Business

Business

Bookstores battle over forms

Posting of college textbook requests in dispute

May 10, 2007

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Three questions with Bill Muggy

Bill Muggy, owner of Jayhawk Bookstore, discusses how an upcoming change in the distribution of book-ordering information will affect his business. Enlarge video

Jayhawk Bookstore owner calling 'foul' over reformat

The owner of the Jayhawk Bookstore is calling 'foul' over competitors' decision to reformat the release of vital book ordering information. Enlarge video

A move by KU Bookstores to post its textbook-ordering information on the Internet is being criticized as unfair by one of its main competitors, who insists that the data be delivered the time-tested, old-fashioned way: on paper.

At issue is an announcement this week from KU Bookstores - the official textbook retailer affiliated with Kansas University - that it would post such information only at www.kubookstore.com.

The information comes from forms, known as "textbook adoption requests," that are filled out by KU instructors for each class that will be taught. The forms include the course title, estimated number of students to be enrolled and, often, each required textbook's International Standard Book Number, or ISBN.

Bookstores use the information to decide which books to order, how many to stock and how much to pay - if anything - for used books being resold by students.

Tim Norris, director for KU Bookstores, said that posting the information on the Internet would allow students to comparison shop with a multitude of competitors, simply by taking the ISBN to other bookstores - online or otherwise.

"They can use this information, as smart consumers, to find these books where they will get the best deals," Norris said. "I'm very confident they will shop in this store."

But Bill Muggy, owner of the off-campus Jayhawk Bookstore, sees it as a direct attempt to put him and other competing booksellers out of business.

Since opening "at the top of Naismith Hill" in 1978, Muggy has collected photocopies of each textbook adoption request from KU Bookstores. He's been paying 10 cents a copy for as many as 2,500 forms per semester since then, following a written agreement forged between himself and KU officials.

Now that the data will be searchable by course on the Internet, KU Bookstores no longer plans to make hard copies available. That rankles Muggy for one simple reason: Now he'll have to search the Web site for each course, each day, to see if a form has been submitted.

He also has doubts about finding data about enrollments, instructor names or whether used titles might be acceptable in place of new ones.

"It's like trying to find a needle in a haystack," Muggy said. "In a business sense, this caps what the university bookstore has been trying to do for 30 years, which is trying to put us out of business."

Muggy promises to keep supplying high-quality textbooks at competitive prices. He's just upset that the change - which becomes effective Monday - comes just as students begin the rush to sell back their textbooks from the spring semester.

Norris, for his part, doesn't understand what all the fuss is about. All Muggy needs to do is create an Excel spreadsheet, he said, and check the site daily for any changes.

It's time to save employees of KU Bookstores the time and energy necessary to make paper copies, he said, and instead move into the 21st century.

"It's just different," Norris said. "I don't know anybody who wouldn't rather go to a Web site, instead of getting countless pieces of paper."

Comments

oldgoof 8 years ago

When Muggy lives up to the promises he made to the neighborhood and the city commission regarding the use of his property, please let me know.

DaveR 8 years ago

Fair is fair. KU should offer its textbook lists, on a subscription basis, to any interested parties. On the other hand, if textbooks are a major part of Muggy's business, he should be more than happy to check, even if on a daily basis. I've run a bookstore since 1993, on the internet since 1996. I would not be in business today if I had not made the shift.

Since that time I have watched many of my competitors, solid, long-standing brick & mortar stores, some, like the Jayhawk Bookstore, with juicy near-campus locations, go bust. Yes, it's work to catalog an entire store, yes, it's work to put all that on-line, yes, it's work to manage a huge website on a daily basis, but I've managed for some eleven years now.

There's also no excuse for independent bookstores not use print-on-demand technology to republish significant out-of-print titles relevant to the individual store's tastes & needs. Given that ISBNs are required, and given that Bowker sells them in lots of 10, 100, or 1000, a bookstore that was saavy enough to put 40-80 titles back in print would, over a decade or so, guarantee itself a significant, permanent wholesale income, a "rainy day fund" to tide over bad times on the retail side.

