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The New Competition

University Business, October 2012

You won’t find an college store named Rafter, Akadémos, or Neebo, but these companies have been reshaping the landscape of textbook buying, renting, and more.

Rafter and Akadémos help college stores outsource their textbook operations. After years of doing business as BookRenter—amassing almost 500 affiliations with campus bookstores and claiming to have saved students more than $200 million in textbook costs along the way—the company renamed itself Rafter this year and launched its online Course Materials Network. It gives professors information on available textbooks, lab equipment, and online education software from which to choose, with an eye to more affordable options.

Stores working with Rafter can connect through a portal that shows traffic, orders, and revenue. RapidReturn and LocalPickup services at the stores themselves aim to help ensure increased foot traffic.

Also making a mark is Akadémos, which sells and rents new and used textbooks. Students at affiliated colleges and universities save money by getting books through its Virtual Bookstore and Marketplace. The reported savings include $200,000 so far at Bank Street College in New York City and $100,000 at Wheelock College in Boston. The company also offers CoursePacks, which combine materials from textbooks, digital media, and articles.

The Akadémos online portal allows faculty to evaluate textbooks, which are peer reviewed, before adopting them. While providing college stores with software to track orders, the company emphasizes that without having to manage inventory and sales, managers can save money and use freed-up space for selling more retail merchandise.

Neebo, which sells and rents textbooks online, has established itself at almost 300 sites in college towns, either at official college bookstores, other bookstores near campus, or in some places, actual Neebo stores. The company’s textbook rental program promises a hefty savings of up to 75 percent over buying the books new.

The company has also made inroads into the once sacred ground of college-insignia apparel, noting on its website, “We’ve got everything students and fans need before they head to the big game.”