This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Digital Textbooks through BlackBoard

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?

Monday, November 26, 2007

End of music DRM?

There's an interesting story on Rafat Ali's blog recently about how UK retailers are demanding the end of DRM on music. Here's the clip, along with a link to the original blogpost which has links to some other interesting related stories:

UK Music Retailers To Labels: ‘Drop DRM By Christmas’
By Robert Andrews - Tue 20 Nov 2007 10:22 AM PST

The writing’s on the wall for music DRM - now even the folk who sell music (the UK’s Entertainment Retailers Association) are calling on the industry to drop the protection.
Director-general Kim Bayley said labels have been “quick to complain” that the holy grail of digital offsetting physical sales has not yet been met. But clumsy protection ”might have added to the slow take-up of legal digital services”, she told FT.com, observing “just 150 million tracks” have been sold digitally in the UK in the last three years. “Sadly, that amounts to an average of less than one £0.79 ($1.61) per download per head of population per year. At the moment, [DRM] just puts consumers off.”

The numbers might be skewed (not every member of the population was an analog music customer). But Bayley isn’t dawdling - the ERA, which represents nearly 200 retailers like HMV (LSE: HMV) and WH Smith, wants the industry to drop DRM before Christmas, so customers can add free and open tracks to the iPods they get under the tree this year.


More on Kindle...

For some interesting stories and blog links on Kindle, check out the stories on Gizmodo. The link you want is:


Happy e-reading!


Amazon Kindle sells out in less than 5 days!

The long awaited Amazon e-reader went on sale last week on Nov 19th. 5 days later all inventory was completely sold out. I read many of the reviews of the device on the Amazon site, but many of those doing the reviewing clearly had not seen the device -- they were complaining about features not being there that were. Thus we learn one of the challenges with wiki-like social systems -- not everyone contributing content is qualified to do so. Back to the main line of discussion though -- the Amazon Kindle sold out in just 5 days and is not due to be back in stock until Dec 3 -- about 7 days from now. Guess that makes the Kindle the "must have" device of the season.

Among the plusses of the kindle -- many reviews have noted that it is very easy to use. This may mean that we are getting close to a viable e-reader. The EVDO network (wireless-like networking capability) is a big plus, as is the ability to easily expand memory with chips. It's also possible to subscribe to major newspapers -- Times, Washington Post, etc. -- which is a nice feature.

Negative views of the kindle were most often linked to price -- but $400 seems comparable to me, and includes the cost of the EVDO network. There have been complaints about the charges for "free content" dowloading -- used to defray the network transmission costs. However, my understanding is that these can be bypassed by connecting the device to a laptop (I know, I know, kind of defeats the purpose). People have also complained about the fees to access blogs ($2/mo) and newspapers ($15/mo). We will see how this plays out. Technology costs are always dropping, so the costs may go down in time. In a first offering of a product like this you would probably expect prices to be a bit high at first .

Even with the high price, the device sold out in five days -- clearly exceeding Amazon's expectations for sales of the device. Perhaps the day of the e-reader and e-reading has arrived? Or maybe it will take the next device to enter the market. Rumor has it Apple is going to release something in 2008. Who knows...


Back from Break

Hi folks,

Sorry for the long blog silence. The past month has been hectic. I did quite a bit of traveling around the continent giving talks, attending meetings, and visiting stores.

A quick nod to the Canadians and sorry I could not make it to CSC in person. My flight was cancelled almost 12 hours before I took off. There was great thinking on the feet though -- we managed to pull off the talk by pulling together the phone and the hotel PA system. That's the first time I have given a conference presentation remotely. I, back at home, was able to give the talk while still in my PJ's -- another new first for me. Next year I hope to make it to CSC in person.

The CACS meeting was also enjoyable. There was an engaged audience at the session, and the post-presentation buzz was good. I hope those who attended my session found it useful and thought-provoking.

As for me, I'm back home -- stuffed from turkey on the holiday, and with a stuffy nose from a bad cold. My apologies in advance for all of those I will be visiting in the next two weeks, as I am scheduled to be traveling 11 off the next 16 days.


Thursday, November 1, 2007

Finally, a fun post...

Ok, today I am posting a host of new messages. Travel does that. I will be traveling for the next 12 days, so you might see me somewhere about. However, to wet your digital appetite -- and just have some fun -- check out the following blog:

It's called, "Being Five" and is quite humorous.

Check out the postings on digital natives vs immigrants, and the one on his dad's record collection.


