In a very competitive bidding war, Follett Corporation won the campus store contract here at Stony Brook. While the name Follett Corporation is not well known to most students, it is very familiar to college administrators in New York. In 1998, Follett Corporation tried to win the contract for SUNY Buffalo’s campus store but failed. It also previously operated the campus store at Suffolk Community College from 2009 to 2014, and from 2016 to present. Additionally, Follett was a contender for SUNY Binghamton’s campus store in 2016. According to the company’s website, it currently operates the campus store at the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Mercy College, the College of New Rochelle, Dutchess Community College in addition to a host of others in New York. Given the number of times that Follett has gone through the process of placing a bid on a campus store, one might even describe its resilience as the proverbial little engine that could.
Like Barnes & Noble, Follett will need to meet the unique tastes of students at Stony Brook and adjust what they offer in their new store to match. Hopefully, there will be a wider selection of products offered in the new store compared to what is currently found at Barnes & Noble, or what is now Shop Red West. It was once said that the rise of online bookstores at one time put physical bookstores, like the ones that Follett will soon operate, on the defensive. This has traditionally led to more discounts, promotions and events in store. My hope is that Follett continues this trend of offering discounts and promotions in store as well as providing for a direct feedback loop with the Stony Brook community. Foreseeing that Follett wants to be successful here, I would encourage the company to ask the Faculty Student Association to conduct a series of surveys and then take proactive steps as they get familiar with our campus.
While Follett will become the operator of the campus store in the coming weeks, other things will stay the same. For example, faculty will still need to go to the FSA Office of Bookstore Liaison’s for any questions on instructor copies; and textbooks are still exempt from sales tax. This is important to note because Barnes and Noble did not actively publicise the exemption. As a result, it is not well known that textbooks are exempt from sales tax. Conversely, Follett has yet discussed plans on how it will handle any credits or refunds for customized textbooks that would be charged sales tax. Follett also has not discussed how it might advertise this little nugget. Should we fault Follett already for this lack of transparency? It should be noted that the FSA Office of Bookstore Liaison’s does dedicate a website just to the Textbook tax credit. However, the website is geared to an Amazon purchase and not any purchases at the new campus store. Does that mean we should continue to buy from Amazon?
How does this tax impact a campus store you ask? Businesses like Follett are required by state law to charge a sales tax on merchandise in their store. This means that every item carried in the store would also have a 8.625% fee. That collected money is then given to the state as sales tax revenue. However, the New York legislature decided in 2010 that textbooks should be exempt from sales tax collection.
This might mean if a textbook costs $150, you might pay $12.95 in sales tax. If you would fill out the tax credit form and submit it, you would be able to be refunded the $12.95. In real terms, that would be the equivalent of two frappuccinos at Starbucks. Who wouldn’t want extra visits to Starbucks over the course of a semester? This past semester alone, I was able to receive a refund of $16.23. It should be noted that results do vary and the amount of any refund would be unique to you.
In sum, this lack of transparency is confounding. I hope as Follett sets into their new space, more information is shared with the community regarding their business practices and procedures. One could say it is not Follett’s responsibility and it should rest on the school to disclose the tax credit. I would counter and say that it is the inherent responsibility of any operator (bookstore or campus store) that handles rentals, textbooks or course materials to take necessary steps to educate consumers about this exemption and how easy it is to save money. Happy customers are good customers. Amazon does provide a copy of the exemption form if requested. Maybe, if we are lucky, Follett will have copies of this form on day one.
Correction: Feb. 9, 2018
A previous version of this story falsely stated that Amazon had ended its contract with Stony Brook.