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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Thursday, July 31, 2008

More on textbook piracy

There was an article in the New York Times over the weekend on textbook piracy and e-textbooks. It adds a little more to the stream of material on this topic lately. This piece focuses mostly on PirateBay out of Sweden.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

More recommendations for stores

For those unable to make it to Innovate in Minneapolis this year, you missed a great event. One of the speakers was Martyn Daniels from Value Chain. You can see these and other presentations you might have missed by signing up for Innovate Online in October. In the meantime, check out this posting on Martyn's blog and some of the recommendations he made for college stores. A more complete copy of his remarks (short the Q&A) is also available online.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Saving the bookstore

An eloquent posting in The Platform by Peter Osnos last week. It starts with the story of a recent community bookstore that was damaged by fire in a neighboring restaurant. It turns to the common plight of bookstores of all types in an era of online competition and other competitive changes. Peter offers two strategies for stores pulled from his observations from more than two years of looking closely at bookstores as part of The Century Foundation’s Caravan Project. The strategies (focused on old-fashioned and new fangled basics) are ones that college stores should take to heart as well. These appear in the last three paragraphs of the posting, which I will replicate here:

Old Fashioned: Service. Service. Service. For a variety of now seriously out-moded reasons, booksellers are reluctant to take customer’s cash or credit cards until the books ordered actually arrive at the store. That uncertainty no longer satisfies in competition with Amazon and the other online retailers, where you can close the sale with a date for delivery. Customers should never leave the store, having asked for something, without buying it, unless, of course, it can’t be found anywhere. One of the biggest complaints book buyers have is the difficulty of finding what they are looking for. Something in the culture of bookselling reinforces the sense of erratic supply. “It’s out-of-stock” and similar explanations from clerks inevitably grate when the competition customers can access from home says they’ll get what they want, even if it takes awhile.

New Fangled: Stores should invest in the relatively simple upgrade of their Web sites, which virtually all now have to include shopping carts for ordering e-books, downloadable audio, and print-on-demand versions of all kinds of books, including large print and out-of-copyright titles. Backing up the brick-and-mortar premises with the vast array of books in various formats now available from distributors gives even the smallest store access to the same supply as the biggest chains and online outlets. Somewhere in the store, a "kiosk” (actually a computer terminal) supported by a knowledgeable employee can make any customer conquer the fear that they won’t find the book they want. The pleasures of finding something unexpected while browsing the stacks will never be matched by a screen search, so stores should stuff as many titles as they can on to shelves, but only one copy, with the full assurance to the customer that there are many more where that came from.

What these ideas have in common is the notion of a bookstore as less a repository of goods on hand than a showroom of what’s possible. The cozy familiarity of a good bookstore and the role these stores play as community assets are cherished by readers. Updated concepts of service and supply will reinforce those facts rather than diminish them. And in the meantime, for those great booksellers who cannot overcome their troubles, we will mourn your passing.

Certainly there are other ideas out there that will help college stores remain vibrant, vital, and valuable to the communities they serve. How about some of the readers out there contribute some points of view or suggestions?

Monday, July 28, 2008

e-books and a blog...

A colleague of mine just pointed me to the blog for the "disruptive library technology jester." It is an interesting blog for those who read this blog. (There I go again, pointing potentially loyal readers to other locations for information.)

The blog has a half-dozen postings related to digital textbooks. There are also several interesting posts related to innovation and disruptive technology, but my comments today are more interested in some of the textbook posts.

In a first posting, from July 8th, Peter (aka the Jester) comments on the complexity of the college textbook marketplace. I am generally in agreement. When I first came over to the college store side three years ago from having been a faculty member, I was fascinated by how many subtleties and complexities exist in this marketplace. Disintermediation of stores by digital seemed like a reasonable thing at some level. However, as Alison Pendergast points out in a response on her blog, there are some important differences in the textbook market that make digital substitutes not such an easy thing.

From the store perspective, Peter touches on several important points -- the role of the store handling financial aid and campus-based forms of financial support, for example. Another example is the collection and verification process of the "correct" course materials required by a faculty member, and standing behind that verification process. These and other "localization" services provided by stores are "at least for now, for better or worse," the most efficient and effective methods for students to obtain the correct course materials for their classes. That does not mean that stores cannot or should not be looking for ways to reduce the cost of course materials. Many, if not most, do. What profit many stores do make goes back to the institution, to fund student activities and/or services. So there is often a social value gained from buying the textbooks from college stores rather than other sources. However (before I receive more student hate-mail), I will admit stores do need to consider the role we play in the complex textbook economic cycle. As do faculty. As do publishers.

