OPINION: There’s a monopoly on textbooks in Manhattan, and K-State controls it

Photo illustration by Mason Swenson.

If there is one thing Manhattan sorely lacks, it’s book stores.

Granted, there are several places to buy novels and children’s books in town — Claflin Books, Books-A-Million in the mall, The Dusty Bookshelf (one of these days). My problem is more specific, though.

Are there any places in Manhattan that sell textbooks besides the Kansas State Campus Store in the Student Union? I can’t think of a single one.

I’m no economist, but K-State’s book store has a serious lack of competition, and all the telltale signs of industrial stagnation are there.

The store is entirely too small for the approximately 20,000 students enrolled this semester, the service is impersonal and consumer unfriendly and the prices are downright exploitative (although that’s more of a national problem).

And yet, the book store persists with no reason to improve. Students have no other options unless they want to buy online and hope their book arrives in the mail before they get an assignment that requires it.

The K-State Campus Store reminds me of a company town. For those not aware, company towns are residential areas where practically all stores and housing are owned by one company that is also the main employer of the town’s residents.

The United States has seen plenty of company towns throughout its history. If a labor company wants to establish a monopoly and exploit its workers, particularly immigrant workers in the late 1800s, a company town is the way to go. Every dollar the residents earn is spent at company stores to funnel their paychecks back into the wallets of their bosses.

The K-State Campus Store was obviously not built to exploit students — this is a public institution, after all — but the fact that I can even draw comparisons to the monopolies of the industrial revolution is concerning.

Sure, there are many K-State students who live off-campus and are employed by independent institutions. Most of us at least know someone like that.

But thousands of students live in the university’s resident halls — particularly freshmen — and are employed by the university in the dining halls, the athletic complexes and otherwise.

And where do these students who live and work at K-State buy their textbooks in Manhattan? From K-State, of course.

If I could wave a magic wand and bring Varney’s back from the dead, I would.

Varney’s was a store in Aggieville that sold textbooks, art supplies and more for over 126 years before closing in 2016. Some of the students reading this probably don’t even know it existed, and that’s a huge loss.

Now that Varney’s is gone, the K-State Campus Store will continue to exist as a cramped, lifeless, soul-crushing store that every student dreads visiting.

After all, why should they improve? They bought every property on the board, and now they’ve won the game of Monopoly. Maybe the students will have better luck next time.

Kyle Hampel is a community editor for the Collegian and a senior in English. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

Those words you just read were written by me, Kyle Hampel. I am a 2019 graduate in English. I have strong feelings about barbeque pizza and the Oxford comma. I am a former copy chief, community editor, feature editor, designer and deputy multimedia editor. Beloit, Kansas, is proud to call me their own, along with several other towns I've lived in that aren't as special to me.