Well, we have long expected it (or suspected it), but I have confirmation - Blackboard is selling digital textbooks direct to students. I am co-teaching an executive/weekend MBA course next semester for the University at Albany. I had to register for my blackboard account this afternoon so that I could start setting up the course over the next few weekends. One of the line items to complete as you are completing the registration form is "set up your course e-pack." If you click the help or "what is this" option, it takes you to Blackboard's Digital Content FAQ page (permanent link not available).
I searched and was able to find one textbook option I was considering for sale directly through Blackboard/WebCT. The version includes the full text electronically, plus a number of interactive tools, quizzes and other content to go with the electronic text. The site does note that if I contact my publisher rep I can get pricing for the printed textbook and/or access code bundles that can be sold through the college bookstore. It would be interesting to know how this price compares to what students would pay for the text through the college store. Is the price reasonable to students?
On the site above it says that students can purchase access codes online from blackboard/webCT, in a bundled package with the textbook, or in the campus bookstore. By the latter, I assume they mean the "hang-tag" type purchase model for publisher content (like the MBS or Nebraska systems) since to my knowledge, Blackboard has not made any arrangements to sell access codes directly through stores, yes?
Interestingly, the system does allow students to get a temporary 15-day access to an e-Pack. It does not indicate what the limitations of that access might be (i.e., with 15 days, I could print out or screen scrape the whole book for "free").
Looking at the offering, I don't think this is anything really all that new, but it would be interesting to know how many faculty are choosing the e-pack option and how many students are opting to buy the digital through Blackboard rather than through the store. Keeping in mind that convenience is the #1 determinant of which technologies students say they will use for educational purposes. As the inventory of digital content textbooks grows, we may see more faculty and students willing to adopt the digital option, or the print+digital option.
College stores need to be thinking about how or what we would bring to the table to interest Blackboard in talking with us. There is also the question of what we want to get out of that conversation at the national level. Our agenda is already full for the Digital Content Taskforce meeting this Friday, but perhaps I can find a way to bring this up. Any thoughts?