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.

The site uses Google's cookies to provide services and analyze traffic. Your IP address and user agent are shared with Google, along with performance and security statistics to ensure service quality, generate usage statistics, detect abuse and take action.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sorry for the silence, more postings soon

Hi everyone,

Sorry -- I have been traveling for much of the past couple weeks and have a few other priority projects that came up. I will have some more postings to contribute soon. Probably tonight if the hotel connection is good. Some of the topics I have to post on include open source textbooks, and some of the student comments regarding e-textbooks from the most recent EDUCAUSE student study. We are working on analyzing that data now for the main report (due out later this year), but I will give a sneak peak into a small set of those comments here soon. I also received a couple questions from some of you reading this blog (nice to know some folks are actually reading it). I will try to address some of those in the next few days as well. Next week I have no travel, so hope to catch up with a number of new postings.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Something to read if you have time...

Okay, I have posted quite a few items this week, but I will be having to post from the road much of the next two weeks, which is always a bit more difficult to fit into my schedule.

To tide you over, here is a mildly lengthy, but informative piece on the Kindle worth reading. Yes, I know, yet another piece about the Kindle. What makes this piece a little different is that it does an interesting job of summarizing many of the other pieces out there on the Kindle. Sort of a meta-review of reviews.


News from OhioLINK's eText program

I do not recall off-hand if I have posted information on OhioLINK's eText program previously, but this is an initiative to watch. The eText Project is similar to California State University's Digital Marketplace, which emphasizes affordability, accessibility and choice for students. The OhioLINK program is focused on affordability and the affect on student outcomes.

OhioLINK's initiative has been very interesting. I have not found a good weblink with more information about the program, although here is a link to a related news story. We have been in discussions with their program leaders since first becoming aware of the initiative over a year ago. However, things have been heating up lately, with pressure from Chancellor Fingerhut's office and new pending legislation that would mandate e-books at colleges and universities across Ohio. The first such legislation we are aware of to date.

Using an experimental design, Ohio's first semester pilots demonstrated no difference in student classroom outcomes based on the use of digital or print course materials. The digital materials appear to be less expensive, but the model looks more like digital rental than digital ownership. With successful first round pilots completed, and more underway, Ohio moves ahead of California in terms of providing a digital content solution for the higher education classroom environment. So, as Ohio goes, so too may go the rest of the country, as many states are certainly watching this initiative very closely, as are we.

There will be a symposium in a few weeks (Apr 29th) held in Columbus where OhioLINK and the Chancellor's plans will be discussed in greater detail. Several college stores and NACS have been invited to attend and participate. There does appear to be genuine interest in having the stores be part of the final solution. That, of course, requires stores to step up to the plate, and quickly. Several stores have already done so, and this initiative will affect nearly all college stores operating in the state of Ohio over the next few years -- whether public, private or contract managed.

More news and information on this topic will appear in future postings.

Digital Content, IP and the Case of Georgia

One of the more interesting headlines in the past week is the story about alleged intellectual property rights violations at Georgia State University. More details on that case can be found in an article that appeared Wednesday in Insider Higher Education. Many of the responses to the article are as interesting (or more so) than the article itself. Another article on this case appears in this week's Campus Marketplace.

Of interest here is the application of copyright and intellectual property protection for digital course materials. It reminds me of the P2P or "Napster-like" piracy cases of music in the last decade. The authors, creators, and producers of content deserve to be properly recompensed for their work. At the same time, there is immense pressure to reduce the cost of content for students.

How many institutions across the country have the same or similar breaches over IP protection on their campus? What exactly is fair use in a digital context? More importantly, how do we work together to maximize the benefits and minimize the driving factors leading to this conflict of values: protecting IP versus making education affordable? As course materials become increasingly digital it also becomes increasingly important for us to resolve these and other questions. I can foresee this conversation getting even more muddy with open source textbooks, since most textbooks and course material content relies on getting permission clearance for the inclusion of images, text, or content. As we saw in the YouTube situation -- when is a "mashup" of content really something new, versus a violation of IP? Add to that the potential to reduce cost to students and the problem gets more complex yet.

