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Union Books Service Review

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We want to hear your views on the closure of Union Books, send them to us using the Your Comments form.

Update on academic hub consultations from the Exec.

Updated Friday 15th October 2010
 
We have consulted students on the function and services offered within the academic hub through a series of ten open consultation events.
 
The consultation sought to address concern about the loss of academic support functions offered by Union Books such as help ordering specialist texts and reading packs. The Union is committed to develop an academic support hub as part of its strategic plan, which was voted in by students in November 2009.
 
The consultation process clearly showed that students, and other Union Books customers wanted more information about how and why the decision to close the retail operation of Union Books was taken.  You can find out more about the decision, as well as viewing externally audited interim figures here
 
We will be publishing other student feedback from the consultation over the next few weeks, including an update on how we are developing proposals with students.

 

Union Books will be offering existing service through semester 1

Updated Wednesday 8th September 2010

Union Books will be closing on the 10th December 2010, but will remain open and will continue to offer the existing service through semester 1. All reading list texts will be available as normal. This follows a consultation process with Union Books staff that ended on Friday 27th August 2010.

 

Unfortunately, the consultation process did not secure the financial future of the Union’s book shop. The Union Books team is now working hard preparing all the reading lists texts and the usual student offers for the start of semester 1.

 

During 2011, LUU will be looking to replace some of the non retail Union Book services with a new service which combines direct support for students on their academic work with advice on the best way to access study materials. The Student Executive will be consulting with members on what should go into our new “Academic Hub” during the next term via open meetings and feedback using our democratic structures.

 


 

Union Books - Questions & Answers

Released Wednesday 11th August 2010

 

Introduction

We are aware of a number of questions posed directly or indirectly at the Union about Union Books services. We have aimed to answer these below. We’re keen to hear from you, so please send us your comments via www.leedsuniversityunion.org.uk/yourcomments.

Jackie Berry
Deputy Chief Executive, Leeds University Union

 

'Who runs Union Books?’
The Union is solely responsible for Union Books. The University and Union are separate entities, albeit that the Union receives significant funding from the University. The proposal to review Union Books services is not as a result of the economies exercise on campus.
Like many independent book shops, Union Books has been working hard to compete with online retailers, and national chains for several years. Despite the hard work of a dedicated and passionate team, the shop has been unable to generate sufficient sales or profit to sustain the business. The current recession has escalated this trend as student and University finances have been put under increasing pressure, with the need to have books priced competitively becoming paramount.

 

‘When exactly is Union Books closing?’
We are in consultation with staff about the proposal to close. No closure date has been agreed. Union Books was closed for stock taking last week which prompted some people to assume that they had already closed; this is incorrect. Union Books will continue to trade during term one to support students and staff alike with services. As the consultation with staff progresses, we will update further on the outcome and any potential dates. We are asking Union Books staff to suggest ways in which the current Union Books business model could be changed so that we continue to provide support for students. It will be students that will democratically decide on the format of the services they want.

 

‘What about the services Union Books offers other than selling books; for example, reading course packs, second-hand book sales etc?’
As part of our new strategic plan responding to student feedback, we will be working on what services our new academic support hub will provide. We will be consulting with students to determine what these services should be. To support this, the Student Exec will be holding a series of meetings at the start of term for students to let us know what academic support services they want the Union to provide. We ask students to send their feedback through our “Your comments” section on our website. These ideas will then be discussed by students at the Better Union Forum . It will be students that will make the decision on the format of this service democratically.