A now-defunct store in Seattle comes to mind, along with a now-defunct store in eastern Pennsylvania. They are both sorely missed. They wanted to stay brick & mortar, at a time when I had my store 100% on-line, was expanding into wholesale, and saw my international trade go from 30% to some 45% of my overall gross (explained by faltering domestic sales, combined with a sinking dollar). As it happens, I sell highly specialized books & have never had a strictly local trade.

Textbooks are themselves a highly specialized trade. An effective website would give JB a national market for textbooks. Aside from Amazon & Blackwell, there are not that many on-line competitors. It would not be hard to become a national presence in textbook supply.

As far as bookstores are concerned, it's internet or bust. You don't need expensive consultants to create your site. Get a standard HTML manual, crank up Notepad, & get to work. It's what I did, and I'm no genius.

LittleMissFlea 8 years ago

What promises did he make to the neighbourhood and the city commission?

wagenseil 8 years ago

Message to Bill Muggy: Walk 200 yards down the hill to the Computer Science department in Eaton Hall. Tell them you'd like to hire a student for a few hours to write you a script in the perl or python languages that will automatically download all of those forms, put the information into a spreadsheet, and then go back into the database, say, every two hours and see if anything has changed, and alert you to that fact. Any decent programmer could have a prototype of this working in a couple of hours, and a final version in a few more, depending on how many bells and whistles you want attached to it. Pay the nice programmer a decent wage for their effort, and throw in a couple of free "KU Jayhawks: NCAA 2007 Final Four" t-shirts.

It's that easy, really. It's 2007, dude. I'm sure there were also complaints where the bookstore switched from submitting orders on clay tablets to that flimsy, easily destroyed stuff called "paper."

blondie77 8 years ago

You know where the largest problem lies ... the faculty. The bookstores, all together, set a deadline of when they need to know the required books for the next semester. Unfortunately about 50% of the instructors completely ignore that deadline. So when Muggy is frantically ooking for info about courses, it is usually because of tardy faculty. Many instructors turn in their book info the day classes start or just a few days before. You can see the challege for all the bookstores when you are dealing with this type of issue. If every instructor turned in their requisition on time, all the bookstores would have the books ordered by mid-semester (the semester prior) and this really wouldn't be much of an issue.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years ago

Bill was the WORST boss I have ever had. Downright abusive and NOT true to his word. I think he has a personality disorder or something. He has more enemies in this town than Bob Shumm.

imastinker 8 years ago

I've heard the same thing about him. Just a terrible boss. His prices are highway robbery too. I quit using his store when I was in college.

wagenseil 8 years ago

As a former neighbor of the Jayhawk Bookstore (but that's not the reason I moved), I recall maybe around 1992 an extended series of negotiations between the neighborhood, city and Mr. Muggy when he expanded his store. It is the only commercial enterprise (KU's Unions are not-for-profit, nominally at least) within maybe a square mile or more of KU and residential properties (mostly single-family), and is a non-conforming use that was grandfathered in from many decades ago (place was once a laundromat, according to old timers). Muggy made a whole bunch of promises about improving the landscaping that haven't been kept, and there were also some conditions on not parking the silly bus that he once had (is that still around?), this also seemed to be ignored. That's all I remember -- all things considered, a bookstore is a fairly innocuous neighbor; it's not like Muggy is running a crack house or somesuch.

[OldEnuf2BYurDad's sentiments about employment conditions have been echoed numerous times over the years, I should add, though I have no first-hand knowledge of this]

newsreader 8 years ago

Only commercial business within a square mile? Yellow Sub? The Crossing? The Wheel? The Wheel Pizza? Bullwinkles?

johnwoods 8 years ago

Bill Muggy has been breaking his non-comforming zoning since almost day one. The bookstore is supposed to allow customers into the second level of the store only 7 weeks out of the year. It is almost never closed off. Muggy just rubs the City's face in the zoning laws. The mayor told me the city wouldn't do anything about it...unless a complaint was officially made to the city.

