Purdue University has announced some bright news for its students – provided they are prepared to tie themselves to Amazon. They now have “the opportunity to save up to 30 percent – or $6 million – a year on textbooks” thanks to “the Purdue Student Store on Amazon, a new, co-branded experience where students can purchase lower-cost textbooks and other college essentials.” This follows up on a slightly different pilot program already debuted at UC Davis.
It seems like a great deal, but no one could imagine that Amazon is doing this purely out of generosity. “Through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon, students can purchase or rent new and used print textbooks, as well as buy and rent Kindle eTextbooks. Students and others who enter the online store also will find the same prices, selection and shopping experience as on Amazon.com,” states the announcement. “Amazon will return a percentage of eligible sales through the Purdue Student Store on Amazon to the university, including sales to faculty, staff, alumni and friends of the university. Purdue will use the proceeds for its student affordability and accessibility initiatives.” Meanwhile, though, this scheme will give Amazon effective lock-in on the book purchases of Purdue students, as well as the chance to build enduring loyalty with future premium Amazon consumers.
“This relationship is another step in Purdue’s efforts to make a college education more affordable for our students,” said President Mitch Daniels. “With the pressure on college campuses to reduce costs, this new way of doing business has the potential to change the book-buying landscape for students and their families.”
Frank Dooley, interim vice provost for undergraduate academic affairs, explained Purdue’s decision to choose Amazon over other alternatives. “We feel Amazon is right for Purdue for two reasons: Amazon doesn’t force students or instructors into any one format, offering print and digital, buying and renting, new and used. And the potential savings is about 30 percent a year on textbooks for our students.”
That said, Amazon obviously is loading things in its favor, not least as the program also brings “staffed customer order pickup and drop-off locations to Purdue’s campus” as well as special delivery services. Barnes & Noble and other competitors can’t see this as a positive development, but it also brings Amazon dangerously close to a monopoly provider position in Purdue. And what kind of dominance is it going to achieve over American academia if it can use the same incentives and arguments to strike similar deals elsewhere?