This is an area that would benefit further discussion that includes a wider range of stakeholders. Perhaps by working together the stores, libraries, faculty, students, and university administrations could find a more effective solution that upholds both values. To quote Marc Fleischaker, NACS general counsel:

This case raises very complex, but very important issues. As we move more rapidly toward digital delivery, it is important for publishers, schools, stores, and students that the copyright issues be clarified. Digital delivery doesn't mean free delivery, and the concept of 'fair use' is not necessarily different merely because content is delivered digitally instead of physically. Most stores now obtain appropriate permission before putting materials in a coursepack. One would hope that the industry could reach a consensus through discussion about how to treat digital materials, but if it can't happen through discussions, it is not surprising that litigation results. We will follow this issue closely at NACS, and work to develop a model that can be successful for students, universities, stores, libraries, and publishers.

That is all I have to say on this topic for now, but I expect to see and hear more about IP issues and digital course materials over the coming 12-24 months. Can anyone reading this list provide some good links for readers that provide more information on this topic?

CourseSmart partners with Nebraska Books

Nebraska Books and CourseSmart announced a new partnership in a press release that came out earlier this week. CourseSmart is, of course, the multi-publisher venture to deliver e-books. Nebraska Books is one of the larger contract management or "leasing" companies operating in the college store industry. Nebraska Books also provides a range of other services to non-leased stores, such as buying and providing used books.

One of the services Nebraska Books provides is called Jumpbooks. Among the first widespread offerings for delivering digital course materials through stores, Jumpbooks provide a lower cost option for students while allowing stores to maintain the customer relationship and brand viability.

The partnership with CourseSmart enables Nebraska Books to gain access to a much larger inventory of digital content from the publishers. In addition, it provides a channel by which the stores can maintain ownership of the digital transaction. That is a significant accomplishment. This partnership also demonstrates that stores and publishers can work effectively together to define new relationships based on existing and new value propositions.

It is my understanding that CourseSmart is in conversation with other leading digital delivery service providers within the college store industry. We should expect to see more offerings and potential solutions in the months ahead. On the whole this development should be viewed as positive for the industry and students as it provides another lower-cost way to get access to a larger inventory of digital content backed by the convenience and authentication* that stores provide.

* By authentication, I mean verifying that the content students purchase through the store have been verified as the correct materials the faculty member requested for a course.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hot off the press...

Okay, I am holding a couple news stories back to post Friday (when else). However, the following news story just came across my scan and it is worth sharing. There have been a couple interesting news stories out of the London Book Fair this week, but this press release in particular caught my eye. The piece describes the experiments of a UK bookseller (John Smith & Son) with digital for three UK universities-- and their plans to expand offerings next fall. The passage of particular interest here:

Outcomes from the trial revealed an untapped demand for textbooks that fit today’s students’ lifestyles while meeting their academic needs. “In some instances, the adoption rate of the digital version of a required textbook was as high as 30 percent of the students enrolled in the course,” commented Alan Leitch, John Smith’s marketing director. “The John Smith experiment demonstrated that students are eager to embrace e-books that truly contribute to their learning experience.”
The project was supported by VitalSource, an Ingram Digital Ventures company. Just another example though of a strengthening trend towards digital adoption by students.

Will increasing digital create more information black holes?

In an article published last week the New York Times reported on developments in digital at Amazon. Yet again, this is an interesting news story with signs of both the amount of experimentation going on in the marketplace, and the expectation that we are nearing the tipping point for digital content sales.

Just two days ago Ingram Digital reported in a news release that the number of e-books sold by the company in March 2008 surpassed the previous record by 50 percent. The article notes that "Ingram Digital’s recent record performance confirms the current upward trend in e-book consumption."

Of course, for those holding out against any uptick in digital, the following news story might be encouraging. "Researchers uncovered black holes across the Internet," reads the headline. Actually, it is actually kind of interesting in its findings -- discovering that a percentage of the computer connections they tested worldwide have what the researchers call "partial reachability" -- a scenario where content just gets lost going from point A to point B, even when a stable connection is believed to exist. Chalk one up to Internet astronomy -- I think I will remember this news story the next time I am delayed from posting content to the blog.

Direct to student from university presses

In an interesting move, the SUNY Press has created a "Direct Text" program to sell its content directly to students and faculty electronically and at lower cost than its hardcover editions. This news was published through Inside Higher Ed last week. The news boasts that SUNY Press is the first university press to sell digital and hardcover books simultaneously. I am curious as to how this relates to the Caravan initiative where participating presses can produce content in multiple formats simultaneously. Regardless of 'who was first' it is an interesting move based on some of the same premises we hear repeatedly from many sectors -- we must find a way to provide quality course materials to students (and faculty) at a lower cost, and that digital is part of the solution. An interesting news story all the same.

