Commentary  Setting the record straight on the Bookstore

After reading “Haven Books: a cheap alternative” by Ben Paris (Commentary, January 11), my staff and I felt compelled to address the errors and misinformation throughout the article. We think that this misinformation serves to hurt both the McGill Bookstore and the community at large.

First, the McGill Bookstore is fully owned and operated by McGill University. It was, at one point, run by Chapters/Indigo for a five-year period that ended in May 2003. Since that time, the Bookstore has been self-financed and is not subsidized by the University. Not only do we autonomously finance all operating expenses of the Bookstore, but regularly deliver year-end surpluses to the University. Over the last three years alone, $1,125,000 ($375,000 per annum) has been transferred to Student Life and Learning and has been used for student financial support. We also support students significantly in other ways. For example, we currently employ approximately 60 McGill students, and do so in a work environment that is sensitive to student schedules and academic work loads.

Second, the mark-up charged on textbooks is not “huge.” Bookstores do not set textbook prices – publishers do. Our profit on the sale of each textbook is not 40 per cent, but substantially lower at an average of 23 per cent. That is, on a $100 book, the publisher receives $77, and the Bookstore, $23. Furthermore, a portion of this $23 is used to cover the day-to-day expenses involved in operating a bookstore; for example, shipping charges on received merchandise, salaries and benefits, and mortgage payments.

Third, we offer students the opportunity to sell their used textbooks back to the bookstore year-round not only to meet our needs but also on behalf of some 20 other Canadian campuses. Although our cash-upfront buy-back model differs from the one offered at Haven Books, students should be aware that the option to both sell and buy used textbooks exists here as well. Students are free to choose the option that best suits their needs.

Finally, the restriction on advertising by Haven Books is related to a restriction on the use of University resources (such as email) to promote a commercial endeavour. However, nothing prevents Haven Books from buying ads in The Daily, the McGill Tribune, or other media.

The McGill Bookstore is in a competitive market, and students will decide where to buy their new and used books. However, it is important for students to know the facts: the McGill Bookstore is here to support the academic mission of the University, is committed to serving student needs, and contributes to student financial support by transferring surpluses to Student Life and Learning.

David Strutz is the Associate Director (Retail & Parking) of Ancillary Services. Write him at