for Recruitment for the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing, Jamie-Lee Josselyn said, “I used to use the Penn Book Center but didn’t go with Penn Bookstore this year because I couldn’t really bring myself to.”
Josselyn added that she prefers to support small businesses in place of major corporations like the Barnes & Noble. She said she is going to ask her students to purchase their texts online from a vendor of their choice.