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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Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Strong demand for iPad

The Wi-Fi version of the iPad will be available on Saturday, April 3, and several sources are reporting that there is strong demand for the device. The Wall Street Journal says that Apple may have already sold hundreds of thousands of devices and the Brainstorm Tech Blog estimates that 240,000 iPads have been pre-ordered online for delivery. This estimate does not include the number of devices that have been reserved for in-store pickup which is said to be around the same as those ordered online. Morgan Stanley Analyst, Katy Huberty, is predicting that Apple will ship 2.5 million iPads by May and over six million this year.

In addition, Apple is no longer fulfilling new online orders for April 3. According to the Associated Press, all new online orders will be delivered by April 12. Customers who already placed online orders or pre-orders for in-store pickup will still receive their devices this weekend. Apple and Best Buy stores will also have devices for sale on Saturday so customers may be able to acquire a device at the store. The Wi-Fi + 3G model of the iPad is still expected to ship in late April.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Kobo e-reader

Last week, a new e-reader called, Kobo, debuted at an event in Las Vegas and it has many people buzzing about its potential. The Kobo e-reader is similar to several other e-readers on the market with its 6-inch E Ink screen, one GB of memory, Bluetooth connectivity, and lack of Wi-Fi or 3G. What is different about Kobo is that it is significantly cheaper than other devices but still offers access to an e-book store with over two million titles. In addition, Kobo has a device neutral platform so consumers can sync their purchases across iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, webOS, and Android devices, as well as Windows and Mac computers. The device is expected to go on sale in May at Indigo Books & Music in Canada and in June at Borders stores.

Here is a video of what the Kobo reading experience will look like on the iPad.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Notion Ink’s Adam Tablet

The Techtorial website has a video of an interesting new Android tablet called Adam. The tablet is from Notion Ink and features a 10-inch screen with either an LCD display or a PixelQi screen, WiFi/3G/Bluetooth connectivity, and a built-in camera. According to the post, it will be available this summer.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Random House titles not included in iBooks app

The iPad will be available next week but as of today, Random House titles will not be included in Apple’s iBooks app. According to the Financial Times, Random House has not partnered with Apple because it fears that “Apple’s pricing regime could erode established publishing practices.” Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Harper-Collins, and Penguin will all have titles on the new app.

An article from Tech News Daily points out that a relationship with Apple may not be necessary for Random House because Amazon and other e-reader applications include its titles so it will already have a significant presence on the iPad. Random House may also be waiting for the pricing war between Amazon and Apple to play out before it makes a decision.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Introducing Text 2.0

Watch this very cool video on text 2.0 and how devices could soon change reading. Great video.

There is also a great companion article in Wired Magazine on eye-tracking tablets and Text 2.0. It admits that Text 2.0 technology is still in its infancy, but there are some really cool applications here. Reminds me of the Minority Report movie in several ways. Of course what happens to privacy? Unintendend consequences of what seems like a good idea at the time, perhaps. Good article to read, though.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Moby Tablet by Marvell

Marvell, a manufacturer of semiconductors, has announced a new multimedia tablet that is designed for K-12 students. The tablet is called, Moby, and it will retail for significantly less than other tablet devices. The device will feature 1080p full-HD and 3D media, full flash internet, Wi-Fi/Bluetooth/FM/GPS connectivity, and support for Android and Windows Mobile.

According to the press release, the tablet will address three key issues associated with textbooks including: the cost, weight, and the fact that printed textbooks are quickly outdated. A posting on the ZDNet blog points out that other e-readers can address the same issues but with its low price point this tablet could gain mass adoption. Another posting from Christopher Dawson at ZDNet notes that the Moby tablet will run Linux and consumers may expect the tablet device to run on an operating system such as Windows. Dawson says that the features and usability of the device will also have to be compelling because the price alone may not be enough.

A release date for the Moby tablet has not been announced but Marvell is planning to pilot the device with the District of Columbia Public School System in Washington D.C. Marvell will donate a tablet to every child in an at-risk school as part of a program in new media and learning.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The future of university libraries

A recent article from Inside Higher Ed discusses two new studies that take a look at the implications for university libraries that are considering shifting their paper collections to digital. The studies will be published this spring by the Council on Library and Information Resources. One of the studies compares the cost of keeping books on the shelves to putting books in a warehouse and focusing on digital resources. The second study looks at the effort to build new libraries for the digital future.

