Why the bookstore ran out of your textbook

There are few things worse than going to the UBC Bookstore in hopes of buying a $200 book, but one of them has to be making the trek only to find out it isn’t there.

While textbooks are more commonly undersold at the UBC Bookstore — with the university having to return in excess of $1.5 million of unsold books per year — an unlucky few will show up at the store a couple days late and be unable to find their required textbook.

There is no one reason why the Bookstore might be out of stock. Reasons are as numerous as the number of variables its employees consider when determining how many to buy.

“It’s not an exact formula — ‘100 students, 100 books’ — because that would bankrupt us,” said Debbie Harvie, the Bookstore’s managing director. “We don’t sell that many.”

When stocking textbooks, the store considers the number of students, how the book is used in class, how many used books are available, how many will probably come in through their buyback program and how many textbooks have been sold in the past.

When the formula goes wrong

Past sales might not provide an accurate representation of how many books will sell if the professor for a certain course changes. If the professor requires students to read more of the book, more students are likely to buy it, leaving the bookstore short.  

“This is more complicated today than ever before. In the old days, there were new books and there were used books — that was it. Today we have new books, used books, rent books, online books [and] books from many, many sources outside of the bookstore,” said Harvie. “It’s actually very difficult today for course book buyers to figure out the quantity than it ever has been.”

The return policy

The UBC Bookstore allows students who buy a book for the term to return them until the add/drop date.

“If you buy a book, for example, in December, you can bring it back until the end of the add/drop period,” said Harvie.

So as long as students are adding and dropping classes, books are coming in and out. That means textbooks might not be available until the date passes, as students who have dropped classes return their books for others to buy.

Late assignment of courses/late submission of orders

Some professors submit their orders late, or are assigned their courses late, delaying the process.

“We’ll take the orders whenever they come in and we’ll do our very best to have books available for the first day of classes. If not, we’ll try to keep in touch with the instructor and let them know when the books are coming in,” said Harvie.

So what happens when things go wrong?

“If we are short, we do airfreight books into the Bookstore at our cost,” said Harvie.