Monday, October 15, 2007

Middlebury College Bookstore Shopping Spree

Or, How Middlebury College Lost $634.29 in 60 Seconds. (What's that expression? A fool and his money easily part?)

Ladies & Gentlemen, I give you exhibit A:

Rumor on the street is that this little shopping spree has rubbed a few people the wrong way. With recent discussion of high prices in the Bookstore, some students are questioning whether the shopping spree was an appropriate event. Let's face it: $634.29 is a lot of money!

And just where does this money come from? I seem to recall a poster or an e-mail somewhere from the Bookstore which said, "All proceeds benefit Middlebury College," or some outrageous baloney like that. Poor, poor Middlebury College. It can barely afford juice in the dining halls. Let's all run to the Bookstore and contribute to a needy cause.

I'll give you a needy cause: how about all those low-income students from warmer climates who can't afford to buy sweatshirts, gloves, and scarves? If the Bookstore is going to throw away $634 worth of Middlebury clothing, let's see them donate it to the bins around campus.

Or, even better: There are 4,000 homeless people in Vermont. I encourage you to walk in the woods behind Buttolph Acres and see what life is like for them. Let's give them some warm clothing for this winter.

MiddBlog wants to know: What do you think of the Bookstore's shopping spree? Hit the comments.

(P.S. Let's be clear: Chelsea Jessica and Keith are nice people; they participated in a contest like most people would. MiddBlog blames the Bookstore, not them.)

(P.P.S. Chelsea is also a nice person, it's just that that's not her in the video! Apparently. Why didn't someone say anything earlier!? :) )

Update 10/17, 10:56 a.m.: Yes, it's true. Book Store broke up with MiddBlog on Facebook. MiddBlog found out through an anonymous comment. MiddBlog is ready to move on. Want to be in a relationship with MiddBlog? You can initiate on Facebook.


Anonymous said...

I thought the video was hilarious. As you said, any Middkid would have done the same in that situation. So cut the bookstore a break: is a textbook giveaway acceptable but a clothing spree not acceptable? $600+ is nothing in the grand scheme of things and it promotes the bookstore as so much more fun and approachable than any other bookstore. Just because the bookstore is willing to try some new media video makes me feel like they are miles ahead of the administration here...

Dan Roberts said...

Sarah I could not agree more. What a giant waste. And if the bookstore can afford to be giving away such an amount, then certainly they need not be charging the exorbitant prices they do, such as the $3.50 for notebooks I can get for .99 cents at Hannaford.

I believe the frivolity of this "spree," and the HORRIBLE juice-at-dinner ban as well, both relate to a larger problem of money at Midd being spent in the wrong places, specifcally the tire "sculpture" behind Hillcrest or the million-dollar Patrick Dougherty teepee things which, I admit, are VERY cool but disintegrate after 2 years. So much effort and money for smthng that doesn't even last? And we can't have trays and juice back??

You should expand your mini rant here int an article for Debatable.

Anonymous said...

is their any source behind that 4,000 homeless people claim? I find it hard to believe that over 10% of the population is homeless.

I'm kind of on the fence on this issue. I don't like the idea of a shopping spree but I've gotten some pretty good deals at the bookstore, and nice service too...

Sarah Franco said...

I meant Vermont, not Addison County. Here's the source:

Anonymous said...

What a waste.. I think the bookstore should cut their staff if they have time on their hands to find ways to increase costs to the college.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I agree - give the bookstore a break. $600 is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money Middlebury donates to non profit organizations in Addison County and Vermont - including organizations that help the homeless.

And cut staff...c'mon.

Anonymous said...

Seriously, what is going on here: the bookstore and middblog break off their "relationship" on facebook over the 60 seconds shopping spree video. Wow. How's that for gossip...

Sarah Franco said...

What!? This how I found out that our relationship is off? Through an anonymous post in the comments? This is worse than that time when Carrie got the sticky note!

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

From the Bookstore's new Facebook Group:

60 Seconds Bookstore Shopping Spree - the other side of the story.

You may have heard that a controversy arouse on campus over the Bookstore offering this Facebook Event:

Please see the original email that started this controversy, and my response email toward the bottom of this group. The name of the student has been removed for the sake of privacy.

One of the first rules of marketing is to target the group you want to attract. In the case of the College Bookstore, it is students, parents, and alums. We know that today’s students are not reading email from the College, voice mail on college phones is not used. A full page in the Campus cost approximately $300 and has a limited impact. Posters sometimes work but most boards are full to capacity. So we are trying Facebook and events to build interest in the Bookstore and bring people in. Events have a long life, pre-event information builds excitement, the event we hope is fun and reporting on the event helps to build community and continue the interest.

What does it cost? Not as much as you may think, certainly there is staff time to create the event and inform our Facebook friends. The merchandise value is reported at full retail, the value to the winner, the cost to the store is less depending on the item, in the case of clothing about ½. So the 60 Second Bookstore Shopping Spree cost the store about the same as an ad in The Campus, but we think it was a lot more fun and had a greater impact. The event drew in customers and sales were up over Fall Family Weekend of last year. At the end of the weekend the net operating position of the Bookstore was improved even after paying for the shopping spree. As a marketing event it was a huge success.

The College Book Store is changing from a place that sells books and stuff to a place that helps to build community, providing information on the retail issues of the day, and working to provide better services to the entire college community. Stop in, engage us in conversation about what we are doing, and what you would like to see, or better yet, be part in creating a revolution in the college bookstore marketplace.

