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DormBooks program grows in popularity

Laura McCrystal | Thursday, September 3, 2009

Notre Dame students have an increasing number of options when it comes to buying textbooks due to the growth of DormBooks, the textbook company founded by Notre Dame graduates, and student government’s launching of a ISBN database of required class materials.

Karol Grzesiak and Andrew Matasic, 2009 Notre Dame graduates, founded DormBooks three years ago in an effort to provide a cheaper alternative to the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore.

“We began the business just by the simple idea of cutting out the middleman,” Grzesiak said.

While the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore stocks all required books and is located on campus, its prices are often higher than those of other companies such as DormBooks.

The business endeavor began as a hobby, Grzesiak said, but it grew quickly. Originally, DormBooks only sold textbooks required for business concentrations, but it expanded last fall to offer books to students in all majors.

After the founders graduated last May, Matasic took a job with J.P. Morgan, but Grzesiak turned DormBooks into a full-time job. He is currently living in East Lansing, Mich., to oversee the expansion of DormBooks to Michigan State University as well as three smaller colleges in Michigan.

DormBooks offers lower prices than other companies by putting the textbook purchasing process into the hands of students, Grzesiak said.

Sophomore Kelsey Falter and junior Richard Dougherty are the current campus managers in control of daily operations of DormBooks at Notre Dame.

Nearly 500 Notre Dame students purchased books from DormBooks this fall, and the number of customers has increased every semester, Grzesiak said. Dormbooks also employs 40 to 50 Notre Dame students during peak business times, and Grzesiak plans to hire as many as five students each year as campus managers.

DormBooks keeps prices low by renting short-term storage units, as it is not cost-effective to keep an entire bookstore in operation when peak times for textbook sales come in short bursts, Grzesiak said.

“I’m in this for the long haul,” Grzesiak said. “There are almost 4,000 colleges in the United States. I don’t think DormBooks will ever be at every one of them, but we want to be at as many as possible.”

Junior Liz Casazza said she purchased five books from DormBooks this semester and saved $136 compared to what she would have spent at the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore. She said DormBooks was also the most convenient option because her books were delivered to her dorm.

DormBooks contributed to student government’s initiative for an ISBN database of textbooks this year.

Student body Vice President Cynthia Weber said the idea for the database began last semester when she and student body President Grant Schmidt created their campaign platform.

“Every year it’s a reoccurring issue that textbooks are so expensive,” she said. “Really the only definitive identification of the book is the ISBN number.”

Grzesiak agreed to provide student government with the ISBN database he developed for DormBooks, and Weber contacted professors to obtain the missing numbers.

“I think our database is probably 95 percent [complete],” Weber said. “We’re really excited about the student response.”

Student government announced in an Aug. 22 e-mail to students that the database was available on the student government Web site.

“It was such a big project that it would have been nice if we could have released it earlier,” Weber said, “but I know that it benefited some students.”

Weber said that although the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore offers “reliability and convenience” to students, the ISBN database will allow students to easily find textbooks on other Web sites.

Junior John Anders said he has purchased most of his textbooks from the Web site half.com since his freshman year.

“On half.com you can search ISBN numbers, and it makes it faster,” he said.

Although both Anders and Casazza used vendors other than the Hammes Notre Dame Bookstore to purchase books, they turned to the bookstore for some of their books because they could not find all of their books elsewhere.

Grzesiak hopes to continue to expand DormBooks to compete with the Bookstore, and student government plans to update the ISBN database each semester to help students purchase their books.