UMass and local bookstores compete

  • Ken Kahler was caught posing as a parent to steal book order forms
  • Mark Wooton, co-owner of Amherst bookstore, explained how Kahler was caught by professor Suzanne Daly when he said he was a parent of one of her students and he wanted to know what books she would teaching next semester
  • Mitch Gaslin, co-owner of Food For Thought Books, has seen and heard of Koehler doing the same exact thing in the past
  • Both independent bookstore owners think more students will begin coming their way because of their honesty with faculty and students

Drama is ensuing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. It is not between students and faculty, but between UMass bookstores.

Ken Kahler, director of the University of Massachusetts bookstore, the Textbook Annex, was recently caught posing as a parent to steal book orders from English professor Suzanne Daly, according to Mark Wootton, co-owner of local bookstore Amherst Books. These book orders were originally going through one of the local bookstores.

Kahler, who was reached in his office Friday, declined to comment on the story.

"(Kahler) sent an e-mail to a professor who had ordered through us," Wootton said. "He said he was a father of a student and he wanted to know what books they would be using. She caught his university e-mail address and soon saw the books on the shelf at the university bookstore."

Wootton said that this was not the first time he has heard of this happening.

"He does it all the time; we've heard from many other professors," Wootton said. "It's unethical and it's outside the bounds of ethical competition."

Wootton said this is just one of the reasons why 20 percent of professors go through independent bookstores.

"We are more efficient and we price much better than Follett (Higher Education Group)," Wootton said.

Follett manages the Textbook Annex as well as BookMarq.

"There is also another story of one of their employees sneaking onto our delivery trucks and writing down the order numbers attached to our boxes," he said.

Amherst Books is not the only store being affected by the university bookstore.

Mitch Gaslin, co-owner of Food for Thought Books in Amherst, said he has seen the university bookstore use unethical tactics also.

"I've had students tell me they were paid to copy course book information for the university bookstore," Gaslin said. "I've even had faculty tell me they would give the university bookstore false information when they were asked. The general sense I get from faculty and students is that they don't like them."

In a statement released by the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Spokesman Patrick Callahan, said the director of Auxiliary Services at UMass, who oversees the contract with Follett bookstores, has issued apologies to faculty members who have been involved in the past. Callahan also issued an assurance that it will not happen again.

Suzanne Daly, a professor at UMass, also sees her students preferring the independent bookstores to the Textbook Annex.

"Every semester I poll my students as to where they prefer to buy their books, and they overwhelmingly choose Amherst or Food for Thought Books," Daly said. "I have also had a much better experience ordering from Amherst Books than from the Textbook Annex. Amherst Books provides superior service to me and the students."

Wootton said he thinks playing by the rules is good karma for both independent bookstores on campus.

"We now have more and more students coming up to us even though their book is ordered through the university bookstore," Wootton said. "I think we will now get better business. We have people comment and are already coming our way."

Gaslin said he feels the same way about his business benefiting from the university bookstore's mistakes.

"It will be interesting to see what happens next semester," Gaslin said. "I think a significant amount of people ordering from the university bookstore are now supporting us."