Having worked on campus for the entire time Muggy has been here, I can guarantee you that the University, the Union and the KU Bookstore have never attempted to try to put him out of business. In fact they have bent over backwards on many his outlandlish complaints to try to appease him. Muggy knew there was competition when he got into the business in Lawrence. He should try to work with the University and the Union instead of always spouting off in the press and slinging mud at the competition.

johnwoods 8 years ago

Another commercial business next to campus...Beat the Bookstore...a competitor of the Jayhawk Bookstore.

wagenseil 8 years ago

re: newsreader. Jayhawk Bookstore to the Crossing is approx 3,000 feet according to GoogleMaps. Circle of radius 3000 ft is 1.014 square miles according to my calculations (pi-r-squared and all that). I had absolutely no idea it was that precise but, come to think of it, someone in the neighborhood probably did those calculations back during the zoning debate and they were lurking somewhere in my memory, right next to the theme song for "Mr. Ed". Scary.

johnwoods is completely correct on the second-level issue: I'd forgotten about that.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years ago

Wagenseil:

I was employed by JBS the year you are talking about: the remodel. He had a "book dept. manager" who went on vacation in June. While on vacation, Bill offered the book dept. manager job to another employee of the bookstore. A few days later, he hired someone from outside FOR THAT SAME JOB. That's either "crazy" or "poor character", and after all these years, I'm still not sure which one it is.

Honestly, I think Bill has some deep self-esteem issues related to his dad (seriously), and it has really messed up his head. The only real friend he had was his stock broker (is that a real friend?).

True: Bill would take the big muthaload of money from book sales during the first week of the school year (hundreds of thousands of dollars, I'm sure) and quickly drop it into a 90-day certificate of deposit. Then he'd tell all the book publishers who sold him the books on credit that "the check's in the mail" while he earned interest on the book sales. RIGHT before ordering books for the Spring, he's cash in his CD and quickly pay off the publishing houses. Many of them started demanding cash up front from him because of that. The money from the 90 days of interest WOULD PAY ALL THE BILLS FOR THE ENTIRE SUPPLIES DEPARTMENT. All the wholesale cost of spiral notebooks, pens, etc. would be paid in full from that 90 day CD. In essence, he was paying his bills on the backs of his publishers (time is money, right?).

There are too many stories from my one year with Bill to re-count in this forum.

OldEnuf2BYurDad 8 years ago

"johnwoods is completely correct on the second-level issue: I'd forgotten about that."

Yes, he made it clear to the staff that he never intended to honor that agreement. I was there.

blondie77 8 years ago

I can speak to the 2nd floor issue. I worked in the textbook department for almost a year. Other than the designated 7 weeks of the year, customers are asked to stop at the top of the stairs where there is a small wooden door. Jayhawk Bookstore staff find out what you need and then retrieve the book for you. Yes, Bill Muggy is somewhat odd as an employer. But I never found him to be mean or hurtful. He is excentric. And there are always two sides to every story (ie. the neighborhood issues). One of the complaints that Muggy had to deal with was a neighbor, to the north, complaining that the light from his outdoor soda machines kept her up all night. The soda machines are on the south side of the building, facing south. Yes, there are issues between the city commission and Muggy. But some of the complaints filed against him were just to be a pain in his a** ... not valid complaints.

fletch 8 years ago

Oh no! One business decided to innovate and the other didn't! Unfair competition!

Sorry Bill, this sort of data is all moving online. Either get with the times, or hire somebody to help you. I worked Orientation for 2 years, and one of the biggest requests from incoming students was to be able to get book listings with ISBN numbers online. I'm glad they're doing this.

