December 2015: Studenterboghandelen, Denmark

Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 17.06.05The name of our shop just means “students’ bookshop” in English – it’s as simple as that. The students and lecturers are the whole focus of our energies, and the reason why we ever came to exist at all. Back in 1981, we were started by a group of students and lecturers at what was then Odense University. We’re still run by a board of students and lecturers, who sign off our accounts and make the big, strategic decisions with us. The relationship with the board works very well for us – it helps keep us close to the students and lecturers and what they really need. Ultimately, it also means that we’re accountable to the wider University community.

Nowadays we have three sites – the main campus shop, where I work, and two other small shops, one of them medical and one more design and business oriented. We’re right inside the main entrance of the University. It’s a very nice shop with three floors and covers most subject areas – natural science, health science, engineering, social science and the humanities. There are five dedicated staff in the shop here. I am the foreign books buyer.

We basically sell academic books. We also stock novels, travel books, popular science titles and cookbooks, along with stationary, gifts, anatomical charts . At Christmas especially we have a bit more “normal” bookshop stock, but overwhelmingly our sales – 80 or 90 per cent – are of academic books, many of them in English.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 16.58.19

People outside Scandinavia might be surprised to find out that a large percentage, over fifty percent, of our courses are taught in English, or at least the textbooks they use are in English. Danish is such a small language it’s completely normal for our students to study in English, from being first year undergraduates upwards. There are some subject areas, such as law, where we use mainly Danish books, but other than that English, or sometimes German or French, is widely used. You might also be surprised to hear that Danish students don’t pay anything to go to University – that applies to students from the EU, Scandinavia and Switzerland who study here too. Danish students, regardless of their background, also receive a stipend from the government that’s the equivalent to around £500 a month. It’s a hugely expensive scheme for the government, but it means that if the students get a small part-time job they should hopefully be able to leave University with no debts. In theory at least, it also means they have some money to spend on books.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 16.56.50

We’re not here to make a profit. We’re here to support the academic community. As well as selling physical books, we spend a lot of time sourcing ebooks, helping the lecturers put together book lists and putting them online, and making book packs for courses that are going to represent good value for the students. We’re also always trying to get the best price for the students, so that we can pass the savings on to them. Being non-profit means that we’re able to do that.

Unlike a normal bookshop, we’ll also stock large quantities of some titles. We have big medical courses, for example, where we need around 200 copies of the core books. Similarly, the natural science first year students have four main books, and we’d expect to have 500 copies of each of those. Some of the adoptions are as small as 5 books, but an average adoption would be around 50-100. Working with the lecturers to support their courses means we do a lot of work with the different departments in the University, which really helps embed us in the University community.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 17.02.54

We don’t deal in second hand books. We talked about it a lot, but made a strategic decision to only sell new copies. Other academic bookshops have tried it, in Denmark as well as Norway, but we decided it would cannibalize the core of our business.

We’re facing other, bigger challenges than the second hand book market. Like other Universities worldwide, our funding is decreasing, and although we’re taking in more students, the humanities departments are shrinking. That affects us because humanities students tend to buy a lot of books, although admittedly the first year medical and natural science students are still strong buyers.Screen Shot 2015-12-02 at 17.08.39

By far the biggest challenge we’re seeing right now is illegal file sharing by the students, where they scan a book or share a pdf. We have adoptions where overnight we’ve sold 2 copies of a book instead of 200, and it’s all because of piracy. We’re trying to control it – for example we’ll tell the publisher if we’re aware an illegal file is in circulation – but it’s difficult to police because when you close one site down the students will open another, and we can’t do very much if the files are being shared in closed groups on Facebook or via dropbox links.

Amazon isn’t really a threat to us – Saxo, a Danish e-retailer, is our main online competition. But so far we’ve been successful in still bringing students into our shop – for example when new students start here we try to build a relationship with them, and that’s supported by their tutors, and of course the books the lecturers tell them they need are sitting right here on the shelves, hopefully at a price that is very competitive with an online retailer. We try to make it as easy as possible for them to buy from us.  As long as there is a University of Southern Denmark, we want there to be a student bookshop on campus. The two should go hand in hand.

We spoke to Karina B. Simonsen the foreign books buyer and marketing manager at Studenterboghandelen at the University of Southern Denmark in Odense, Denmark.

Karina B. Simonsen

Karina B. Simonsen

You can follow Studenterboghandelen on Twitter via

 Studenterboghandelen’s main shop is situated on SDU Odense at Campusvej 55, right inside the main entrance.

 Telephone: 0045 6550 1700 Email: info@boghandel.sdu.dkScreen Shot 2015-12-02 at 17.11.13

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