I do find the assumption that digital necessarily equates to cheaper course materials somewhat vexing at times. Looking at how the move to digital journals from print journals and the subsequent effect on typical library journal subscription cost over the past 5-6 years should lead one to expect that digital is not necessarily a panacea. We have heard from students in focus groups that they do not like "linear - .pdf versions of textbooks." They expect interactivity. That interactivity (at least currently) can be more costly to produce than the traditional textbook or its all-too frequent updates. When it does evolve, then publishers and faculty will have a convincing value proposition in digital format that students will more readily adopt than their linear print or digital textbooks.

That aside, the mere transaction costs (direct and indirect) for each provider of content to provide content, outreach, and localized transaction services for each faculty member and each student would be prohibitive. Thus a digital equivalent of the local campus bookstore becomes necessary in order to reduce costs for everyone. That is why local stores emerged to begin with and why we do not buy all products directly from all product creators -- whether the product is digital or more traditional.

There is also something to be said for the editing and peer-review process traditional textbooks go through. I think open access and open source content has potential, but not necessarily as a miracle-cure for high-textbook prices. Most open-source textbooks seem to lack something on the quality side that comes from editing and the multiple perspective (peer-review) that the publishing process brings to it. Interesting counter-examples are models like Flat World Knowledge, which if successful will combine high-quality, edited and reviewed textbooks in a digital format for free, with revenue coming from other more convenient formats and tools to assist students achieve learning outcomes.

Before I am accused of "drinking too much of the kool-aid" let us all remember, the end goal is to help students acquire the course materials they need to be successful in gaining an education. We do not say that enough, but it is one of the common and most fundamental goals for most of us in the channel (from faculty to stores to publishers). Beyond that, those who add value along the chain still need to generate revenue and profit, and I believe as long as they do generate value, revenue (and hopefully profits) will continue (this has something to do with that capitalism concept). For stores, that means generating value for students, faculty, academic institutions, and yes, even publishers. The economics here are very complex, and every mouth at the trough increases costs. So if a mouth wants a place at the trough, it should be adding value to the pre-stated end goal.

Finally, Peter has a more recent post on the Colorado Community College agreement. It is an interesting post (with a good tracking down across other posts and leads). The responses he received to his inquires are among the most interesting. In particular -- the current digital options being provided are all "custom published," making them unique to the institution. such models can enable publishers and faculty (and stores) to reduce costs, particularly if the adoption will carry over multiple semesters. They have a more centralized or standardized approach to text selection for classes than other types of institutions might have. The textbooks are currently only being used for online classes -- suggesting students who are already comfortable and expecting an online experience. In other words, the value proposition and the unique nature of this deal are not yet fully transferrable to the typical textbook adoption at the typical classroom. That does not mean the model does not have adaptations that could be transferrable, just that the transferrability is likely somewhat limited at this point. Many other campuses gain similar benefits through custom course materials and arrangements with publishers for print editions. The question is one of scalability, I think.

I have gone on far longer than I intended here -- this might be my longest post yet. I am sure some of the points are controversial. Others probably could use some more thought and editing (where is a publisher when you need one?) Peter's blog is interesting and well researched -- what I would expect from a librarian (I mean that as a true compliment). If anything, it helps demonstrate how complex the course materials space is, and additional things we all (myself included) have to learn about the economics of course materials --both before, during, and after the transition to digital.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Marketing to the faculty...

The market to faculty mantra has come up in a few places lately. The facilitator at Innovate pushed this point on the second day. In a posting to this blog late last week, a reader responded with the same point. I and others have also been questioning how well stores *really know* their faculty and the state of their faculty relations.

We know faculty, on the whole, are a barrier to successful adoption of digital course materials, and that they currently prefer not to select the e-book. We also know that the largest influencer of what course materials a student accesses or acquires in a course are faculty comments and recommendations.

I heard an interesting anecdote yesterday about how one company that was working with e-book pilots on campuses had a class where students could get the course materials for free. The faculty member supported the initiative, but made a joke in the class that he was more of a luddite, slower to adopt technology, but that the students should go ahead and try the digital as they were far ahead of them. Even at FREE, students chose not to take the digital in this case, presumably because of the faculty comments.