More on CafeScribe acquisition

A couple weeks ago I commented on the acquisition of CafeScribe/Fourteen40 by Follett. In this week's Campus Technology there is an interesting interview with Bryce Johnson, CEO for the company. The piece has some interesting comments. I know one person wrote me recently to ask if CafeScribe is working on a hardware based e-reader (like the Kindle). Bryce somewhat answers that question:

CT: Are we at the tipping point with e-books because of hardware like the Amazon

Johnson: [In my study] ... I looked at hardware as well. In fact, [we]
had a piece of hardware that was identical to the Kindle. For the first eight
months [of launching Fourteen40], that's what I was pursuing. We rolled it out
at Stanford as a pilot and students said, "How much is this? $400? No way. I
just want [content] on my laptop."

Bryce also points out a common problem for many in the e-textbook space currently -- the lack of content (aka digital assets, aka inventory). Bryce predicts that once the content inventory is improved (which he estimates will occur over the next 12-18 months) that student adoption of digital will improve. I have made some of the same predictions -- that a big current barrier is the lack of complete or sufficient inventory. There are other barriers though, as well, so it remains to be seen how quickly adoption will unfold. I expect we will see improved adoption over the next academic year (2008-2009), but it is likely the following year where a bigger effect will be felt.

Finally, my favorite set of quotes from the interview:

CT: At one point last fall, you offered scratch-and-sniff stickers with a
musty smell to them. Where did that idea come from?

Johnson: We're brainstorming one day. In a survey, we asked students ... what they [would] miss in a normal textbook or book. I think 60 percent of them responded that they missed the smell. We thought, "They like the smell. We'll ship you a scratch and sniff you can stick in your laptops." That's where that came from.

CT: And does it really smell like an old book?

Johnson: It really does.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Open access textbooks

Nicole Allen, textbooks program director for the student PIRGs submitted an update and gave me permission to repost some of the update here. A big push of the student PIRGs this year will be open access textbooks -- essentially free, self-published textbook equivalents. Some sources of information on open textbook content from Nicole:

  • I think many of you might be interested in a new publishing company - the world's first open textbook publisher Flat World Knowledge. They provide commercial-grade textbooks open for faculty to modify and free for students to read.
  • The California community colleges has created CCCOER - a consortium devoted to developing open textbooks and other resources for use in community colleges to reduce costs and improve learning outcomes.
  • Another place to visit for resources is MERLOT - another huge repository of online material. One innovative feature MERLOT offers is a mechanism for ratings and peer reviews.

A related source to check out is Connexions. I think Connexions is a very interesting approach to self-publishing and open access textbooks.

I am not sure if open access textbooks will make a big dent in the traditional textbook market, but certainly it is an interesting movement worth watching. There is some interesting innovation happeninig in this space motivated, of course, by a desire to reduce the cost of textbooks.

The Caravan Project

One of our projects this year is with the Caravan Project. We had our first pair of kickoff calls over the past week. Our work with the Caravan Project is being sponsored by the NACS Foundation. The goals of our work with the Caravan Project are to help develop educational and marketing materials that help college stores sell digital in multiple formats. Fourteen institutions are participating in our pilot project.

The founder of the Caravan Project is a very interesting fellow named Peter Osnos. He writes a regular column for The Century Foundation called The Platform. A recent column entitled A New Paradigm for Publishing is relevant to this list and worth a quick read.

Friday, April 4, 2008

More posts -- it must be a Friday

Yes, it must be a Friday, with so many new posts to the blog. I am trying to get better at a post a day, but find that they stack up and I get to them more rarely.

Anyway, here are a couple other little news clips to look at if you have not seen them yet:

