The CITE, a blog published by the National Association of College Stores, takes a look at the intersection of education and technology, highlighting issues that range from course materials to learning delivery to the student experience. Comments, discussion, feedback, and ideas are welcome.

Friday, September 5, 2008

A response to a response-- CSO and CourseSmart

I came across a posting on a posting on LJNDawson's blog that referenced my blog posting from last week on the CSO and CourseSmart arrangement. After quoting a passage from the earlier blog posting, she writes:

Apparently CourseSmart is making it possible, however, for college bookstores to participate in offering digital textbooks - something many brick and mortar stores have been quite concerned about. If books are available for download, where does that leave the bookstore? For so long, bookstores looked at record stores with a "there but for the grace of God" eye - but now that it's time for books to be distributed over the wires, how can a bookstore play?

Right now, college bookstores are buying packaged bits of paper with key codes on them. A student buys this package, goes to the URL that's printed on the paper, and types in a code that gives the student access to the digital textbook. But this will eventually go away as well - students will be buying their digital textbooks online and receiving an email that contains the same information as the packaged bit of paper.

Digital textbooks, therefore, are only viable to the college bookstore as an "also" purchase - while I'm here in the store buying my humanities textbooks, let me pick up this ebook for my science requirement - but not as the main focus of a bookstore trip.

Yes, CourseSmart is making it possible for college stores to participate in offering digital textbooks, as my blog posting explains. That is not really the concern of the piece, nor is the passage quoted. For that matter, the concern is not even really about CourseSmart. The concern lies more in a state office negotiating the terms of sale on behalf of all institutions in the state, public or private.

Stores are able to sell digital in formats other than "packaged bits of paper with key codes on them." Digital can be sold directly through store websites. In addition, NACS recently launched a new initiative that over the coming year will allow participating stores to offer digital via a variety of channels (web, kiosk, among others) based on a student's preference or choice. Students will be able to get content in the store in whatever format they require or prefer (e.g., print, or electronic to a particular device).

Digital textbooks are not necessarily only viable to the college bookstore as an "also" purchase. There are many localization services that make the college store the best place to buy course materials, whether digital or print. For example, students wanting to pay cash, use financial aid, or other forms of campus currency (e.g., student accounts, campus cards, etc.) would still want to use the bookstore because of their ability to handle these different forms of payment that many others cannot. By some estimates, this is over half of all students. Stores authenticate that the proper content is being purchased. If a student drops a course within a particular timeframe, or needs to return the content, stores can authenticate for vendors that the refund request is legitimate. Again, by some estimates, over a fifth of students seek to return some content each semester. By buying content through the stores, the store is offering some guarantee to students and providing value and services others cannot.

For these and other reasons, the store does have a place being involved with digital textbooks and those options are viable as more than just an "also" purchase. As stores become more sophisticated in the methods of delivering content, the options for students (both for convenience and cost savings) will lead them to the college store first for content, choice, and service options that they may not be able to find elsewhere.

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