According to the article, both studies conclude that the digital books can help save libraries money but first professors and students must embrace e-books and this transition will take time. Authors of the second study, Geneva Henry and Lisa Spiro of Rice University’s Digital Media Center, also said that libraries seem to be moving in the direction of primarily digital infrastructures. The article notes that campus resistance can occur during the transition because scholars still prefer to browse through aisles of books and currently the experience of reading digital books is not directly equivalent to paper books. However, print books come with a higher lifetime cost because they require continual space and maintenance costs, and the books can deteriorate with use. E-book databases can offer scholars more books without these requirements but libraries will face other challenges associated with digital such as making sure the e-books are compatible with the devices that they will be read on.

For now, the technology is still evolving and libraries will be faced with challenges as they look to transition. However, as noted in the article, as the technology advances and new research and best practices for libraries emerge, the potential for cost savings could be a big factor when determining whether to offer paper or digital resources.

Monday, March 22, 2010

January 2010 e-book sales statistics

E-book sales statistics for January 2010 have been released by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) via IDPF. In January, trade e-book sales were $31.9 million which is the highest single month thus far and a 261.2% increase over January 2009. The January 2010 sales even far surpassed December 2009 sales of 19.1 million which was the previous highest month. Note: These figures represent the 12 to 15 trade book publishers who have been willing to supply their data to IDPF.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Facebook becomes most visited website for week of March 13

The popularity of Facebook continues to rise and now it has even surpassed Google and become the most visited website in the US for the week of March 13, 2010. According to Experian Hitwise, to date, Facebook has only surpassed Google on a few holidays and the weekend of March 6-7, 2010. Recent data from the “U.S. Teen & Twenty-Somethings” study conducted by Tru also shows just how popular Facebook is among the millennial age group. According to the study, 51 percent of 18 and 19 year olds say that Facebook is their favorite website, and 46 percent of teens and twenty-somethings visit Facebook at least once a day compared to Google at 44 percent.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Plastic Logic Que e-reader ship date delayed

According to CNET, Plastic Logic has announced that the ship date for the Que e-reader has been delayed. The device was expected to begin shipping in April but now it will not reach consumers until the summer. CNET points out that the delay could be costly for the device because its competitor, the Apple iPad, will begin shipping in April with more features and a cheaper price tag.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Results from Aptara’s e-book survey

Aptara has released the results from an e-book survey that included over 300 U.S. publishers across the Trade, Professional, and Educational markets. The survey found that 53 percent of education/university publishers and 60 percent of K-12 education publishers are currently offering titles in e-book format. In addition, 55 percent of education/university publishers and 53 percent of K-12 education publishers who do not currently offer e-books plan to produce and distribute e-books in the near future.

In regards to the importance of e-books, 47 percent of both education/university publishers and K-12 education publishers said that e-books are of high importance to their company’s strategy and growth plans, and another 31 percent of education/university publishers and 20 percent of K-12 education publishers said that e-books are of moderate importance. These statistics show that education publishers are responding to the increased demand for e-books and are beginning to recognize the importance of e-books in their future plans.

Another interesting finding from the survey showed that the Apple iPhone is more popular for reading e-books than single purpose devices such as the Kindle and Sony Reader. Aptara suggests that publishers should recognize the importance of creating device-independent e-books. If consumers can access e-books on any device they prefer, publishers will be able to make their catalogs available to the largest audience possible.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Update on DynamicBooks from Macmillan

In February, Macmillan introduced a new platform called DynamicBooks that will give professors the opportunity to create custom digital textbooks from existing titles. Professors will be able to customize the texts by rearranging chapters; uploading links, video or audio; rewriting or deleting portions of the text; and uploading the course syllabus.

Book Business recently interviewed Clancy Marshall, general manager of DynamicBooks, and posted an interesting article on their website. Marshall discussed the benefits for students, instructors, and authors; how the approach will address textbook pricing; and how the model could help fight piracy. The section on piracy is particularly interesting and worth a read. Marshall noted, “I think that the great thing about DynamicBooks is that it addresses the two issues that I think are problematic with textbooks today. One is that they're priced too high for the students. DynamicBooks, on average, are going to be about 40 percent to 50 percent of the price of a traditional book. It also addresses this idea that textbooks aren't worth paying for. It's not like you can just go online and find a pirated version that would include your instructor's individual edits and notes.”