 

‘If Leeds University Union prides itself on being a ‘Not For Profit’ organisation then why is it closing the book shop? It certainly doesn’t have its students' best interests at heart, that’s for sure.’
The Union is a charity so we use every penny that is spent in our income-generating shops, bars and nightclubs to make sure that students get a great education, learn new things, meet new people and love their time at Leeds. Therefore, we do make a profit, but we invest it back into Union services like the advice centre, clubs and societies, volunteering projects and academic representation. Union Books being loss-making puts these services at risk.
We asked students in 2009 what they wanted from their Union. They told us that they wanted their Union to help them achieve academic success through lobbying, a strong representative structure and campaigning on issues that matter to students. They also told us that they want us to help them meet new people, try new activities out, develop skills and help when things go wrong. That’s why we provide over 300 student clubs and societies alongside other Union services like the Student Advice Centre. Underwriting an expensive book shop would mean that we would have to take money away from these more fundamental and valuable services. The level of underwriting would mean we would have to cut other student services.
The Union’s Board of Trustees listened to student feedback and made the difficult decision that removing monies from other unique services that directly support students and could not be provided by another body would be unacceptable.

 

‘Surely there should be a book shop on campus?’
There are two bookshops competing on campus at the moment – Blackwell and Union Books. As a national chain, Blackwell has significant buying power and has been well supported by staff and students on campus. Union Books is the only students’ union-run book shop in the UK. Union Books offers a range of services, especially in relation to help with students’ reading lists, but is unable to offer books as cheaply as shops like Blackwell or online like Amazon. We can’t compete on price and sadly have had to accept that many students and university staff have chosen to shop elsewhere. We are actively looking for ways in which we can retain a good reading list service for students as part of a new academic support hub that students have asked for in their union. Academic support was highlighted as a key area of our work to develop over the next four years in our Strategic Plan. This strategic plan was formed in consultation with students and voted in by students at referendum last year.

 

‘Why has there been no attempt to seek creative solutions to the book shop’s difficulties?’
Over the years a number of solutions have been investigated. The Wicked café was opened alongside Union Books to try to increase footfall. We have also considered having other tenants in the space to provide a complementary offer (e.g. a retailer selling cds/dvds) and reduce the space given to Union Books. Within Union Books itself, the product range has been expanded beyond just books. A website has also been set up to sell Union Books stock. We have considered a number of other creative solutions (cutting costs, investing in reward cards) to make the bookshop a sustainable, low risk, business. Sadly, none of these efforts has made a significant difference.
We have had support at a senior level in the University from Professor Vivien Jones and others, to encourage more university faculties to purchase books from Union Books. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of the Union Books, colleagues at the University and Union team, we have not had the ability to influence buying behaviour at departmental level or increase buying to the extent that this is a sustainable service going forward. This has much to do with our inability, as an independent book shop, to compete with the buying power of national chains and websites such as Amazon. Academics and students have simply found better value by shopping for books elsewhere.

 

‘Surely, you should be providing a book shop that is underwritten by taking money from other services?’
As sales and profits have declined over the last few years at Union Books, the level of risk to the Union has grown significantly. On average at least £300,000 is tied up in book stock each month, with significantly more during term one. We have also experienced increasing bad debt from book suppliers which has meant us writing off significant monies as part of the operation. This means that we anticipate making a loss this financial year and in future years. The Union currently subsidises Union Books by absorbing the businesses’ management, marketing, HR, facilities, finance and utilities costs elsewhere. Any further underwriting of the business could only happen by taking money away from other more fundamental Union services such as the Student Advice Centre, clubs and societies or volunteering projects. If you like to find out more about these financial implications please contact us via www.leedsuniversityunion.org.uk/yourcomments.

 

‘Have you deliberately announced this outside of term time?’
No. This difficult decision was made by the Union’s Board of Trustees now on the basis of the last financial year’s trading figures (the Union’s financial year runs from 1st August) and because September is a crucial month for the book shop. We had hoped that we may have been able to secure a sale of Union Books to Blackwell; this proved not possible and these discussions were concluded in July.

 

‘What are you going to do in the space instead?’
We are inviting students to give us their ideas and will be looking to develop the space. No decisions have been made, but students have fed back that they would like to see additional society meeting rooms, rehearsal and lounge space for students in 2011. That will be up to students to decide. We will continue to consult with students when they return at the start of the academic year. In parallel to the consultation with staff over Union Books, we will be asking students what services we offer in the new academic support hub within the Union. It will be students that will make the decision on the format of this service democratically.