In focus groups that others conducted we heard that students will typically buy not only what the faculty member recommends, but what the faculty member uses. The students reported that even if they preferred the digital option, they were concerned that if they did not use content in the same format as the faculty member that they might not be as successful in the class.

With the cost of textbooks continually on the rise, how long will such perceptions hold out? What will it take to improve faculty relations for college stores? What will it take for more faculty to adopt digital versions of their course materials? What will it take for students to decide that the savings currently offered by most digital options are worth the risk of a lower grade?

I must note, in response to this last question, that this may be more perception than reality. Researchers with OhioLINK reported no statistical difference between students who used digital versus print in their classroom experiments. I did read a study somewhere suggesting that students did take longer to study in the e-book format, and that was attributed to eye fatigue issues. I do not recall how significant the effect was, however.

Getting back to the main point -- faculty will have an effect on the adoption of digital course materials. Stores need to interact with faculty to understand their needs and interests, and how they use content to enhance the learning and educational experience. That may provide new insights into how we can meet student and faculty needs in ways we currently may or may not be doing.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Follow-up on Amazon piece

In a follow-up to the piece yesterday on the Amazon readers, here is a story that appeared in Book Business earlier in the week. It does a nice job of pulling together several other stories and statistics about the e-book market. One of the interesting pieces there related to an apparently recent story in Time, noting:
Time magazine recently reported (in an article titled “Amazon Kindle Sales on the Rise?”): “According to a source at Amazon, ‘on a title-by-title basis, of the 130,000 titles available on Kindle and in physical form, Kindle sales now make up over 12 percent of sales for those titles.’ ” This, Time reported, was double what Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos cited at a conference just a few months prior.

That is an interesting number. If true, in the months ahead we should see an uptick in the e-book sales figures reported by IDPF. The current figures there are running just over 20% higher than last year. Although, one would like to know the overlap between reported titles in the IDPF figures and titles involved in the Amazon figures.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Amazon and the Textbook market

Speculation continues to swirl around the potential of Amazon entering the digital textbook market with an upcoming Kindle release. A posting last week on TechCrunch suggests this is likely based on a leak from an Amazon insider. The posting has received a fair number of responses of interest -- they illustrate some misunderstandings of how textbook pricing works, along with interest for a Kindle-like device for student textbooks. We are expecting a number of pilot projects in this general area this coming year and are aware of some specific initiatives at more than one institution. Nothing, I am afraid, that we can discuss at this time. There are some store opportunities here, which we are exploring. It is yet another sign that stores should be thinking about digital content delivery and getting their online transaction capabilities up to speed.

In March of 06 I predicted that within 5 years college stores would feel the effects of a shift to digital with a measureable and significant percentage of content (i.e., more than 10%) being delivered in that format by then. Of course, all kinds of caveats apply, but with 3.5 years to go, we are already seeing some stores hitting 20% where digital is an option. If a good reader comes out by Fall of 09, backed with a good inventory of content, then 10% or more by 2011 seems like a conservative estimate. It would be good to be proven wrong, but to quote others, are we prepared if the estimate is low rather than high?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Teens and cellphones...

On the road, so here is a quick factoid for today -- we all know teens love their cell phones, but a new study shows just how much. The study also found that cell phone adoption is more pervasive among teenage girls than teenage boys. By age 17, 91 percent of girls have a cell phone, compared to 78% of boys at the same age. At age 13, 57% of teenagers have cell phones. These same teenagers will be on our campus in short order. The cliche about this being the "mobile generation" is certainly true -- and means stores and campuses need to rethink how they communicate with students.

In a related press release, a new technology aimed at college students helps address the challenge of knowing where students are during an emergency and can be used to provide messaging. It is a interesting technology, and could have other applications as well.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Textbook piracy follow-up

As a follow-up to the story I posted a couple weeks ago on textbook piracy, there have been a couple new developments. There was a posting in the Used Book Blog this week updating information on the TextbookTorrents case, noting that the site had been taken down and disabled due to DCMA requests. There is another article on the subject of pirated textbooks that appeared in Friday's Boston Globe. The article has a fresh look at the topic, including interviews with students, faculty, and publishers.

