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, March 31, 2011

ASU, Michigan Test Ways to Work with Digital Texts

Putting e-textbooks into the hands of faculty members may be an avenue to wider acceptance of digital course materials. A Campus Technology article highlights efforts at Arizona State University, Tempe, and the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, to that end.

ASU adopted the CourseSmart Faculty Instant Access program, which allows instructors access to course material to review without waiting for delivery of the printed copy. The program also provides multiple text versions for faculty to consider through a cross-book searching function. Faculty can order e-textbooks through the school’s My ASU information portal and, as soon as an adoption has been made, the e-textbook is available for purchase through the CourseSmart web site.

In Ann Arbor, a working group made up of personnel from the library, Office of the Registrar, Information and Technology Services, and Instructional Support Services is testing a program that integrates digital titles directly into the university’s learning management system. The group is conducting surveys and focus groups to learn about student and instructor expectations and experiences with e-books throughout the semester, and then report to campus leaders on e-book implementation.

Additionally, users are able to access the digital material from any computer or browser-based mobile device. There are also iPhone and iPad apps, and users with vision disabilities can download customized versions.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tablets for education

The tablet market continues to heat up with more devices getting announced that are specifically targeted toward education -- whether college or K-12. Reuters had an interesting article on this last month that covers a couple new devices heading toward the education space.

One of the new devices entering the space is from mySpark Technologies which has an Android-based tablet with a stylus and capabilities designed for textbooks. Rullingnet is introducing a device for toddlers(the Vinci Tab).

These devices will compete, of course, against existing players, such as Kno (which is rumored to have their hardware platform for sale), Entourage Edge (with its dual screen device), and, of course the iPad.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Myth of Commercial Textbook Reliability

There was an interesting opinion piece on the College Open Textbook Blog this week. A former commercial textbook publishers talks about the quality standards, perceptions and motivations around textbooks--from both the OER and commercial perspectives.

An appropriate analogy which came to mind when reading the piece is the Encylopedia Brittanica versus Wikipedia. Many questioned the credibility and accuracy of Wikipedia (an open source encyclopedia) at first. I think the last stats I saw (some time ago) was that there are now fewer than three errors in Wikipedia for every error in Encyclopedia Brittanica -- and errors in the former tend to get corrected more quickly than errors in the latter.

I think the concern -- both with Wikipedia and open textbooks -- is not so much about small errors. It is more about authoritative voices and the vetting of content by authoritative voices. There is a fear (real or perceived) that content that is not vetted by field experts runs the risk of being inaccurate in fundamental ways -- e.g., excluding evolution as a valid scientific theory over or along side creationism in a biology textbook. Conventional wisdom (which is often wrong) or political agendas can more easily be embedded into texts if there is not a vetting process by trained or experienced experts within a field. Of course, some in the scientific or academic community might say this happens with traditional texts as well, because new, novel, or as yet unproven theories often have great difficulty getting published. Certainly there are examples in the open source space which address this concern around vetting content -- Flat World Knowledge and Connexions being two very positive examples.

Maybe we have to come to some agreement what we mean by "quality." That said, the opinion piece raises some interesting ideas and perspectives. Should open textbooks be held to a different standard? Probably not. One could ask if for-profit universities should be held to a different standard too -- with an equal amount of debate to follow. For a new technology to prove itself and be adopted in the marketplace is not an entitlement -- it must be earned. For open textbooks that means being held to a higher standard until perceptions and reality are aligned at a point favorable to the technology.

The open textbook community should welcome and embrace that higher bar as a challenge to create even better products -- exceeding the products produced by traditional sources. That in turn forces those traditional products to either improve or exit the marketplace. Remember that it is not always the best technology that wins--but often the technology that is able to capture the greatest amount of market share. For open source to be successful in the long term, the movement must focus on continuing to build market share. Part of that will happen by demonstrating open source meets a higher standard than traditional textbooks, if such is the case.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Publishers Invest in Inkling’s Textbook Solution

Matt MacInnis, co-founder and CEO of e-book publishing startup Inkling, was quoted at length in this Campus Technology article on why the e-textbook market lags so far behind the e-book market. Now there’s news that his firm has taken another step in addressing the issue.

