“They are signing the death knell of the bookshop,” she said. “The only point of the bookshop is to sell books and if the books are not there when the students arrive there is no point having a bookshop.”
Professor McDonald said the lack of textbooks posed particular problems for international students, who often arrived in Australia so close to the start of semester they do not have time to find second-hand copies.
“On the first day of our class we wanted them to have read a substantial amount before the first class. Well, they can’t do that if they can’t get the books, so our whole teaching method is based on the availability of the books,” she said.
The Co-op did not respond to repeated requests for comment by phone, email or in person.
The national book-selling chain has closed more than two dozen stores since 2015, leaving it with 36 outlets. It faces stiff competition from publishers’ own online sales portals and second-hand sites such as Facebook Marketplace.
Stores at major universities including University Technology Sydney, University of Queensland and the Australian National University all shut last year.
Academics at the Australian National University, UNSW Canberra and La Trobe University in Melbourne told the Herald they had similar experiences to Professor McDonald’s.
“I tried absolutely everything within my power, including rocking up to that bookstore on several occasions, making phone calls, sending emails, trying to get books into the store and it just wasn’t working,” ANU law Associate Professor Matthew Zagor said.
The ANU replaced its Co-op with an outlet of bookseller Harry Hartog in time for the start of semester this year.
Overall, the bricks-and-mortar market for textbooks is under pressure from online booksellers and more universities prescribing e-books. The Co-op has moved into other areas as the market has shifted, gradually devoting more of its campus stores’ space to clothing and general merchandise. At the University of Sydney, its total space has shrunk by about one-third.
A former employee at one of the company’s Victorian stores, said staff were only told their store would be closing on the day it shut down.
“I had a couple of customers come in that day and I had to be like ‘we’re closing forever’, which was pretty rough because a lot of the people coming were students trying to prepare for the next year and lecturers checking that their [prescribed] books were going to be there,” said the employee, who declined to be named.
The employee said the company had problems with product availability due to supply issues in the Co-op, but that some lecturers contributed to the problem by not informing the bookshop of what texts they planned to prescribe until too close to the start of semester.
With Max Koslowski
Nick is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.