Co-op to Close After Sale to Online Retailer

23 April 2020

The Co-op bookstore will close its doors at the end of March after almost sixty years on The University of Melbourne’s Parkville campus. 

Despite its sale to online book retailer Booktopia, the Co-op store on Grattan Street will remain open for the first four weeks of semester to clear remaining stock and ensure students receive their ordered textbooks.

The Co-op bookshop chain, which operated stores on 34 university campuses across Australia, as well as the Curious Planet chain, owed $12.6 million when the board decided to appoint an administrator in early November. Booktopia, the buyer, is already Australia’s largest retailer of higher education textbooks and expects the purchase to help grow annual revenue from $131 million to $175 million in 2020. 

The demise of the Co-op means that its 2.1 million members, mostly current and former university students who paid a $25 membership fee to buy from the Co-op, will no longer be part of Australia’s largest membership scheme. 

As well as the loss of the membership scheme, students have told Farrago that vouchers purchased before the Co-op entered into administration are not being honoured in store. 

The CEO of Booktopia, Tony Nash, told Farrago that Booktopia had attempted to recover the voucher credits but that they were wrapped up in the Co-op’s other business, Curious Planet, which was not acquired by Booktopia in the deal.   

“Unfortunately, that was one of the frustrating things about the takeover… that those [voucher] credits couldn’t be transferred,” he said. 

Mr Nash did say that some vouchers were being honoured if the holder spent the equivalent amount in store. 

Although the Co-op is unlikely to stay open beyond March, Mr Nash said he would “strongly encourage” a student-run cooperative on campus. 

Jeremy Nadel from the ‘Take Back our Co-op’ campaign also said that there was still a place for a bookstore on campus. 

“The benefits of a community-run hub for students is very important. It might not be wildly

profitable, but it performs an important service,” he said. 

It is more likely however that a commercial retailer will take over the merchandise and stationery side of the Co-op, with educational retailer The School Locker reportedly in discussions with universities.

The Co-op’s financial difficulties had impacted some students as early as 2018. Ailish Hallinan, a student at The University of Melbourne, told Farrago that she had been employed by the Co-op during the second semester of 2018 but was let go due to “revised budgetary restrictions.”

“The Co-op hired me and a bunch of others … and then let us all go before we could actually start work,” she said. 

Mr Nadel said the Co-op’s demise was due to decisions made by the board of directors to prioritise “maximising profits instead of maximising value for their owners”their student customers.

“They have run the Co-op Bookshop into the ground, and what was left of it was increasingly irrelevant to students,” he said. 

Farrago did not receive comments from Co-op Administrators Andy Scott, Phil Carter and Daniel Walley.

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