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

College Textbook News blog

We have added a new blog to our blogroll called College Textbook News. The blog focuses on the latest happenings in the college textbook industry and is written by Clyde Smith, writer of the Cultural Research blog about library innovation. This blog will be another good resource for additional news.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Results from the Kindle DX pilot at Princeton University

Princeton University recently released the results from its Kindle DX pilot. Both The Daily Princetonian and Princeton’s website feature articles and the final report can be found on the Office of Information Technology website.

The Princeton pilot differed from the pilots occurring at six other colleges and universities because it was part of a sustainability initiative that focused on reducing the amount of electronic reserve course materials that were printed by students. According to the report, the pilot was a success because participants reduced the amount of paper used by almost 50 percent. However, despite the environmental benefits, students said that the technology is still limited and must be improved for educational use. If the device had better input tools, color highlighting, and the ability to easily flip through readings, it could be a great tool for students. Below is a listing of some of the pros, cons, and suggestions for improvement that were expressed by the students.


  • Environmental benefits
  • Portability
  • Ability to consolidate all texts in one place
  • Battery life
  • Wireless connection
  • Ability to search for content
  • Ability to read the screen in full sunlight


  • Difficult to highlight text and annotate files. PDF documents can not be annotated or highlighted at all
  • Lack of folders to organize readings
  • Inability to quickly navigate between documents
  • Inability to open multiple texts at the same time
  • Kindle texts do not have page numbers to correspond to paper texts
  • Can not easily skim texts

Suggestions for Improvement

  • Improve ability to highlight and annotate PDF files
  • Improve the annotation tools and make it easier to navigate among annotated pages
  • Provide a folder structure to organize readings
  • Improve the highlighting function
  • Improve the navigation within and between documents (add ability to open more than one document at the same time)
  • Addition of touch screen and stylus

The three professors involved in the pilot also noted that the current technology is limited but said that they would be willing to teach more courses with the device if improvements are made.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Barnes & Noble to release app for iPad

Barnes & Noble has confirmed via it's website that it will release an app for the Apple iPad. The app will allow users to access e-books, magazines, and newspapers from the B&N e-book store, as well as any content that was previously downloaded to their B&N digital library. According to the post, the app will be released “around the time of iPad’s expected availability.”

Saturday, March 13, 2010

NC State develops smartphone application to share campus history

The library at North Carolina State University has developed an interesting new smartphone application called, WolfWalk, to share campus history with users. The application works by sensing a user’s location and sending them information and photos about nearby buildings. One of the oldest photos dates back to 1890.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Survey finds that e-book buyers favor iPad

ChangeWave Research has released the results of a survey on the demand for the Apple iPad. The survey found that 40% of the respondents that plan to buy an e-reader in the next three months plan to purchase an iPad. The Amazon Kindle came in second at 28 percent, followed by the B&N Nook at six percent, and the Sony Reader at one percent. Many respondents said the versatility of the iPad is the reason that they will buy it for reading. The survey also found that 27 percent of the current e-reader owners would have purchased an iPad if it had been available at the time of purchase.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

E-book apps take the lead in the Apple App Store

According to the Mobclix website, the number of e-book apps has surpassed the number of apps in all other categories. Over the past year, e-book apps have been in the top five along with games, education, entertainment, and travel but this is the first time e-books have taken the lead. Over the last four weeks, an additional 6,000 e-book apps have been added to the app store increasing the total from 20,621 (14.3%) to 26,977 (18.6%). The games category follows e-books with 25,334 apps (17.5%). Education is in fourth with 9,900 apps (6.8%).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Elsevier to provide content for Blio

According to a recent press release, Elsevier has entered into an agreement with Baker & Taylor to provide highly-formatted content for the Blio e-reader software application. Elsevier plans to launch 8,000-9,000 life science, physical science, and professional titles by the end of the year.