LittleMissFlea 8 years ago

The atheletic department is in direct competition with the bookstores, since they're they only ones who are allowed to sell signed merchandise and jerzys with the players names on them.

oldgoof 8 years ago

Others have addressed the zoning issue better than I could explain.
.. Mr. Muggy always has his big middle finger extended to the neighborhood, the City of Lawrence, and the University. Everyone must be against him. . I remember a time he was accusing the University of running him out of business when the student bookstore started selling computers. This was when manufacturers selling through new distribution channels (companies, student unions), instead of retail stores. His beef should have been against the manufacturers, but that doesn't make for an article in the local paper...it is easier to complain about KU. (Of course this market has evolved to where most buy directly from the manufacturer!) At about the same time, he was charging $30 bucks for a photo of Hoch Hall burning in flames....when at the same time the University had no money for reconstruction. .. I also remember him selling a math book used, which when sold new was accompanied by a computer diskette and a single-use licensed program for a particular class. (Now this was aggregious conduct against students by the publishing industry, but that is another story. The intent obviously was to prevent using the book in the used market) But he sold these used books (the most profitable part of the book trade) and when students bought this used book, he said 'just get a copy of the computer program from your instructor.' So, wasn't he advising students and instructors to violate federal copyright law? And selling an incomplete academic product to students at the same time? The KU Bookstore couldn't/wouldn't do this.

blondie77 8 years ago

But there IS a large book company in town. The bookstore on 23rd street is actually owned by Nebraska Book, one of the largest distributors of textbooks in the nation. KU and Jayhawk bookstores buy their books from Nebraska. I have often wondered why that store does so poorly if the main supplier is also the owner.

blondie77 8 years ago

Tony - you speak the truth! Good point!

Bud Stagg 8 years ago

Wagensail is right about the programmer. A good one would charge $500 to right some code that would check Ku's site a couple of times a day. It would be more efficient that paying $250 a semester for copies and then have to type those in. This change should save him money. Quit whining Mr. Muggy, they now have things like cell phones, electric calculators and the internet. Use them!

Monty Amick 8 years ago

Muggy is quite possibly the cheapest, whiniest, most idiotic business owner in this town. Many years of my life were wasted in his employ. I pity the poor collegiate programmer that is conned into bringing this myopic fool into the present age. He has always whined and cried "poor me" just to get
his way and to save a dime. Nothing would better the students of KU during their book purchasing and buyback days than to have this joker fold up shop.

justthefacts 8 years ago

Unless he has a BINDING contract with KU requiring them to continue doing things the same way they've always been done, this is a policy decision that KU decision makers are free to lawfully make. The analog (paper) trail may still be available to him, eventually (once the professors fill out their on-line book lists) but he may not get those paper records as soon or in the same way that he is used to or would like. However, nothing in the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA) requires that a public agency create a public record at all, let alone in the same manner they've always created the records. If he does in fact actually have a BINDING agreement with KU, he'll need to pursue enforcement of its terms privately, perhaps with the assistance of a private attorney (which costs money - probably lots more then it would cost him to pay a computer programmer to write a program to regularly check and update a list of the professor's book lists!!).

Mike Blur 8 years ago

When I went to KU from 89-94, I spread my textbook business as evenly as I could between KUBS and JBS. (UBS didn't exist back then.) Back then, the cost of textbooks nearly equaled in-state tuition. I knew going in I was going to get screwed by both--so deal with both and move on.

I've heard horror stories by many friends who worked for Jayhawk Bookstore. Ever heard the song by the early-90s local band Zoom "Cycle of Fifths?" The lyrics go "I work the register, that sits on top of the hill, it is a menial production, across the counter, they're begging for a freebie, and I can't stand the owner, so I'll set you up just fine!" The singer/songwriter is a former employee of JBS.

Any former employees of JBS contact me--and I can send you the mp3 if you want.