Publishers Weekly reported that the San Francisco-based firm, which creates interactive textbooks specifically for the Apple iPad, recently secured “multimillion dollar” investments from McGraw-Hill and Pearson. Inkling plans to produce electronic versions of the textbooks from the two publishers for the popular Apple device in the Inkling multimedia platform.

Inkling will have access to the top 100 undergraduate textbooks from McGraw-Hill and 24 of the most popular business and arts and sciences titles from Pearson, along with medical books from Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Inkling already has agreements to reproduce titles from a number of major education publishers, such as John Wiley & Sons and W.W. Norton.

This partnership is one of many efforts that are trying to reinvent the textbook. The industry also continues to look for possible ways to reduce the cost for students. All the various efforts feature online access, customizable content, selling the content in smaller units such as chapters, class and instructor notes that are easy to circulate, video and animation, and the reach on multiple devices.

Research Shows Strong Support for Educational Technology

A Clarus Research Group survey commissioned by Cisco shows that most educational leaders worldwide support technology in education. The study interviewed administrators and IT decision-makers in 14 countries.

The research revealed that the majority see the potential in technology addressing student concerns, such as employment prospects, distance education, and research capabilities. In the study, 86% of respondents agreed there was a need for programs to develop teamwork skills among students, while 85% believe the role of technology in student participation is increasing.

In addition, 83% consider technology important in preparing students for employment in a global economy and that it must be incorporated into curriculum. While most respondents see technology as a way to reduce cost, the majority also list online security as a main concern.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

E-Text Rules Matter in Cal State Study

Preliminary findings from a California State University study on e-textbooks has shown that students’ acceptance of the electronic material often depended on the rules publishers set on its usage. The rules, according to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, include the number of pages a student can print from the e-textbook, whether it can be downloaded to a desktop, or used online.

The pilot program last fall involved more than 3,800 students in 30 course sections where e-textbooks were assigned with thousands more in a control group using traditional course materials. The results have been mixed. A third of the 662 students who responded expressed satisfaction with the e-textbook experience, one third said they were neutral, and the final third were dissatisfied, according to the study, which was reported on by Converge Magazine.

The study also showed 73% of students assigned e-textbooks bought the course material, compared to 46% of students in traditional courses who bought the book. Officials from the study believe the lower cost of the e-text led to the increase in digital book purchases.

Project leaders plan to share the findings with publishers in hopes those publishers will change policies to respond to the student concerns. The companies participating in the study during the fall semester were Cengage Learning, Pearson, Macmillian, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley and Sons, and CourseSmart.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Proposed Google Book Search Settlement Rejected

The long-awaited decision on the Google Book Search settlement came out this week, with Judge Chin rejecting the current proposal. If you recall, this is the case involving the Author's Guild and their claims of copyright infringement resulting from Google's mass scanning of library content. The story is expected to get wide-spread coverage this week. For example, see the Wall Street Journal article from yesterday afternoon.

In his decision, Judge Chin wrote:

While the digitization of books and the creation of a universal digital library would benefit many, the [Amended Settlement Agreement (ASA)] would simply go oo far. It would permit this class action—which was brought against defendant Google Inc. to challenge its scanning of books and display of “snippets” for on-line searching—to implement a forward-looking business arrangement that would grant Google significant rights to exploit entire books, without permission of the copyright owners. Indeed, the ASA would give Google a significant advantage over competitors, rewarding it for engaging in wholesale copying of copyrighted works without permission, while releasing claims well beyond those presented in the case.

The question now is, "What's next?" The judge did indicate that switching from opt-out to opt-in would resolve many of the concerns. That certainly would help for books in print, and perhaps even for many of the books out of print, but what about the many orphan works that exist? Secondarily, what does this mean for bookstores signing up with Google Editions? Or more generally, what does it mean for Google?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ohio textbook affordability initiative update

Later this week there will be a webinar providing an e-textbook update on the Ohio Digital Bookshelf Project as part of the state's textbook affordability initiative. Steve Acker from OhioLink will be the presenter. Here is a summary of the webinar:

In Year 1 of the Ohio Digital Bookshelf Project, five major publishers made their Introductory Psychology textbook available in digital form at a discount from print of 70%. In Year 2, the disciplines of Accounting, Biology, and Economics will be added and aggressive efforts to bring more librarians, instructional designers, and accessibility experts into the community will be undertaken.