Blio debuted earlier this year at the Consumer Electronics Show and in February, John Wiley & Sons announced that it would be the first major publisher to provide educational and consumer content for the platform. Blio is an impressive platform that retains the layout, typesetting, fonts and pagination of a book; features print-to speech functionality; and is designed to run on devices such as tablets, computers, and iPhones.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

N.C. State offers free physics e-textbook

The library and physics department at N.C. State have joined together to offer a free e-textbook to students taking a physics course. According to an article from News Observer, the early reviews from the experiment have been mixed but it may be due to the actual textbook and not the use of online texts. A few students commented that the text needs more practice questions to help with their understanding. The students are also required to pay a fee for a lab manual and online interactive homework so there is still a cost associated with the class.

Michael Paesler, chairman of the physics department, says the department will review student evaluations at the end of the semester but already plans to introduce another low-cost e-textbook this fall for an optics class. Paesler commented, “I do think it's inevitable that this is the way of the future. It's obvious that the students are comfortable with electronic information, and to ignore that a lot of learning takes place electronically now would be just sticking your head in the sand.”

The N.C. State library has also created a helpful page on their website which includes information about open textbooks, links to more information, and a list of frequently asked questions.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Video demo of Penguin Books on iPad

An article from PaidContent:UK features two video clips from a presentation given by John Makinson, CEO of Penguin Books. Makinson spoke about Penguin’s vision for e-books and showed a demo of interactive e-books and content with audio, video, and chat functionality. At about one minute into the first video, there is a demo of an anatomy textbook. Students will be able to zoom into diagrams and view portions of the diagram in 3-D.

According to Makinson, Penguin is planning to launch much of their content as applications rather than e-books for Apple’s iBooks app. Makinson commented, “We will be embedding and streaming audio, video, and gaming into everything that we do. This will present us and the platform owners with technology challenges. The ePub format, which is the standard for e-books at the present, is designed to support traditional narrative text but not this cool stuff that we are now talking about. So for the time being at least we will be creating a lot of our digital content as applications, for sale on app stores and HTML, rather than as e-books. The definition of the book itself, as we can see, is up for grabs.”

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Read an E-Book Week

Today marks the start of the seventh annual Read and E-Book Week, a not-for-profit week designed to inform the public about the pleasures and advantages of e-books, and encourage readers to give digital books a try. Read an E-Book Week was founded in 2004 by author, Rita Toews, and has since gained many supporters. During the week, thousands of e-books will be available for free or at significant discounts. To show your support for e-books and to find out more about the week and its offerings, refer to the website’s E-Book Supporters page.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

e-reader reviews

This month’s Aparta newsletter has some good e-reader reviews and material that you may find interesting. We do not normally pass on company newsletters via the blog but we think that this one has some good educational content for stores.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Predictions for the future of digital books

The Huffington Post has a very interesting article from literary agent, Nathan Bransford, about the future of digital books. Bransford says he refuses to believe the e-book skeptics and predicts that e-books will only get better. Here are some highlights from Nathan Bransford’s, predictions:

  • The e-book reading experience is only going to improve – “Sure - not everyone loves the current grayscale Kindles and tiny iPhone reading experience, particularly for books that are illustrated or are beautifully designed. But better devices are coming and it's going to open up a new era of book design of unlimited possibility.”
  • E-readers and e-books are only going to get cheaper. – “It's soon going to be possible to buy e-books cheaply on an affordable e-reader device, and they're going to be more colorful and interactive than most of their print counterparts.”
  • Finding the books you want to read will only get easier. – “Humans are really, really good at organizing things. If we can organize the billions and billions of web pages out there so that we can find what we want within a few seconds I think we can manage a few million books.”
  • People are ignoring the digital trend. – “Everything that can be digitized is being digitized because it's cheaper and easier to send pixels around the world than physical objects. First it was music, then newspapers, then movies. Books are next in line.”
  • Habits change – “Right now the benefits of e-books are a little murky except for early adopters and those that can afford the devices. But that's just right now. Pretty soon they’re going to be better (color! design! portable! interactivity! instantaneous!) and cheaper. Readers won't pay a premium for an inferior print product out of habit and nostalgia in great numbers.”

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Let's not forget the student perspective...

The California State Student Association posted the video below on Sunday. It is a great video on textbook costs from the student perspective. I am told that Emily Switzer, ASI officer and SFSU student made the video. The video header notes that:
This video is intended to reach students and faculty throughout the California State University System to increase awareness of and promote the growing access to low or no cost alternatives to print textbooks.