Bill Muggy has a seat right next to that "Fred Hothead" guy from an LTE a few days ago on the Lawrence Luddite collective.

warthog 8 years ago

So, let me get this straight; this guy is crying in his beer because he's too lazy to make up his own list? And he blames his competition for it? They're not playing fair? Get a life, bud. Someone wisely once said, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen."

Sigmund 8 years ago

"The bookstore is supposed to allow customers into the second level of the store only 7 weeks out of the year." I don't get it. Why would the City, the Neighbors, or the University want or need such a restriction?

javery 8 years ago

I have been using the ISBN numbers off of the KU Bookstore website for the last 2 years to comparison shop (sometimes I've gone with local, other times I've ordered online). The information has actually been there for a long while if you knew where to look.

cutny 8 years ago

Why fight about it? Kids are always going to go to college and ku HAS to have them reading something because the teachers are the ones that wrote it, and that's why you have to have it. Some kids will buy books. Who doesn't love a book? Some have credit cards along with their computers and don't want to leave the house to buy something heavy that they are not going to read anyway and has no resale value. Eventually somebody from the other end of the world will pay to download it online and never having walked a step in Lawrence will graduate from "virtual," ku, and somebody else (a young "rebel, no doubt) probably uploaded it for free already, anyway.

bearclaws 8 years ago

Mike Blur,

With all due respect.....

I thought that Zoom song was about Yello Sub. MH worked there for a couple of years.

Sean Livingstone 8 years ago

Hey Bill, we're living in 2007, not 1987.... online business is everyone. Learn to live with change.

Mike Blur 8 years ago

Now now bearclaws, MH did write "Cycle of Fifths" about the JBS. He worked there about three years, I do believe--and he attained a high ranking staff position before he gave it all up. I'll check my sources--I haven't talked to MH in a few years, but as you know, there are a couple Zoom members still in town.

ignati5 8 years ago

Both Messers Muggy and Norris are missing the point of this controversy. I am aware ,for instance, of no major move either the KUBS or the University has ever made with the sole intention of harming the Jayhawk Bookstore, which is much further off the radar screen of their concerns than Bill might like to believe. On the other hand, for Tim to dismiss Muggy's complaint as a reluctance to "move into the 21st century" is rather like Alberto Gonzalez accusing those who criticize his internal surveillance policies on ethical grounds as being ignorant that such surveillance must be conducted on the Internet. Apples and oranges litter this exchange like an upended fruit basket.

The real issue has to do with whether the textbook requisition as received directly from the instructor, or the KUBS' edited version- in this case, the one posted on their website -is the public document which must legally be accessible to all businesses selling textbooks to KU students. In three previous cases , the University Counsel advised that the original requisition was the public document: first in respect to the Jayhawk Bookstore's initial remonstrance in 1977, again when the University Bookstore came to town, and most recently when the late and unlamented Varsity.Com requested text requisitions a few years ago. In each of these instances, the KUBS, as the university's designated custodian of original text requisitions, was obliged to supply copies of them to other stores on demand, provided that those stores compensated the KUBS for its expenses in reproducing and distributing the information.. The fee could be exorbitant and delivery delayed, but never could the information be summarily withheld or substituted by a version of the requisition edited by KUBS staff.

There are obvious reasons why all bookstores need to work off the public document, particularly in an age of rampant packaging and price gouging of college textbooks by publishers, to produce the most accurate and economical adoptions for faculty and students. This is best done by seeing the instructor's original book list, rather than having to deconstruct its representation by a competitor whose marketing strategy, or, as Mr. Norris noted, desire to spare his employees extra work, may differ.

So, if one removes Muggy's paranoia and Norris' arrogance from the discussion, a fair and simple solution emerges. The KUBS should supply its competitors with the information they request, and, if need be, adjust their fee for this service in line with their real costs in doing so. Competition in prices and supply of textbooks may then proceed on a level playing field, to the benefit of students and faculty at KU.

Ivy

Nick Yoho 8 years ago

WAAAAAAAHHH! Change Hurts ,make it stop.

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