It does sound like we are starting to hear many of the same comments about textbooks in digital format that we heard about music in the early days of file swapping and the rise of Napster. What is this telling us about the future of textbooks, textbook piracy, and business models for academic content in the future? What can we learn from the prior industry example and what might we do differently? Is there a middle ground where all the stakeholders benefit from the value they receive or provide in an economically sustainable way? How do we incentivize compliance over enforcement? If we do not find ways to answer these questions, I would suspect more book scanning and illegal textbook distribution will occur in the future.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

An alternative point of view...

I had an interesting conversation yesterday. Seems some people believe that I believe that traditional books will be gone within 5 years and print will be gone; forget the paperless office, the paperless society will finally be here.

Talking about e-books requires a tough balance. On the one side, one needs to create a positive sense of urgency for stores. On the other, there is the reality that change sometimes takes a long time to happen quickly. Do I believe print books will eliminate paper books within five years? No. However, I do believe that e-books (or their successors) will leave a bigger imprint in the world of books in that timeframe. As one colleague put it, e-books now are getting the same reaction paperbacks received when they first arrived on the book seen. It is just another format that enables choice for readers, allowing them to get the content they want in the format they want it.

It is okay not to like e-books. The technology is overcoming new barriers every day, but is very admittedly "not quite there yet." I frankly am quite mixed on the topic. There are some conveniences to e-books that I really like. There are other aspects I would like to see changed. Truth is, we are still in the infancy of the technology. I read or heard once that the concept of page numbers did not emerge until 40 years after books were being printed. Sometimes we have to work with a format for a bit to figure out the elements or features that are most useful and enhance the value of the experience. E-books have only come close to commercial viability in the last couple years, so perhaps we should give the new format a break. But I digress...

As the title of this posting notes, I wanted to provide an alternative point of view today. So here is a piece against e-books that appeared in the Sunday Times last week. As is often the case, some of the responses to the article are as interesting as the article itself.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New e-book reader, designed for education market

We have all heard it, current e-books are good for trade books and .pdfs, but not so much for other forms of content we might find in the academic market -- such as textbooks, course notes, etc. Plus, we want the ability to both read the content and highlight or place notes. Enter a new prototype e-reader developed by the University of Maryland and the University of California, Berkeley. A short news release on the new e-reader is available, as is a longer academic paper that includes images and some results of the research involved to date. Once a more palatable and usable device enters the market -- which increasingly seems like only a matter of time, what with several new e-book devices in development or due on the market this year alone -- how long will it be before students, who are very mobile-device inclined, see that as the preferred mechanism to get their course materials? Two years? Four years? We are alreadying seeing upticks at different campuses.

My two cents -- we all (students, faculty, publishers, libraries, IT departments, and stores) have much to learn yet about digital course materials and e-books in higher education-- creation, use, distribution, sale, sharing, learning impact, and other dimensions. More discussion is needed with all of the stakeholders at the table so that we might better share and leverage our learning experiences and information for mutual benefit. We have begun facilitating some of these conversations on different campuses following up on the initial Forum with ACRL and EDUCAUSE last year. The results and discussions so far have been productive and yeilded some interesting results. I am on my way to another over the next few days. The time to have such discussions on campus are now, before multiple models proliferate and increase campus costs or confusion for all stakeholders. Which models work best in what situations on campus? What new policy questions need to be addressed? How might we respond to different scenarios of change? The list goes on...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Ebooks on the iPhone

Now that the iPhone is allowing 3rd party applications (either for sale or for free), we should not be surprised to find an e-reader application popping up on the set. Fictionwise announced in a press release yesterday that they are making an ereader application for free, allowing access to over 50k titles for download and viewing on the iPhone or iTouch. The device is expected to be a popular channel by the company, and time will tell if that turns out to be the case. While the iPhone/iTouch may have some factors in its favor over current reading device options, the one key exception is screen size. Now if Apple were to create a multi-function device like the iPhone/iTouch, but in an ereader size....

It will be interesting to watch and see what kind of sell-through exists to the device. As a closer, in the upcoming ECAR student study due out soon, one of the students respondents had a great quote... something along the lines of, "I am all for [information technology], I completed this whole survey on my iPhone."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A book publisher's manifesto for the 21st century

I came across another blog while doing some research recently. the Digitalist is a blog by the digital team at Pan Macmillan. They have a number of interesting posts on different topics and a helpful tag cloud to utilize. One of the more interesting streams on the site is a series of six posts labeled "A book publisher's manifesto." If you like, you can read the full set of postings via one .pdf document. The postings and debate around the series of pieces are very interesting and have given me some new thoughts and a list of new items to follow-up on when time permits. I thought the questions posted at the start of Part V were particularly relevant to stores as well. It begins:

The question really is no longer, “Will consumers read on screens in the future?” or “Will all content be found on the Internet?” The question is rather, “How will consumers read on screens in the future?” and “How will all content be found on the Internet?” And as publishers have been latecomers to the online party, the question lurking behind all of this is what, if any, role do publishers have in the digital future? It’s a future which is not too distant and in which texts are potentially increasingly inter-related, multiple information sources and media types are mashed, and a combination of search and social networks provides the gateway and the guide to content online.