Why don't retailers and publishers have videos as effective as this one?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Questions on ebooks

Recently, there were a set of questions on one of our discussion lists about ebooks. Below are some of the questions and portions of our response. We could have entered a lot more information in response to some of the questions, but felt there were other venues where this information would be getting covered over the next month or so.

Q. Which e-reader model is your store/school using?
Several schools have implemented pilots to test out the Sony Readers, Amazon Kindle DX, and Apple iPhone. Many new devices are hitting the market and more pilots will be initiated as the devices become available. For example, some schools are already looking to provide the Entourage Edge and the new Apple iPad. There are a number of other lesser-known devices also being market tested at small sets of schools, or being sold through a small set of stores. Below is a list of some of the pilots that have taken place.

· Blyth Academy high school in Canada issued Sony Readers to all of its students in place of printed textbooks
· Northwest Missouri State conducted a pilot with Sony Readers and e-textbooks for laptops
· Seven colleges/universities participated in the Amazon Kindle DX pilot including: Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton University, Reed College, University of Washington, and Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia
· University of Wisconsin-Madison initiated its own Kindle DX pilot
· Abilene Christian University was the first university to provide incoming freshman with an iPhone or iPod Touch device.

A word of caution on e-books at the moment - a key barrier to e-books (temporarily) will be ADA compliance. This became very evident with the Kindle pilots. The National Foundation for the Blind issued letters to nearly every college/university president and/or college store in the US warning that their approach to seeking compliance with digital textbooks will be different than it has been with the print equivalent. They were successful in a settlement related to the Kindle pilot; and some of the schools who participated were effectively banned by the US Justice Department from engaging in further use of e-readers until those devices were ADA compliant. Now, that barrier will be gone in most cases by this June, but you may want to make certain that a device is ADA compliant before you stock it if it is going to be used for textbooks.

Q. How long have you been using it?
Most e-readers have been on the market for less than a year. The first "commercially viable" models appeared in 2008, where roughly 1 million units were sold in the US. Most of the first generation readers were targeted toward heavy readers of trade books. We do know of some campuses that started to experiment with them as early as Fall 2008, and at least one who has been selling readers since Spring 2009. The first generation of e-readers have a number of limitations that do not make them effective for textbook usage. The second generation (and new class) of e-readers are multi-function devices (e.g., the Apple iPad or the Entourage Edge). These devices are just coming onto the market, so no stores are likely to be selling them yet. Stores selling netbooks would probably have the most relevant comparable experience.

Q. Comments from your students and faculty, positive/negative?
Comments from students and faculty involved in the Kindle DX pilots mentioned above were mixed. Some of the positive and negative comments included:
o Positive:
. E Ink screen looks like paper and does not strain eyes
. Large amount of content available without carrying several books
. Built-in dictionary
. Ability to save paper
. Depending how the e-textbooks are priced in comparison to the print, students may be able to save money on textbooks over time

o Negative:
. Can not interact with a Kindle text in the same way as a print text - Ability to bookmark, highlight, tear pages, use sticky notes or make marks to represent the importance of a passage have been lost or are too slow to keep up with thinking
. "Clunky," "slow," and "difficult to operate"
. Device requires charging
. Kindle annotation software is not as easy to use as taking notes on paper
. Lack of a touch-screen
. Small keyboard

Again, note that these comments were based on the first generation of e-reader devices which were really tailored for trade book reading. For several reasons we will not go into here, Amazon was pushed to release a device for textbook pilots before they were ready. Many companies followed those pilots, and learned from them. The big difference in the next set of devices coming out over the next few months is that many of these were designed more with the textbook in mind from the start. There are several major technology players getting ready to enter this space, plus some new startups, so expect to see a device later in the year that can provide a far more robust experience for the textbook consumer. The current pros and cons likely will not apply by the time summer arrives.

Q. Are you still selling paper textbooks as well?
While digital textbook sales may still be low, the sales will increase as new devices become available and publishers work to enhance the digital reading experience. Recently it was announced that textbook publishers McGraw-Hill, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12, and Pearson, are working with an e-reader app developer called ScrollMotion to turn their textbooks into applications for the Apple iPad. The applications will enhance the reading experience by allowing students to play videos, highlight text, record lectures, take notes, search the text, and participate in interactive quizzes.