The three strands of the Ohio Digital Bookshelf Project’s "DNA" are (1) working with traditional textbook publishers, (2) engaging in open educational resources initiatives, and (3) supporting digital literacy workshops and programs for both faculty and students reaching toward “personalized learning environments.” Each of these strands is connected and will interoperate as the learning materials environment evolves over the next five years. Traditional publishers will adapt to the OER movement, which will continue to change as an alternative to current practices. Faculty and students will continue to develop “personalized learning environments” for collecting, packaging and using content to serve individualized learning needs.
To register or learn more, go to www.teachuohio.org

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Are There Apps for Retailers?

The Chronicle of Higher Education’s ProfHacker blog recently posted a lengthy list of productivity applications recommended by some of its regular contributors and participants at the recent THATCamp-Southeast (The Humanities and Technology Camp). Some are free, some not. While several are geared more toward managing academic materials, most would come in handy for anybody interested in better organizing their documents and downloads.

Are any useful productivity tools out there that campus retailers should know about? Store buyers and managers, what computer and smartphone applications are you using to help run your businesses more efficiently and effectively? Share your favorites in the comments.

Friday, March 18, 2011

CAMEX questions answered: Open learning/access

This week's question from CAMEX is about open learning or open access course materials. For the short and direct answer to the question, read only the first paragraph. For the longer and more complete answer, read the full text.

Q. How much impact will I expect from the open learning component of digital delivery?

A. My expectation is that open access course materials (OACM) will grow to probably 10% of the course material market over the next several years. However, as with much of the digital movement, the focus is on the largest textbook adoptions where the impact will be greatest. That means the spread of open access textbooks could affect college store revenues -- which in turn translates into an impact on the financial aid and student services budgets on many campuses.

As an anecdotal example, I heard from one community college yesterday where the administration was apparently surprised by the financial impact that occured to the store's contributions to the institution's budget this spring when some faculty moved their large textbook adoptions to an OACM option. We heard a similar story last year from another large university where the move of one of their largest textbook adoptions to a free, online OACM option had a net impact of close to US$1M on the financial aid budget. OACM is likely here to stay, and so campus administrations should begin to plan for that to have some financial impact.

The open access movement has some strengths and weaknesses. On the strength side, it is an active approach to reducing the cost of course materials. Like the dot-com and real-estate bubbles before it, the textbook and tuition bubbles cannot keep going up forever. At some point these bubbles will pop and the models will have to change. The OACM movement, whether by design or accident, will focus greater attention on the interconnection between these two bubbles. The supporters of the OACM movement have been very vocal, aggressive, and active in getting changes in legislation and grant support. They have been very good as a movement in getting their point heard and supported. Unfortunately, this is not always done with accurate information.

On the weakness side, much of the OACM movement has yet to prove itself as sustainable over the long term. Will grant money and federal support continue forever? Again, while there are very notable exceptions, much of the movement has challenges with quality control and accessibility for students with disabilities. The latter is a challenge for several segments of the digital course materials movement and not just OACM. Hopefully some of the grant and federal dollars put into OACM will focus on developing more long-term sustainability models and not just short term textbook replacements. This is an area where the college store community could and should contribute and actively participate.

The OACM movement has produced some wins for nearly all parties -- reducing cost of course materials, while producing some quality course materials and revenue opportunities. Do not forget, while companies like FlatWorld are frequently held up as the "poster child" for OACM, they are still a for-profit company and have at least some expectation of building a business model that will be at least self-sustaining if not profitable.

With all of the above in consideration, NACS and the college store community -- particularly but not exclusively in the community college space -- have been serving a positive role in supporting the open access course material movement. Here are a few examples, which is only a small set of our industry’s activity in this area:

• The NACS board formally adopted a policy statement in support of the OACM movement more than two years ago.

• We have initiatives within NACS, and its subsidiary NACS Media Solutions, that have specifically focused on helping the open access movement become more sustainable by making it easier to distribute those materials through the college store channel. As one example, we conducted a pilot with FlatWorld Knowledge last semester, and are expanding our efforts to include other open access course material providers.