In many ways we could substitute "booksellers" for "publishers." It is a question of redefining our role and future. I always appreciate good questions, and I think these are some good thought questions, which could lead to even better ones. Perhaps the question for stores is, What would it take for stores to help provide the future of course materials for customers (faculty and students) in the next six months? The next year? Answering this question leads to some natural action items and opportunities for us to work with campus faculty and libraries, as well as publishers, authors, and students in new ways.

The "manifesto" has a number of interesting questions and points. Some, certainly controversial. Others, excellent points to ponder. For those alone, the document (which is fairly short as manifestos go), is a worthy read. Stores might consider sharing it with campus colleagues and arranging a brown bag lunch to discuss some of the ideas it raises -- or even pick one question to start. As the facilitator from Innovate noted last week, as managers we are paid to think, and thinking can be hard. If we were to write the "college store textbook seller's manifesto" how would it compare to this document? Where would it vary? Would our glass be viewed as a little more full or a little more empty? Thoughts?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

May e-book sales rise again

A quick "bonus post" for today:

IDPF recently released trade e-book sales statistics for the month of May. Sales were up by 24.3% over May 2007. Information and historical trends can be viewed on the IDPF industry stats page.

The Used Book Blog

Today's post is a simple one -- an interesting blog I came across while looking for something else. It is the Used Book Blog, but actually has a number of pieces of information on digital content, course materials and technology. It has some other stories and links of interest to readers of this blog as well. One recent story I found interesting (among the TextbookTorrent and Kindle postings) is one for LibraryThingLocal, a tool that can be used to locate stores and find out what events they are hosting. That could be a useful tool for some of the readers of this list.

As a side note: I apologize that my posting this week has been a bit erratic, and the next couple may be more of the same. I will do my best to keep a regular daily post going between travel, work, vacation, and knee surgery. We are taking some steps, though that should help produce more content and input on this blog within the next month.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The New Digital Awareness

There is a very interesting read that appears in today's Library Journal. The article begins with a quick glimpse of the pace of technological advances or changes in libraries over the past decade. It then turns to a call to step back and consider the social and organizational implications of technological innovation on the library profession. A quote from the end of the first paragraph captures the spirit of the piece:
We need to take a step back and consider how librarians in the last decade have found themselves on the fast track from the sequestered content villas of subscription databases to the sprawling information architecture of our new socially networked digital environment.

Once again, college stores and libraries may find that they have more in common than they realized. Both organizations are facing changes that are related to changes in content and technology. Both organizations are looking at new innovations and wondering how they will be affected beyond the technological levels. Both organizations are in the process of redefining themselves and their futures. Those stores and libraries not considering these challenges ought to start thinking about trading in their ostriches.

For stores, the article has some educational value in helping us understand our librarian peers. The early section describing the metadata challenge sets the stage for challenges we are just starting to address. More importantly, the article gives us some insight into how different libraries approach the topic of collaboration. Since both stores and libraries have much to gain through collaboration, understanding these different collaborative models could be helpful in building a relationship. The same can probably be said of being able to identify which model applies to the libraries on a particular store's campus.

The three models the article identifes are the "competitive isolationists," the "exclusionary collaborateurs," and the "free mashups and crossovers." Described as sitting across a spectrum, the first group is about self-interest, the second about "group-interest," and the third about "other-interest" or perhaps "open access." Reading the descriptions of each, I can see stores within our industry that might fit within a similar classification model.

The article concludes with recommendations that libraries "must take even greater advantage of the hugely popular international social networking sites as tools for collaboration." It further notes that:
As we travel outside the comfortable borders we have become used to, it is important to realize that there are opportunities in change. If you take the time to intuit where you fit in this metadata continuum, you just might find a way to help create a more peaceful, equitable, and ethically sound future. The choice is yours, however, whether this will be as a competitive isolationist, an exclusionary collaborateur, or a free mashup and crossover. It is up to librarians to achieve a higher awareness by looking past the technology toward the future social and political potential that should be the real destination of our journey.