Yes. Just about everyone is. For stores selling e-books, the current average sell-through on units is about 2.8 to 3 percent. Best cases are often around 6 or 7 percent. There have been a couple rare cases with much higher unit sell-through in a particular class. With a device out this year, we expect to see this number begin to climb. Since the better devices will not be out until summer, most students will not have one for the fall semester, but expect penetration of devices to grow each year going forward, with a potential for over 50-75 percent device adoption within 4-5 years if traditional technology adoption patterns for college students apply and price point trends also follow the normal curve. Thus, as device penetration increases, e-book and e-textbook sales should also increase. Expect to see larger numbers in 2011 and beyond.

Interesting, by multiple studies by different groups, roughly HALF of students do not know if their campus bookstore or campus library offers digital. So if you are offering digital, your sales could improve greatly if the digital were marketed better. Also, our most recent research suggests that far less than the majority of stores are offering digital - and those who are rely mostly on hang tags, which are an inadequate substitute to other business models. In the next issue of InCITE from NACS Media Solutions we will provide some industry trend data on ecommerce and e-book sales and comment on the existing models in usage.

Q. How many paper textbooks vs. e-books are you selling?
As noted above, e-books make up about 2.8 to 3 percent of unit sales on average for most stores who sell digital. That statistic is for class sections where digital is an option, not for unit sales as a whole, since even for stores that do offer digital many titles are not available in a digital format.

Q. Do e-books only work for certain e-readers?
Great question. In some cases yes. This is another barrier to adoption for students. Currently ebooks are available from several different sources, and each may employ different standards, formats, or readers (software-based or hardware-based). In some cases these are proprietary - such as the format currently used by Amazon for the Kindle. Many others are moving toward supporting open standards, such as .epub and Adobe formats. That said, even though many readers support these formats, they may still require (or prefer) file versions that have been optimized to that particular device. Therefore, as an example, while a particular reader might support epub, they will want you to purchase specific files that have been reformatted to optimize the reading experience for their device. Because many features common to textbooks (tables, indexes, etc.) are not yet standardized in epub formats, the content may look different from one device to another.

Q. How do you purchase e-books, from the publisher?
There are a variety of ways to purchase e-books, and expect a variety of additional options over the next few months. Now that the device wars are in full swing, the platform wars are going to begin to heat up. Expect a growing number of choices from which you can source your content, and a dizzying array of terms and options. We hope to simplify some of this as we get closer to the fall, but that is all we can say at the moment.

Q. Now that I have done some more research I am wondering if e-books are the way to start until e-readers take off and are more textbook friendly.
This would be my recommendation. Most students who currently read or purchase e-textbooks consume that content on a laptop or desktop computer. There are other software-based reading environments (like CaféScribe and VitalSource) that may further enhance the textbook experience in the laptop/desktop environment.

Q. We have currently not sold e-books through our store so I am wondering if your students like the e-book option to have on their laptop vs. an actual paper copy.
Data on this is very mixed. Most studies seem to agree that students still prefer paper to digital currently. Digital versions often do not meet student expectations -- typically due to lack of interactivity; students do not want linear “pdf” versions of their traditional textbooks. Some research has shown that students prefer the print to read from, but the digital to study from, meaning that they use the two formats in different ways. At least one study has shown that students would be willing to pay extra (up to 17% more on average) to get both the print and digital version of the textbook rather than just one or the other. In a recent study of over 12,000 students, it was found that about a quarter would buy the digital option if it were completely their choice. However, lack of inventory and the use of print by faculty, in addition to other factors, lead them to not buy the digital. There seems to be a lack of congruity between student preferences and student buying patterns when it comes to digital textbooks currently.

Q. How long do they usually get to keep the book for?
This varies greatly on the publisher, the book, the source from which you access the content, and the business models applied. Many are limited to 180 or 360 days, or perhaps longer for books that are typically used over 2 or 3 semesters. The refund policies on digital also vary depending on whether or not the file has been opened or how much of the content has been viewed or printed. There is currently no salvage value to most digital options, meaning that there is no buyback or refund at the point of file expiration. That means that most digital options are more short term rentals than outright purchases. No real ownership rights are transferred to students as they are with the sale of a physical book.