• As recently as last week we highlighted one of our community college store directors who has actively encouraged faculty on his campus to consider and adopt open access course materials and other options to reduce textbook prices.

• At CAMEX this year, our annual educational event, we had at least four sessions that directly addressed open access course materials and provided stores with information on how to get involved.

It is the mission of most college stores to provide students with all course materials required to be successful in the classroom, regardless of whether or not those course materials are free. Many college stores work very hard to reduce the cost of textbooks for students. This is information stores MUST get better at communicating to both their internal and external communities.

If you have not seen it, you should take a look at EDUCAUSE's recent "7 things you should know about..." piece on open access course materials. Initially it contained a factual error regarding bookstores, which has subsequently been corrected. I raise this point because college stores collectively have not been good in communicating what they are doing with open access course materials and that can lead to inaccurate understanding of the role we play and the things we do to try to reduce course material costs for students.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Phones Getting into Class, One Way or Another

During class, most college professors would prefer students refrained from even glancing at their phones. But some profs are beginning to find ways to incorporate smartphone apps into their instruction.

As this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch describes, a faculty member at Virginia Commonwealth University has created phone apps for local walking tours that take students right to the scene of the history they’re studying—Edgar Allan Poe’s haunts and Civil War sites, among others. Another VCU prof was taken aback when his students continued discussions via Twitter for two months after the course concluded.

According to the article, a VCU survey discovered 43% of students used mobile devices, not computers, as their chief means of accessing the Internet. When they need to check something online, they do it right where they are from their phone—no waiting until they get back to the dorm to fire up their laptop.

Another tidbit from the VCU survey: Almost two-thirds of VCU’s first-year students own smartphones. That percentage will almost certainly be much higher with next fall’s new freshman class.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Learning from Amazon

BNet had an interesting piece a couple months ago on 6 ecommerce strategies Amazon uses that other retailers should adopt. Most of these effect discoverability of the store's products within search engines -- part of SEO or search engine optimization strategies. (Yes, yet another type of technology-based strategy with real business implications for you to think about). No surprises in the list from the article, but something for stores to think about as they evaluate their own e-commerce tools:

1. Let your customers help keep your website fresh
2. Get more control over your listings in Google
3. Win on long-tail key phrases
4. Make it easy to find things
5. Personalize the experience
6. Anticipate customers' questions

All good topics and strategies to improve customer engagement (#1), improve visibility to customers (#2-4), and improve the customer experience (#4-6).

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

E-lecture or lecture capture survey

Tegrity recently posted a presentation with data from their survey of 9,000+ students across 200+ colleges. The survey looks at student perceptions and reactions to lecture capture technology. As it does not appear the survey was conducted by an independent third party, the results could be questionable in spots.

However, if we take the data at face value, there are some interesting observations to highlight:
  • The health sciences represent nearly half of the courses using lecture capture.
  • Lecture capture was most often used to supplement face-to-face classroom experiences.
  • About 40% of students reported using the lecture-captured sessions 1-5 times during the semester, and nearly a quarter of students reported using the technology to review a recorded class 20 times or more.
  • Students responded highly to many benefits of the technology, such as impact on motivation and effectiveness of studying.
  • Interestingly, the technology had little impact on the utilization of faculty office hours, peer collaboration, or class attendance.
I have seen other data presented by schools that their experiences with lecture capture is comparable. One presentation I saw noted that the faculty are using the lecture capture as a substitute for the textbook, requiring that for viewing prior to class, and then using class time for Q&A, interactive learning, or focusing on problem areas. Just another interesting example of changing technologies in education -- and further argumentation for a different view of digital course materials in the future.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Small bookstores in a digital era

One of our members, Roger DeLarco at East Stroudsberg University forwarded this USA Today article to me a couple weeks ago and I have been meaning to post it. The piece provides advice and suggestions to small booksellers in an increasingly competitive landscape that includes digital, such as knowing your niche, creating community, and thinking about the experience. The piece highlights a small independent bookseller in Rhinebeck, NY -- just a very short distance from where I live. The general theme of an independent store creating a sense of community should resonate with many small retailers.