Important messages for stores as well as libraries. Do you know where you and your store sit on the spectrum? How open are you to collaborating and sharing information with other stores? With other constituents and industries? Do you have a success story you could share about building a relationship with a campus library or other group to share knowledge or information, or to work on a collaborative opportunity?

Monday, July 14, 2008

First color e-ink e-reader possibly out this fall

Engaget had a posting today indicating that Fujitsu might release the first color e-reader this fall, and in an A4 size. The battery life is expected to be about 50 hours. The device will be wifi enabled, and will retail for around $950. The price is a bit hefty, but with one device entering the market, others are sure to follow -- along with drops in price. There is another posting on Engaget about the device which appeared a couple months back.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Making a better blog...

I am traveling today, but want to throw out a question or two to readers of this blog:

What would it take to make this blog an even more valuable resource to you, the readers, over the next 30 days? What would it take to make the blog good enough that you would want to share it with at least one colleague on campus or in another college store?

The blog now has readers in almost every state (just missing Alaska) and over 45 countries representing every continent (except Antartica), with 200-300 regular readers every week. Clearly the ideas and information posted here have some value or interest given the number of repeat visitors, but as the Japanese are perhaps fond of saying, "Nothing is so good that it cannot be improved upon." So I ask, what would it take to make this blog better?

One idea I got from Innovate that I plan to try is that as I travel around I get to talk to lots of store managers and campus folks. Going forward, I will be trying to get short (2 minute) videos from people on what they are doing in their store that is innovative, or what they are doing related to digital content delivery, or perhaps other topics related to themes that have appeared on this blog. Ultimately, we would like to capture enough video clips that stores could use them as a resource of "good ideas" or "lessons learned" or even regarding "greatest challenges." If you would like to create your own 2-3 minute clip capturing an idea or something you did or learned that you would like to share with the college store community, pass along the link (although please keep it clean and constructive).

Thanks for reading-

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Update on Innovate 2008

Sorry for the title rhymes. Innovate 2008 is nearing a close, and it has been a great event. Those who missed it will want to sign up for the online version in October. The online version is not the same as the real thing, but it is the next best to be sure.

If one thing could be said about this Innovate, it would probably be: "We thought a lot." The facilitator led us through how to form some good questions (and I am a big proponent of asking good questions). I particularly like how the process yields not just good or better questions, but how it yields questions that are actionable. When I was a faculty member and taught classes around information management, the core focus at the management or executive level is how to enable or facilitate actionable information. The process over the last few days was not always comfortable, but I think the majority of attendees really learned something from the experience if they did take time to think. And that is (as the facilitator noted) what we are paid to do, isn't it? To think?

I found myself surprisingly opposed to the messages at times, but the more I thought about things, the more I saw some real value in the content. Applying that to some of my daily work, I can see some opportunities to do things better. We came up with an idea for this blog as well, that I plan to put into action in the coming weeks once I test out some simple technologies.

I have quite a few notes from the confence and there is still a closing session to go. Among the news stories this week I will work on posting an item or two that captures a lesson or idea or information from one of the sessions or the event as a whole.

Friday, July 11, 2008

NACS Board Greenlights Digital Content Venture

Many of you will have seen (or will soon see) the article in today's Campus Marketplace which announces an exciting new initiative in the digital content space for college stores. This new venture is an important component in implementing the strategic goals for the digital content area approved by the NACS Board earlier this year. Those goals were outlined in a prior post to this blog. Both those goals and this model grow out of ideas and discussions that surfaced in other initiatives, such as the Forum on New Modes of Information Delivery NACS co-hosted with EDUCAUSE and ACRL back in March 2007.

There is still much work to be done and we are very interested in talking with content providers in course materials and digital content, as well as some potential partners on the infrastructure side. In the coming weeks and months I will post more information about the initiative here and answer questions submitted to me where possible. We are still working out many of the technology and content partnerships, but approval by the NACS Board for the conceptual business design and model is a key step forward in providing stores with an easy, affordable, and scalable solution to digital content delivery on campus. We see opportunities for stores whether they be institutional, organizational, independent, private, or contract managed. The platform created by the new venture will ultimately give stores new opportunities to provide products and services to students and faculty, and open doors for new conversations with campus libraries, technology units, and other campus constituents.