My purpose in establishing the Middlebury College Bookstore Idea Group is to seek ideas about possible new products, services, promotions, events, and concerns that you would like to see the Bookstore consider. The idea for this Idea Group was actually developed on paper before the controversy arouse, but the controversy actually provided me a great gift and opportunity, believe it or not, to nicely transition into the creation of the group with some real issues and concerns. Thank You!

From the Bookstore Idea Group I am looking to create a Bookstore Advisory Group. I am seeking current Middlebury students for the Advisory Group, and alums, faculty and staff for the Idea Group.

The Bookstore Advisory Group will have the task of creating a revolution in the college bookstore marketplace. The Bookstore’s current utilization of Facebook seems to be unique in the college bookstore marketplace. I want to expand on that utilization and take the Bookstore and the College to the next level as we plan to possibly have a new more spacious Bookstore at McCullough in 2010.

I am seeking current Middlebury students for the Bookstore Advisory Group who are creative, edgy, with an ability to think outside of the box. You must be positive, open, and honest, with an ability to work as part of a team.

My mission is to create a world-class bookstore worthy of the ranking of Middlebury College, and to boldly take our Bookstore into the future as the recognized leader in the college bookstore marketplace utilizing social networking as a tool.

I have been asked to speak about our utilization of Facebook as a tool at the annual National Association of College Stores Convention (NACS) in San Antonio, Texas in spring 2008. The NACS Convention brings together thousands of other college bookstores for training and a trade show. Perhaps you can take part in shaping the vision success stories I share at the convention in creating this revolution in the college bookstore marketplace. I know this controversy will give me some interesting things to talk about.

Please post your ideas on “The Wall” of the group. If you are a current Middlebury student and would like to be part of the Bookstore Advisory Group, please email me directly explaining why you would like to be part of this group. I may then call you in for an interview to explore why you think your ideas and talents might facilitate this revolution in the college bookstore marketplace. If you are an alum, faculty or staff member you can still post positive ideas on “The Wall” and be part of the Idea Group. I may from time-to-time reward those who post positive ideas on “The Wall”.

If you are chosen for the Bookstore Advisory Group you will receive a 15% percent store wide discount during your term in the group on most Bookstore items bought for yourself, which may include textbooks, clothing, gift items, and supplies. This will require you to provide 30 minutes of your time per week to Bookstore causes.

“Your mission if you choose to accept it is to boldly go where no one has gone before.”


Bob Jansen

Bookstore Manager
Middlebury College

Original email that started the controversy:

Dear Mr. Jansen and Mr. Liebowitz,

I read with interest this week an article in the Campus in which the college bookstore maintained that their textbook prices are not inflated, and indeed are even lower than most schools.

I hope that the ironic juxtaposition of that statement with the release of a video in which two privliged Middlebury students stuff as much merchandise into a bag as possible is not lost on the administration, the students, the alumni, or the bookstore staff.

When tensions are running this high over the prices being charged for books, I cannot imagine that a $633 shopping spree is in the best interest of anyone involved, as that cost must be passed on to students (unless it is being removed from the wages of the bookstore staff.) I am curious who is bearing the cost of this giveaway, and I feel that the bookstore would to well to publicly disclose that information.

I am extremely disappointed by this publicity stunt. It serves only to reinforce the notion that Middlebury students are overprivliged and overindulgent.

My response to this student:

Thank you for sharing your concerns. The Bookstore does maintain a markup less than the industry average of 25% on textbooks. Since becoming Bookstore Manager in January 2007, I have made great strides in substantially increasing the number of used textbooks we stock compared to previous semesters, which saves students 25% off the new book price.

The two winning students were randomly picked by a Middlebury student employee out of 427 who registered for the event through Facebook. We have chosen to use Facebook as our primary method to market the Bookstore since 93% of Middlebury students have a profile on Facebook, according to my most recent survey I did at the beginning of fall semester. We could have chosen to buy an advertisement in "The Campus" at around the same cost to the Store as the cost of the clothing given away.

Actually, because the event brought so many students and parents into the Bookstore, the promotion paid for itself many times over by increasing sales, compared to the last year’s Fall Family Weekend. Given the 1105 students and alums who are currently friends of the Bookstore on Facebook, and who enjoy our Facebook promotions, I am sorry you do not share the same excitement. In fact, within several hours of that original video going out publicly we had 32 new requests from Middlebury students to be friends of the Bookstore through Facebook. Since this promotion substantially increased sales, there are no costs passed on to students for the cost of the shopping spree, but to the contrary, it provided additional new resources to the College to cover not only the cost of the promotion, but in fact helped offset other College operating costs.

If anything, these events "stunts" do the complete opposite of what you are thinking, and actually helps keep other costs like textbook costs in check. The video was not created to be a publicity stunt, but a goodwill gesture seeking to build a sense of community that many other students, parents, and Middlebury staff seemed to appreciate, based on the many positive emails and comments we received in the Bookstore since we released it publicly.

I would welcome and opportunity to meet and talk over your concerns in person. I feel I bring a tremendous amount of new energy and ideas to the College, and it is my goal to deliver a Bookstore that truly addresses the concerns and serves the needs of Middlebury students.

Bob Jansen
Bookstore Manager

Anonymous said...

You are better off without Bookstore. The word on the street is it was an arranged relationship anyway, and when you went off on Book with this nonsense trash talk, perhaps the sticky note was too much to spend.

Anonymous said...

Bookstore's a jerk.

on the books...