One other paragraph of interest is the following one, which highlights some of the risk in partnering with just anyone, and the importance for stores to have a digital strategy. Stores must think about partnering for sure, but recognize that not all partners are there for mutual benefit.

Borders, which has had three CEOs in the past three years, was slow to develop a digital strategy. It sells reading devices and has an e-bookstore powered by Kobo, a Toronto-based e-retailer. But from 2001 to 2008, it outsourced its online sales to Amazon. "It was utterly stupid for Borders to borrow their future from a company that didn't want them to even have a future," says Michael Norris, an analyst with Simba Information, a market researcher.
Thanks, Roger.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

RetailU -- a resource for retail technology ideas.

About a year ago Chain Store Age launched a virtual resource center and learning portal called Retail U. Retail U offers retail executives the opportunity to discover cutting-edge business solutions being developed by today’s leading technology providers.

Many of the technologies discussed do not fit small businesses, and as the site has mostly corporate white papers and webinars. However, for the store manager looking to understand some of the trends and future of technology in retail, the site has some useful resources. The site covers a range of topics: ECommerce, Multi-channel, Mobile commerce, Merchandising, Promotions Management, Supply Chain, Payment Systems, Finance, Loss Prevention and Workforce Management.

Libraries collaborate to share e-books

In another interesting recent article the Chronicle's Wired Campus reported on a new collaboration between libraries to share e-books. The collaboration involves both the Internet Archive and Open Library. According to the article, the arrangement will allow library patrons at participating institutions to access e-books owned and stored at libraries other than their home libraries using the e-lending technology provided by Open Library.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Future of the textbooks: Publisher view

The Chronicle has a 9 minute podcast interview of William D. Rieders, executive vice president for new media at the publishing company Cengage Learning. It is a worthwhile podcast to listen to as it lays out some of where publishers see the future of etextbooks -- and it is not the PDF of the traditional textbook. As with many publishers, the company is focusing on interactive software programs -- like assessment tools and study tools.

One of the best quotes, also quoted in the summary:

Print textbooks are still healthy, but they function now as a reference for professors and students, while these other materials are taking center stage in the learning experience.
That the core function for textbooks is recognized as changing should be of concern to anyone whose core business is selling that product. It signals that the time is right to be moving toward models and capabilities that enable selling the "replacement product." Cengage has been very innovative in the past couple years, as have some of the other educational publishers, in experimenting and testing out different approaches to what the future of digital course materials might really look like.

Cengage's MindTap and TED enters education

Two interesting pieces in the Chronicle's Wired Campus last week.

The first article comments on Cengage's announcement last week to create a more "app-based" platform for digital course materials. Called MindTap, this is probably the first app-market specifically for education-oriented apps. More importantly, this is yet another step to a future of the textbook where the "PDF equivalent" is just part of a larger interactive learning environment. The system is being piloted at 9 undisclosed campuses. One paragraph from the article is worth noting here for bookstores:

The move is the latest in a growing platform war among textbook publishers, as traditional textbook companies seek to define what a textbook should be in the digital age and possibly even control the online storefront for textbook publishing.

The second article noted that TED would be looking to provide short TED talks, and ultimately contribute to the revolution of education by using video and other technology. As part of the project new content will be generated, in addition to reclassifying the 900+ existing TED talks to align with academic disciplines.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Quote of the week...

On the transitional role of GenX in higher education:

My free advice to colleges that hope to survive over the long term: bring in the X’ers, and bring them in now. Reform while it’s still a matter of choice. By the time it’s not optional, it will be too late. Disruptive changes are remarkably unforgiving; you can bend now, or break later. This group offers your last, best chance to bend.

- Dean Dad, Inside Higher Ed

As a member of GenX, of course this appealed to me. The other quote piece I thought was relevant here is the following:

[X'ers are] notoriously pragmatic, and far less likely to get caught up in the futile chase for Next Big Things. In the best case, the X’ers could change colleges to fit the realities of people’s lives as they’re lived now. That would be a real contribution, worthy of celebration.

And isn't that part of the change our industry needs? Changing our operating models to meet the realities of people's lives (i.e., the students and faculty we serve) as they are lived now?