This initiative is also being announced by Melanie Sparks, President of the NACS Board, in her opening remarks at Innovate! 2008 which begins today. More on that in this weekend's postings.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Movies as Textbooks...

A store colleage forwarded a couple links that have some interesting content. The first is a link to a posting on another blog -- paleo-future.com. The posting quotes a 2006 book on technology based change that argues most future-predictions of the effects of technology change are overhyped. I have not had the opportunity to read the book (yet), but I did do some searching on the post, the book and several reviews.

The point of the book and the post remind me of another book about "surfing fads in the boardroom." People often chase after what is new and hot and expect that it will change the world. In that sense, I think the author's point is important to observe-- we must be sceptical of new technologies and scrutinize them carefully. The challenge is to not to go in the reverse direction and assume that all technological change is slow paced and that no disruptive technologies will come along to change an industry in short order. The iPod and digital music downloads are an example of the reverse. It is difficult to predict the likelihood that one specific technology will be the dominant design or will be adopted by a population for a new usage. While "tech-hype" is certainly a problem, and people change in response to technology more slowly than technology itself changes, the pace of technology-based change is increasing.

So, how do we tell if a particular technology or form of technology-based change is the one that will change an industry? We look for signs of growing adoption. We look at why similar technologies failed in the past and why they failed to see if the new technology is any different. I believe that the current technologies with e-books for education come close to meeting those standards, although they are not quite there yet. There are still several hurdles to be overcome, but we are making and seeing progress on each of those hurdles. We should be preparing now for whatever format the content or the textbook takes in the future -- which will certainly include some element of digital.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

World e-book fair...

There was a recent piece about the World eBook Fair in Information Today. The theme of this year's fair is "Own your own library" and more than 1.2 million e-books will be offered for free download by the participating organizations. The event runs from July 4th through August 4th from 2006 through 2009. This particular article has a number of good links to other online resources for free e-books. For stores that like to provide content to students for free, or are working on initiatives like faculty editions of classics, POD content, or other projects, these links could be useful.

Time to go load up my e-reader before my flight...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Readius Returns

I mentioned the new Readius e-reader about 6 months ago, but an article in the NYTimes over the weekend has an interesting piece on the technology. The innovation of the Readius over other e-readers is use of the new flexible/rollable displays.

The above picture link can be seen more clearly in the original article. The display uses eInk technology, as we see in the Kindle and Sony displays, and will probably cost slightly more than the Kindle. It is expected to be available in the US early in 2009, following earlier releases in the UK, Italy and Germany this fall.

Flexible displays are an interesting and important step forward and could enable a whole range of new products and services -- beyond more rugged and flexible e-readers. The Readius will also use an innovation on active matrix technology, which could ultimately enable both color and an image quality comparable to many LCDs. Apparently the company demo'd a color version a few weeks ago. This seems like a technology to watch.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Online textbook rentals...

Yet another competitor enters the textbook market. It seems hard to keep track these days. This one is another online textook rental company. You can learn more about the company in an posting I came across in another blog this week. The most interesting thing I saw in the blog, was not the main posting, but the final tagline. It said:
In a perfect world, of course, all these textbooks would be available as digital
downloads for you to consume on your preferred reading device. But until that
day, you might as well free up some beer money by renting the textbooks you
don't need to keep.

Hmm... any course content in any format so that students could choose which content and which device. Keep that thought in mind -- there is more news to follow later this week.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Follett and the K-12 Classroom

In a press release from earlier in the week, Follett Digital Resources announced a new content delivery system aimed toward the K-12 environment. The tool uses several "2.0" technologies, enabling better content discovery and sharing. The tool sounds like it has some great features. So... when does the higher education version hit the streets?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Textbook piracy

It has been said before, but it is worth repeating -- customers will eventually get what they want -- legally or illegally. Content piracy is a perfect example. In the P2P (Peer to Peer) space, piracy began with music because consumers wanted only part of an album (such as a song, rather than the whole CD). A while back I posted an article on this blog about Student Bay -- the initiative in Sweden involving content piracy for textbooks.

Just this week, there was an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on textbook piracy. The article notes that:
One Web site, called Textbook Torrents, promises more than 5,000 textbooks for
download in PDF format, complete with the original textbook layout and
full-color illustrations. [...] Other textbook-download sites are even easier to
use, offering digital books at the click of a mouse.