  • Swedish web site offers textbook downloads. Ah, piracy is alive and well. A speaker I heard not long ago mentioned how the publishing industry was doing much the same as the music industry did in the 90s -- which gave rise to music piracy and resulted in companies like Napster and other P2P (peer-to-peer) networking sites for sharing illegal uploads for music. While some of us have long suspected it was only a matter of time for this to happen on the textbook side (and for similar reasons), here is some evidence that it has. An interesting read. Before we follow the music industry though and sue all of these students -- is there a way we can work with them to provide lower cost solutions legally? It took the music industry nearly a decade and a new entrant (iTunes) to come in and completely change the industry in order for a solution to be reached. If we do not want to end up like all the record stores around the corner, perhaps we should be more proactive in finding a solution.
  • The Digital Bookmobile. A flashback to the past. I grew up out in the country, and remember when the bookmobile used to park, every other Thursday afternoon, near our town post office. I remember my first trip, and the many books the bookmobile helped me discover. Now OverDrive, Inc., one of the leading players in digital delivery -- particularly in the library space, but also doing some stuff in the college store environment -- is looking to revive the bookmobile concept. Not the small, Harry Potter-like bus I remember as the bookmobile as a child, this will be a tractor-trailor that will focus on interactive training and touring the U.S. library circuit beginning August 2008. The focus of the initiative is to help readers learn more about the digital offerings many libraries now provide -- from e-books, to digital audiobooks, music, and video. Libraries have been on the forefront of many interesting initiatives with digital over the past few decades -- and here is one more. If the digital bookmobile passes by your town I hope you will make an effort to take a look. Perhaps you will get an idea or two that stores could adopt. Certainly we have some things we could learn from our librarian friends. Maybe the idea of a Digital Bookstore (on wheels) is an idea whose time has come as well.

Well, I have a flight to catch, so I hope today's postings are of interest. I would love to hear your ideas, feedback or questions.

Interesting TIME article

Thanks to Pat Krivonak for sharing an article that appeared in the March 24 issue of TIME Magazine. The cover article is on 10 ideas that are changing the world and is worth reading. Topics of global sustainability and customer service are key issues that our industry can help address -- and digital can be part of that solution. I watched an interesting financial report the other night that discussed how sustainability could be the next "wave" for investment. Certainly on the consumer side the ability to engage in self-service and providing more options at lower cost is increasingly critical. I think the discussion about the future of customer service is particularly provocative -- particularly for a society where so many of the jobs are in a service or retail environment. Of course, it opens up new opportunities for customer service -- as we see in the case of Border's concept stores and their digital center. Anyway, an interesting article for the weekend.

If you come across an article you think is interesting and fits in with the focus of this blog, please pass me a link. I would enjoy the reading and others on this list might too. We have been talking in our industry about the need to get even better at sharing knowledge -- here is one mechanism to support that.

Some general news...

A couple interesting tidbits in the news this week. If you receive LJ Dawson's The Big Picture newsletter you would see some short synopses of these stories. Her newsletter is worth subscribing to (that is free) but getting access to archives costs money. Two stories she reported this week, also reported elsewhere, are interesting to note, however.

In the first, she reported on how Amazon has instituted a policy whereby print-on-demand publishers selling through Amazon must use BookSurge (owned by Amazon) for their books rather than any other POD service. This is an interesting move, and received some fairly negative responses. Part of the concern comes from the many thousands of books not in a digital format that is compatible with BookSurge. The challenges with content convergence is just another sign that digital while digital is getting closer, it is not quite there yet. We need to develop better standards for content exchange so that consumers and smaller content providers are not negatively affected by the sometimes high costs of content conversion -- or the limitations that not converting can have on distribution options.

The second interesting story reported this week is a piece on how Ebay has stopped allowing the sale of purely digital products, citing feedback manipulation. Those who have ebooks or other downloadable files to see can use Ebay's Classifieds application. I have not looked into this story further yet, but it is interesting to see that even a company like EBay has trouble selling digital products -- although their problems might be different from ours. I wonder -- are the classified digital sales right next to the personals section? MWM ISO good EB w ETU DRM. :)

Digital at the AAP meeting earlier in March

I was not able to make it to the AAP meeting about a month ago in DC. I heard there were some interesting sessions. Two of the speakers sound like they were particularly interesting -- Border's CEO (George Jones) who spoke to their process of reinventing themselves, and Amazon senior v-p for worldwide digital media (Steve Kessel) who spoke about Amazon's digital efforts and particularly the Kindle. There is a short synopsis of these talks online. Was anyone there who could share some additional impressions or observations?

Border's Concept in Vegas

I will be away from the blog for the next week, attending meetings in Vegas and SLC. The new concept store opens in Las Vegas today. I am expecting it to be mobbed this evening, but I am very much hoping to get a glimpse of the operations -- and particularly the digital center -- while I am in the neighborhood. There are a lot of news stories on the new opening, but here is one with a good description of the digital center:


The question iss though -- does Border's Las Vegas have slot machines too? :)