 

‘Is it true that UCU exposed the story?’
No. Union Books staff were briefed last Friday (30th July) and given time to consider ways to change the current business model. All other union staff were briefed later that day. We thought it was important for our staff to be consulted before making any public announcements. The Leeds Student newspaper society were briefed on Monday 2nd August and the news went on our Union website on Tuesday 3rd August.
We have invited members of UCU to a meeting so that we can share the full detail of the situation with them. Unfortunately, they have not been able to attend a meeting. UCU doesn’t currently represent any staff working at Leeds University Union. LUU is working closely with Unison who represent the staff affected by this situation.

 

‘As a disabled student, I and others would feel the loss of Union Books very keenly as the other book shops are difficult to access.’Marcus Crawley (the Union’s Equality and Diversity Officer) will be looking at solutions for students with disabilities who find getting to other book shops difficult. If you have any specific concerns in this area you can contact Marcus at m.a.v.crawley@luu.leeds.ac.uk.

 

‘Sadly I think Union Books has proven too expensive for me in the two years I have been studying at Leeds. I have not found many books from my reading lists in there and, when I do, they are far more expensive than online (even for new copies). I would greatly miss the second-hand shelves though as I have found a few little gems - books I never would have bought but having 'flicked through' have found them ideal’.
We hope to be able to offer students a service to allow then to sell second-hand books to each other. This feedback will be passed onto the group reviewing the academic support hub.

 

‘Union Books should continue but in a smaller self-service format with facilities to collect books from prepaid online purchases.’
We will be looking into providing services like this within our new academic support hub.

 

‘Has the option of offering a private entity like 'Blackwell' or 'Waterstones' the opportunity to set up a satellite been explored, or even Amazon? There could be secure online ordering facility in the shop (bank of specific PCs) for academic books, with a collection facility and limited stock etc?’
As mentioned earlier, we had hoped to work with Blackwell with the sale of Union Books. As part of the consultation, we will be exploring opportunities of working with other private entities that can support us in offering better value for money. We will look at all options; the one option which is too high risk for the Union is that of maintaining a book stock holding.

 

‘I'll be sad to see Union Books go, although with the prices available on Amazon and suchlike I'm not surprised. I bought books as often as possible from our bookstore, but finances, as always, are tight. I found some books that I'd bought for £15 - £25 at Union Books for £5 - £10 online. Still, will there be a big discount sale of the books before closure, or will they just be sent back to the publishers? Also, how will the Union Books space be used afterwards?’
As mentioned earlier, we are currently in consultation with staff about the proposal. It is too early to say whether there will be a discount sale or whether stock will be returned. No closure date has been agreed. We will provide information on this page about the consultation process and other developments.
We are inviting students to give us their ideas and will be looking to develop the space in 2011. Initial thoughts from students include providing additional meeting rooms for societies, rehearsal spaces and lounge spaces. A full consultation with students will occur in term one. We will also be asking students what services we offer in the new academic support hub within the Union. It will be students that will make the decision on the format of this service democratically.

 

Do you have a comment or question that hasn’t been address here?

Please contact us through our Your Comments service www.leedsuniversityunion.org.uk/yourcomments/.

 


 

Latest statement by Elliot Jebreel, Education Officer of Leeds University Union.

The review of our Union bookshop is an emotive issue.  I’ve received a lot of questions about the recent announcement.

Union Books offers a great service to academics and students, and we’re looking at ways in which we can continue to support course packs and other student essentials.  However, the current commercial format threatens the future of our other student services (e.g. advice, support, representation and campaigning).

As your Union we’ve looked at the feedback and I share your concern about the potential loss of learning support for students.

We are actively looking at ways in which we can support students with their studies as part of an ‘academic hub’ (a part of the strategic plan that students decided on at Referendum in November 2009).

