This time of year Rebecca Irani starts seeing a spike in business at the UBC Bookstore, with students buying everything from required reading to confectionery, sweatpants to tech gadgets. While the marketing and communications manager didn't go to UBC, she's spent the past several years learning about student culture and spending habits.
But nowadays less than half of what the campus bookstore sells is textbooks, reflecting a big shift in the way the campus hub operates. A couple of years back, bookstore managers and university executives at UBC even toyed with the idea of taking the "book" out of "bookstore," which sparked so much opposition the idea fell flat.
Name change or not, the UBC's bookstore is increasingly becoming a one-stop shop, says Irani. Below is an edited and condensed interview with Irani.
In what areas do you see big sales growth?
Students are still looking for text books. The second thing they'll look for is technology because we offer computers at student pricing (which is typically up to 10 per cent off). The third is around clothing because they want to wear the UBC brand when they come to university. As soon as high school students are confirmed and enrolled we see a spike in clothing purchases.
students spending the bulk of their money on when it comes to gadgets?What are
Computers, particularly laptops and tablets. So a lot of students are spending money on headphones, audio devices and ... we have things like goggles with cameras in them, which are very popular in British Columbia in terms of the outdoor sports so when they're moving they can actually film what they're doing ... But stationery continues to be popular even in the age of technology so particularly fun, social stationery and pens. People go crazy about pens.
Are students still surviving on 'Coles Notes'?
No, I don't think so. They're definitely getting information from their peers. They're definitely getting stuff from their professors online. Study aids are one of the choices, but it's not the only or main choice ... They are an optional item listed with textbooks so we do see high sales during back to school.
What do you think will be some of the biggest-selling books in September?
Margaret Atwood MaddAddam. Other popular titles for this fall are Douglas Coupland Worst. Person. Ever.; Malcolm Gladwell David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giant; Lawrence Hill Blood: The Stuff of Life. Of course, the Hunger Games trilogy and the Game of Thrones series will continue to do well for us – and these appeal to students more. Bear in mind that it is more staff, faculty, residents who buy our general, non-course books. Students tend to focus on textbooks.
Have ebooks had a tough time gaining traction?
ebooks started with fiction and textbooks were left by the wayside. But now I would actually say it's more useful to have a textbook as an ebook because then you can have live case studies and professors speaking from around the world. It makes something that is incredibly dry, slightly more entertaining and the student might be able to retain more with videos and multimedia on it. But the change is slow whereas in fiction there's been a lot more emphasis on it.
What are the surprising trends you're seeing in terms of what students are buying?
We've had an incredible time with cuddly toys. There's a character called Domo, who is this main Japanese television character. He's kind of an ugly thing. He's square in shape with jagged teeth. We did a social media campaign where he popped up around campus and I think it's been our most successful campaign ever ... We also sold three of the giant ones, which are $200 each. They're like six-to seven-feet tall. And it's a cuddly toy. The other growth area is board games. Students of all ages are not wanting to play computer games by themselves so much or online with people they don't know. They are wanting to interact with each other.