Q. Are students able to share one copy of the e-book or do they each have to purchase their own copy?

In most cases they must purchase their own. Although it might be possible for students to share a computer, and thus a book. As e-reader devices proliferate, this might become easier – or perhaps no more difficult than it is for students to share printed copies of books now.

I am sure that stores out there have many other questions, or could add additional feedback. Feel free to post them here or send us a message directly.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The price of e-books

The New York Times has a great article that compares the costs of producing print books to digital books. It is assumed that publishers save a large amount on digital books but as the article points out there are more costs associated with digital than most realize. Additionally, as digital sales start to replace print sales, publishers will still have the fixed costs associated with print but it will be spread among fewer copies. Other expenses, including marketing, royalties, and overhead in the form of editors and other skill sets, also persist even when the print costs vanish. Publishers argue that this may make it difficult to support new authors. The article also notes that if e-books are priced much lower than print editions, booksellers may be unable to compete. College stores may find themselves in a similar situation as digital sales of textbooks progress – trapped between having to maintain an infrastructure and staff skills designed to sell the old version of content, while transitioning to the new infrastructure and staff skills needed to be successful in a world with digital.

“Publishers also say consumers exaggerate the savings [of e-books over print] and have developed unrealistic expectations about how low the prices of e-books can go.” In the textbook space, some of that may be the fault of publishers themselves. Offering the digital at 50-70% of new in order to gain adoptions of the digital by students leads to false impressions of the cost of producing the textbook. Of course, if the cost of the print new continues to climb rapidly, then by the time a more significant transition occurs the cost of the digital could be equivalent to today's new price. We are already seeing some etextbooks with prices well over $100.

It is probably true that as part of the transition to digital the top line (not just the bottom line, but the top line) revenue will shrink for a period of time as markets and prices adjust. The article notes that this occurred in the music industry. Recent price wars on e-books by Amazon and others does not really produce any winners. If e-book prices go too low, there will be no margins left for booksellers – chains or independents. In the college store industry, those booksellers are committed to the academic mission and giving back to their respective institutions – typically to support tuition sustainability, financial aid, student services, and capital project budgets. Without the bookseller channel, publishers are left with a few giants who can more easily dictate price, and those giants have no beholding to academic institutions or their students to provide a return that improves educational affordability. The article does a fair job of describing in simple terms some of the economics of book production, and the potential unintended consequences of lower e-book prices.

The article ends with a quote from Author Anne Rice, which deserves repeating. She notes, “None of us know what books cost. None of us know what kind of profits hardcover or paperback publishers make.” Rice went on to say, “For all I know, a million books at $9.99 might be great for an author. The only thing I think is a mistake is people trying to hold back e-books or Kindle and trying to head off this revolution by building a dam. It’s not going to work.” And that is the thought for the day – regardless of where pricing goes with digital books, the revolution or transition from print to a new format has begun. Attempting to stick our fingers in the holes of the dyke is not going to save the day anymore. As Clay Shirky might put it, we can no longer convincingly tell ourselves such lies. The more we become educated on the economics of books, the better solutions we may identify to manage costs, or to produce business models that are economically sustainable and beneficial to all parties.

Monday, March 1, 2010

6,500 authors, publishers, and literary agents opt out of Google settlement

According to recent article from Guardian UK, 6,500 authors, publishers, and literary agents have opted out of the Google Book Search settlement. Those wishing to opt out were required to do so before the fairness hearing on February 18th. As mentioned in a previous posting, the judge did not rule on the settlement due to the amount of information. The judge is planning to write an opinion of his views which could take several months. The Guardian article includes some interesting comments from authors. Science fiction author Gwyneth Jones noted, "The danger to me, and every other writer, is not that our works will be available free online (I offer most of my recent novels free online already. These 'portable document format' novels are the text as I wrote it, and they do my sales no harm at all). The danger of the digital 'publishing’ corporations is their unprecedented access to billions of tiny payments, for product that costs them effectively nothing, at their point of entry. This seems to mean they don't have to worry about any form of resistance at all. I don't like the sound of that, not from anybody's point of view."