I take a bit of heat or jibes on occasion for being something of the messenger of "doom and gloom" -- despite my own perceived sense of optimism for what we could do. It reminds me of a cartoon I once saw with a small man walking next to a sand castle carrying a sign "Repent, the tide is coming in." The first step in solving a problem or taking advantage of an opportunity is recognizing it is there.

CAMEX questions answered: rental

This week's CAMEX questions relate to textbook rental. Here are two questions representative of the ones submitted on this topic:

Q1. Has rental deterred stores from progressing as they should in digital?
Q2. Is rental a short-lived/temporary solution?

Both good questions. The first question is the more complicated to address, and in doing so, much of the second question will also be touched upon. I will apologize in advance for some of the "doom and gloom" that follows. If a different question had been posed, I probably could have inserted more optimism for how we could leverage rental to be more successful at digital, and in business in general, as collegiate retailers.

A1. Related to the first question -- yes, I have heard that some stores believe that "rental will save them." Personally, in my opinion this is a flawed assumption. Certainly there are benefits to rental programs. They can reduce course material costs for students. They can be a source of positive PR on campus. Certainly there are a growing number of programs and offerings that make it easier for stores to offer rental programs with less risk (although depending on the approach taken by a store, less risk is not guaranteed). Rental can be a means to both recapture market share and increase store foot traffic. With these benefits, it is not surprising to see that the number of college stores in North America offering rental programs has soared from roughly 300 to over 2400 in less than two years, and we expect the number to be even higher by this fall. From a market share perspective, rental has negatively affected digital sales within stores, leading some stores to conclude that digital is even further off from the mainstream.

The last two sets of stats provide an interesting challenge, though. Rental programs have been around for more than 40 years at some schools, yet very few schools participated in these programs prior to two years ago. When the right set of enabling factors arise a technology, in this case rental, can take off remarkably fast. What happens when the right set of enabling factors come on stage for digital? Will stores be able to make that transition as quickly?

Relatively speaking, rental is fairly easy to implement given some of the program options out there today for stores. Programs like those offered by Chegg, BookRenter, Follett, and others help leverage and dissipate risk across the industry. While there are contracts involved, the transaction is still fairly easy to understand and students know how to use the product once received.

In contrast, consider digital products. These are far more complex and often require more education at the point of transaction for the consumer to be able to utilize the product. Could the industry make the shift to provide digital products effectively as quickly? Adoption by stores seems to have stalled somewhere in the early majority, but with the right set of enabling factors, it could move toward larger adoption quickly. Stores and the channel would be unwise to deter experiments or establishing the necessary infrastructure just because rental is currently providing a short reprieve.

The effect of rental on used is just the ebbing of the tide that warns us about the tsunami that digital could create. A bit extreme, but both possible and plausible if digital were to take off as quickly as rental has in the past two years.

A2. Related to the second question, let me answer it by proposing a different question to consider: is rental a bridge technology?

Let me explain what I mean by a bridge technology. While we refer to digital as a "subscription," the actual business model is not much different from the rental model. Rental models change the mindset of the student to accept business models where they pay a price and get their savings up front, and then get nothing when they return the product at the end of its lifecycle. With one catch: we have seen stats that up to 20% of students fail to return their rental book, resulting in charges for the replacement book at the new book price. If I were a publisher, I might consider a sales pitch along the following lines: digital textbook rentals -- more convenient than physical book rentals, because at the end of the rental period the book returns itself. As physical book rentals get a new business model embedded in the mind of students -- a business model that looks a lot like many of the current digital textbook business models -- then yet another enabling factor for digital will be in place.

So if rental is a bridge technology, like print-on-demand (POD) in my opinion, then it probably has a 5-10 year lifespan where it will have effective returns in this market. It may extend market share and the role of the store, but at the same time it further enables the transition to digital. Stores might be able to concentrate more on rental for the next year, maybe two. At the same time they have to be looking ahead to how they will participate in the digital environment that is coming. That means improved e-commerce and m-commerce capability, and the ability to be format and device agnostic providers of content. That is something few if any traditional college stores are ready for today, but that the industry must be ready for in the near future. Rental, like POD, might buy the industry a small amount of breathing room, but they are relatively short-term rather than long-term solutions to the radical innovation challenges ahead.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Technology and the e-textbook

There is a good article in this month's Campus Technology magazine on why the e-textbook market lags while the e-book market explodes. The article includes stats from NACS.

