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."