DCSP Taskforce -- initial discussions...

Following our first couple conference calls, some topics are already emerging as key areas for further discussion. Here are some of the initial themes from those discussions, in no particular order. I would be happy to discuss any of these in more depth in later postings, or one-on-one. Feel free to post your comments, reactions and suggestions in this blog. Final caveat -- this list is not yet complete, just a reflection of some of the themes that arose in the taskforce's initial discussions.
  1. Importance of strategic partnerships for the future; creating messaging for those partners and getting into more direct discussion.
  2. Drill into, explore, and better define conditions required for stores to participate in appropriate business models
  3. Importance of building awareness and action; creating a greater sense of industry need reflective of reality
  4. Need for new skills and related education
  5. Need for scalable technology and addressing current technology shortcomings

Of course, each of these points had many sub-themes and recommendations. But what thoughts do you have to expand upon this list -- either on specific points or for new points?

Digital Content Strategic Planning Taskforce

NACS recently formed a strategic planning taskforce in the area of digital content.

The initial charges for this task force are centered on the question of how NACS can best assist stores in positioning themselves for an increasingly complex and competitive digital environment. These include:
1. Develop a position statement for NACS role in digital content services to members.
2. Develop a high priority list of areas or objectives (not specific tasks) that NACS should concentrate on over the next 6-18 months (related to digital content delivery)
3. Identify success metrics for 12-18 months out - Delineating between "stretch" targets and expected achievements.

The desired outcomes from this task force include the following objectives or deliverables:
1. Consensus around industry priorities for positioning NACS and its members relative to digital content sales and services;
2. A list of priority areas or objectives for the NACS board to consider and discuss. The task force may be asked to further identify the resource requirements necessary to pursue one or more of the recommended objectives.

We are interested in getting more input into this taskforce, which consists of a powerhouse of talent from among the stores and some external perspectives. Please leave comments with your thoughts or suggestions. In the months ahead, I will post additional items and questions out of the taskforce allowing this to be a forum for disussion beyond the taskforce members.

Response to a Post...

In a recent comment to this blog Anonymous said...

This is not related to your current post, but just a question for you....I recently read in Entertainment Weekly (yes!) that Madonna (and other prominent musicians) are moving away from the "big name" record labels and going with start-ups, direct to consumers (via the web), or otherwise giving their music away. The article suggested that these moves were to promote fan loyalty and generate more listeners. And since the real money for the artists is in licensing, merchandise, touring, etc.--there's no problem for them.My question is this: "How do you think this growing trend is likely to impact the already shifting concepts (perceptions?) of copyright, ownership, "right to", and "on the web is free" that our customers bring to the table?

A very interesting question, Anonymous. By coincidence this dicussion also came up in one of our recent digital content strategic planning taskforce conference calls. For a long time many industries in the US have been moving toward consolidation. However, here is an example of how technology facilitates the startup, the entrepreneur -- by providing outlets for stars, like Madonna and Radiohead, to move more easily to other outlets for their content distribution. The music industry is still progressing through a dramatic evolution. What will be interesting is how this plays out in the textbook and other print content markets. Will faculty also decide to end-run the traditional channel (publishers) to provide content to students at lower cost? Models like Connexions could facilitate that movement -- providing mechanisms of peer review, use count, and other social networking review elements that could make publishing in such outlets more valuable than what traditional publishers currently provide.

More directly to the point of your question -- what are the implications for copyright and IP? I am not sure. To my knowledge, the jury is still somewhat out on the repurposing of content (e.g., mash-ups). There are also initiatives to revise copyright and provide greater flexibility in academic markets -- but if the content is primarily produced for the academic market (i.e., textbooks) then the financial implications for content producers (a fair use criterion) could be significant. That would favor, in my opinion, restricting an overly radical reinterpretation of copyright law with textbook or course material content.

As with most other industries, the concept of value will likely continue to move away from the product and more toward services and value-added elements that make the product of greater value to the consumer. Revenue might not come as much from the content itself, as from the ancillary elements that sit around or are applied to the content. The product (here the content) might ultimately be given away for free, or perhaps nearly free. Consider, for example, institutional licensing models for content -- that ensure access and affordability for all, and at a lower cost per student. We are already seeing these on campus for music and video, so when will digital textbooks follow? Content producers could do this with the understanding that making use of the content opens a host of new opportunities for revenue for content producers beyond what the content alone could provide.

Does that answer the question, or just raise more?