I just finished reading your Bridge article about ebooks (What Is It ThatOur Customers Really Want?). I am very curious about ebooks and just spent some time in a Borders scoping out the Sony Reader. It appears as though ebooks are still only available as on-line purchases through places likeAmazon and the like. Are you aware of any college bookstores that areactually selling ebooks in their stores or on their own websites, and if so,how are they doing it? Are they linking their websites to other sites, orare they able to sell ebooks just like other books? Are ebooks even goingto be something that a store would "stock" (ie: a card with an access codeor something)?
Thank you for your time!
Congratulations on taking the first, and in some ways the most important step -- looking around and asking questions. Your questions and comments are direct and get to the root of things, which I always thought is the best place to start.
Scoping out the Sony Reader.
I am glad to hear that you took a few moments to scope out the Sony Reader at Borders. They have the newer edition of the Sony Reader, which is a little better than the first edition which I own. I just played with my first Amazon reader (the Kindle) this past week. It has some definite advantages as readers go at this stage -- with some keyboard capabilty and wireless connectivity. Another new reader due out this year is the Readius by Polymer Vision (another blog posting on that to follow shortly), and even Apple may soon enter this market (or maybe not). All of these technologies have some commonality, so getting some exposure to the "first generation" will give you some sense of how the technology is progressing. My caveat though -- you really have to play with these devices for a little bit before they become comfortable. I found my Sony Reader to be a bit "kludgey" at first, but once I got the hang of its quirks I really like it -- and travel with it everywhere. But to your questions...
Are ebooks only available as on-line purchases through places like Amazon and the like?
No. It is true that e-books are mostly only available as online purchases. This is part of the reason why it is important for stores to have the capability to handle online transactions. In addition to Amazon, many publishers offer direct content sales. Some publishers, like Harlequin, have some very innovative models for selling and delivering their content over a wide range of mobile devices from the Sony Reader to the cell phone. Many e-book titles are also available through public and campus libraries. On the campus library side there are several e-book services available for subscription, some of which carry textbooks (mostly in the computer science area). 24x7 is one example of such a service that is available on many campuses. So as you are looking around to see what else is available, do not forget to check out other options on your own campus.
Are stores actually selling ebooks, and if so, how?
Your questions on this topic are particularly excellent. Yes. There are stores selling digital content. In fact we are starting to see some of the first examples over the past 1-2 semesters where e-book adoptions are reaching 10 percent of enrollment or higher in some classes. In the past week I spoke with college store managers who reported ebook adoptions as high as 35 and 45 percent of sales in specific courses. I attended sessions at another meeting where faculty are experimenting with e-books and saw adoptions as high as 92 percent of enrollment in a few cases. In at least two of those cases the faculty member is trying to figure out how to work with the stores to offer an easier and more convenient method for students to purchase the content.
It is probably true that the majority of stores that are currently selling e-books are using a model where the store "stocks" a product -- such as a card with an access code, or a card where the access code is generated at the register through the POS system. We are seeing other models emerge, however. There are the affiliate programs with companies like CourseSmart and Cengage. In these cases the store often links to the publisher (or other provider) site. These have been controversial among college stores to this point, which is a topic we can discuss more. There are also cases where stores sell CD's pre-loaded with digital course materials. That approach is probably more common in some of the dental schools or health science stores where curricula are more structured. We have a few institutions that are selling e-books at the point of course registration, where the students, after registering for a course, are directed to a connection with the college store where they can purchase the textbooks (print or electronic) for the course. This, of course, requires some additional systems integration work to occur. Such models, often developed in conjunction with companies like VitalSource or CafeScribe, allow students to download the e-book through what appears to be the store's own website, making the solution look as if the store is selling ebooks just like other books. A couple stores are experimenting with selling e-books, such as custom coursepacks, to their students through iTunesU too. There are other examples of stores selling digital beyond the traditional card-stock solution as well. I think that approach is a good way to get started with digital, but we are learning that other approaches may be as or more effective.
I think what is important at this stage is that we are seeing some experimentation among stores. The card-stock model has some advantages, but in many cases we have not seen great sell-through via that approach. That may mean we need to learn how to market those options better. I have heard from some stores that sell-through of traditional books was higher when the e-book was offered along-side it. The reasons offered suggest that students trust the store more because they are being offered choice and they see that the store is trying to provide some lower-cost options.
Thanks again for your questions, and please keep asking them -- of me and others.