The ‘academic hub’ could provide facilities such as:

  • Ordering reading lists and course packs.
  • Advice, place orders.
  • Support for Departmental Societies.
  • Help ordering hard to find books.
  • Finding better value for money and cheaper prices for students and staff.
  • Second hand book sales.

 

We are looking at how we can make this happen and I would welcome any ideas that you have.  Whatever happens, students will decide what they want done with their space.  I also want to encourage other users of our services to share their ideas with us.

We thank the students and academics who have supported our book shop rather than buying from cheaper chains or online.  We’ve always tried to get the best price for our students but it’s getting more and more difficult to beat other people’s prices.

I will answer all your queries about the difficulties that our book shop is experiencing.  We are considering all emerging ideas for this transformation and on how we ask for your ideas for the future so please get in touch with me at e.j.jebreel@leeds.ac.uk.

I will continue to make sure that students get the academic support they’ve asked for from our Union.

Elliot Jebreel

Education Officer




Statement from Leeds University Union

Originally published 03/08/10

Regretfully, we are proposing to close Union Books in November 2010.

Sales have been in steady decline in recent years, in keeping with the rest of the book market with online retailers such as Amazon taking market share away from more traditional book shops like Union Books. The global recession has made sales even tougher on the high street with many book shops closing.  The UK chain Borders closed most recently and it is estimated that two independent book stores close every week in the UK. 

Union Books has experienced the same sales trends as the high street. Despite support from many University departments, the harsh economic reality it that online sites like Amazon offer cheaper prices than Union Books can. In the current economic climate, this means that both University departments and students are spending less on books, and when they do buy, are looking for the best value for money.

The Union Books team and management have shown huge effort and commitment in working hard to find new markets, product ranges and sales over the last few challenging years. Despite all of their efforts, each year has seen a decline in Union Books financial contribution and we anticipate that Union Books will become loss making in the next 12 months. The operation is a risk to the Union finances; on average the stock holding of the shop is £300,000.

Earlier this year, we were approached by Blackwells to potentially buy Union Books, with a view to moving the operation over to the Blackwells store on Blenheim Terrace. The initial discussions included the TUPE staff to Blackwells and the closure of the Union Book site. LUU has made every effort to secure an outcome from these discussions which would protect our staff and maintain a quality service for members, but Blackwells have since decided that they do not want to pursue this option.

 

Regretfully now, one proposal we must consider is to only continue trading Union Books until November 2010. This means that all reading lists and texts will still be available in Union Books during most of term 1. We will no longer offer a saver account with Union Books to new customers; existing customers will be able to use their account until Union Books closes. Any credit remaining after closure will be reimbursed by the Union.

It is important that the Union continues to support students to access essential resources for their learning. Academic support was highlighted as a key area of our work to develop over the next four years in our Strategic Plan. This strategic plan was formed in consultation with students and passed at referendum last year. In parallel to the consultation with staff over Union Books, we will be reviewing with members how we can enhance the offer in the new Academic/Learning Hub within LUU which is our commitment for 2011/12.

If we are unable to find another plan for Union Books, from January 2011 we currently propose to redevelop the space for additional meeting rooms, rehearsal and lounge space in consultation with members, with additional space also being given to the café area. We will then draw up plans for the longer term development of the space in line with our new Strategic Plan.

One of the trends which also hit Union Books performance has been the growing sales in second hand books. We propose to support this with expanding the use of the Union web site to help students in both selling and buying second hand books. We also propose to continue to sell a small range of best selling fiction books in Essentials. We will also look to investigate working directly with other academic book retailers to see if there is a way we can work with them to provide a service supplying essential course texts to students.  

We will be working with all staff affected as we consult on these proposals; we will seek to redeploy staff into positions within the Union wherever possible.

 

If you have any comments regarding the closure of Union books, send them to us using the Your Comments form.

 
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