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University News

Brown Bookstore: Symposium not a threat

Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Three months after its opening, Symposium Books on Thayer St. has not brought the heat of increased competition to the Brown Bookstore, according to Steven Souza, director of Bookstore administration.  Though the stores are separated by only a block, “Symposium is in a different world,” Souza said.

Symposium, which opened Nov. 26, specializes in overstock and remainder titles and offers discounts significantly below retail prices.  

The store caters to a different population of buyers, Souza said. They are “trying to find a niche, and they do it well,” he said.

Symposium deals mostly with overstock from well-known publishers, said Terry St. Amant, manager of the Thayer location of Symposium. The store has what St. Amant described as a “weird mixture” of books, including sections devoted to graphic novels, literature, architecture and philosophy. It is a place where customers should explore rather than come in with a specific idea in their heads, she said.  

Symposium does not currently carry textbooks at the Thayer location, but it does carry a selection of new releases, St. Amant said.

A brief survey of the titles on display at both stores reveals little overlap. But some of the books the stores had in common were marked down at the Brown Bookstore. Symposium priced “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” at $11.98. At the Brown Bookstore, the book was originally $14.95 and is now marked down 20 percent to $11.96. Another common title, “The Autobiography of Mark Twain,” priced at $29.70 at Symposium Books, was discounted 30 percent at the Brown Bookstore to $24.46.

“Symposium is a competitor, but not one that has affected our business too much so far,” Souza said. While Symposium specializes in books that have been significantly marked down after their initial runs, “we believe that the people we deal with — the faculty and students — are passionate (enough) about their subjects that they’re going to buy (books) at the front end,” he said.

While the Brown Bookstore also buys overstocked books, Symposium does so to a greater extent, Souza said.

Both Souza and St. Amant said competition between the two stores appears minimal. St. Amant said she has even directed customers to the Brown Bookstore when Symposium does not carry a requested title.

“I’ve sent a few people over there if we don’t have something they’re looking for,” St. Amant said. “If you’re looking for a specific title, we might not have it, but it’s the kind of bookstore you want to spend an hour in poking around.”

“The Internet is a much bigger competitor than Symposium,” Souza said, adding that the store recently began to offer rental textbooks to compete with cheaper online alternatives. Souza said he would be shocked if they faced additional competition from Symposium selling textbooks.  

St. Amant said she thought the owners of Symposium would be “more than willing” to carry textbooks at the Thayer location, but there is not much space.

Symposium does sell used textbooks at its location on Westminster St. near the Rhode Island School of Design.

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