The Textbook Torrents site encourages students to scan their textbooks into an electronic format and supply them for sharing on the site, much as Student Bay proposed ahead of them. This trend is likely to continue, and get worse, as long as students do not see the value of the textbook as reflected in its cost. As a quote in the article reflects:

"We knew that this would happen, and it has happened very rapidly," he said. "It's not going to go away—it's only going to get worse."

One of the pieces I found disconcerting in the article is one of the possible solutions:
He said that if the problem worsens, publishers may have to take other steps to prevent piracy, such as releasing a new version of most textbooks every semester. The versions could include slight modifications that could be changed easily—such as altering the numbers in math problems. "They may compelled to," he said, "in order to stay one step ahead of the pirates."

New editions even more frequently? That does not sound like a win-win for anybody -- particularly if cost is a driving factor promoting the illegal versions to begin with.

So what is the store's role in addressing this problem? Certainly many of us are aware of illegal versions of course materials on some campuses, posted by faculty or students into campus course management systems. The problem is a complex one -- but one that does affect us. Part of the solution lies in finding a way to allow students to get the content they want (such as just the chapters being used in class) at lower cost (which could mean digital). This is an important discussion in which stores have a stake. What innovative solutions can people think of to help address this challenge?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Thinking like an entrepreneur

There was a great opinion piece/editorial that appeared in Inside Higher Education last week. It is well worth the read. The author (Kevin Guthrie, President of Ithaka) begins with a set of views of how the reproduction and distribution of information in print is being disrupted by the economics of digital media. One of the challenges he describes is the difficulty scholars have in launching and sustaining successful digital initiatives, because they do not think like entrepreneurs. Some could argue the same problem exists for a number of college stores that operate on various college campuses. Guthrie's piece makes some good recommendations and observations of what is required to develop the entrepreneurial mindset that is critical to the success of digital initiatives in higher education -- many of which could be applied to college stores.

The aspects of entrepreneurship he identified as particularly important to creating sustainable digital projects are listed below. I think as one moves through the list, the elements become increasingly relevant and important for stores to consider and internalize in their own terms and context. Here is the list, explanations and insight are added in the full piece.
#1 Grants are for start-up, not sustainability.
#2 Cost recovery is not sufficient: growth is necessary
#3 Value is determined by impact.
#4 Projects should think in terms of building scale through partnerships, collaborations, mergers and even acquisitions.
#5 In a competitive world, strategic planning is imperative. (my personal favorite)
#6 Flexibility, mimbleness, and responsiveness are key.
#7 Dedicated and fully accountable leadership is essential

The full piece is perhaps 1-2 pages in length and is worth the read.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

April 2008 ebook sales stats...

eBook sales statistics for April 2008 have been released from the Association of American Publishers (AAP) who collects these statistics in conjunction with the IDPF. Trade eBook sales were $3,400,000 for April 2008, a 19.9% increase over April 2007.

The statistics, historical data and information about the numbers can be viewed at:

Please keep in mind the following:
  • This data represents United States revenues only
  • This data represents only trade eBook sales via wholesale channels.
  • Retail numbers may be as much as double the above figures due to industry wholesale discounts.
  • This data represents only data submitted from approx. 12 to 15 trade publishers
  • This data does not include library, educational or professional electronic sales
  • The numbers reflect the wholesale revenues of publishers
  • The definition used for reporting electronic book sales is "All books delivered electronically over the Internet OR to hand-held reading devices"
  • The IDPF and AAP began collecting data together starting in Q1 2006

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Buzz on ebrary study...

I have been seeing a lot of buzz (for and against) a recent study by ebrary on e-book usage by students. A short synopsis can be found in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week. The synopsis is not as interesting as some of the comments to the synopsis. I thought the Chronicle slant was interesting, primarily in its glass half empty slant. I actually thought the fact that 49% of students had used an e-book was a pretty high number, and higher than I had seen anywhere else. However, the Chronicle chose to look at this as over half of students have never used an e-book. Consistent with other studies, over half of the students who do not use e-books say that they do not do so because they do not know where to find them (or something similar).

It is important to note that the ebrary study does seem to have some methodological issues that call into question the real meaning of the findings. As one point in a constellation of other data points, it does point to a general movement towards great adoption of e-books by students, and to some of the persistent barriers to adoption that need to be addressed.