The quote by Matt MacInnis of Inkling summarizes a point of view I have tried to convey for a while. He commented: "Present me with a PDF on a screen and I'll take a book any day." This sentiment is further echoed by one of the Campus Technology blogs which points out that we still use many models from the 80's, and questions what is holding us up from making digital course materials an effective reality:

I’m not suggesting that reading a PDF is a more satisfactory experience than reading a textbook. And, as we have reported in the pages of this magazine, academic reading is not the same as reading for pleasure—the electronic readers out there (even the iPad) are still not optimized for reading for learning.

What is holding us up? As my dad would say, we can put a man on the moon,
yet we can’t make an e-reader that students can skim, dog-ear, and notate? Please.
The article attempts, fairly successfully, to explore some of the reasons why the e-textbook market has not yet fully launched, even though the trade book market is transforming quickly. The article predicts, however, that the barriers to a successful e-textbook market are weakening, if only because of some significant changes in competition and consumers are creating different conditions. A great quote from Sean Devine of CourseSmart in the piece captures this pending shift well:
"We've been talking about electronic textbooks for about 15 years as the next big thing," he says. "One thing that's different today is that all the stakeholders -- the publishers, the hardware makers, the software producers, the consumers -- are getting behind the idea. Taht's very different from what we saw when the e-books first emerged in the late '90s. And when you have companies like Amazon, Google, and Apple getting into the game, that starts to break down barriers pretty quickly."

One observation, Sean-- you forgot to mention college stores among the stakeholders and that we are getting behind the idea too. And ironically, this seems to be the piece of the article that is missing, even though it starts off quoting NACS data. One of the barriers to digital is that most of the current initiatives only target the "creme" -- and fail to recognize the diverse complexity of students, accessibility, affordability, purchase mechanisms, faculty influence, and other factors that limit e-textbook adoption. Few groups understand this range of issues as well as the college store.

As to e-textbooks: Yes, we are making progress, and no, the revolution is not quite here yet on the e-textbook side. As the article effectively points out, the right mix of enabling factors are aligning to make e-textbooks successful, and that is more likely to happen within the next few years than being delayed another decade or more.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Self-Published Acadmic E-Books?

There have been a flurry of stories lately, including this one on C/Net , clucking about the rising success of self-published e-books. A few of these digital tomes have even sold more than 100,000 “copies,” well ahead of most professionally published works.

Many self-pubbed e-books are priced between 99 cents and $2.99, which puts them in the same price range as the sweet and savory snacks strategically arrayed at the grocery store checkout. And indeed, some speculate the low pricing turns these e-books into online impulse purchases, driving up sales and ultimately adding up to considerable coin in their authors’ pockets.

But of course these e-books are nearly all novels, usually in thriller, romance, or science fiction/fantasy genres. How will self-published e-books play out in the world of academic course materials?

It’s not far-fetched to think a professor might write a text, publish it as an e-book, and e-mail review copies to colleagues, suggesting adoption of the title for their courses and providing a link where students might purchase it. While many higher-ed institutions, and even state legislatures, have placed restrictions on professors requiring students to buy their own books for class, faculty in most cases would be free to produce e-books for classes not their own. For example, a faculty member teaching 100-level courses in psychology could publish an e-book for upperclass- or graduate-level classes. This form of academic self-publishing is also at the heart of much of the open source or open educational resource (OER) movement.

An academic e-book would be priced a lot higher than a 99-cent paranormal romance, but on the flip side it would almost certainly be priced much lower than traditional print textbooks. At the same time, the professor would receive more per copy than the usual royalty on a p-book.

This model wouldn’t work as well for full-length pedagogical textbooks -- professor-authors rely on publishers to fact-check, produce charts and graphs, find artwork, and so on -- but it could be feasible for publishing narrower academic topics in a professor’s field of research. There’s also the possibility that academicians who don’t have a faculty appointment at present might latch onto self-publishing e-texts as a way to generate income and remain connected to their field.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Australian Pilot Program Recommends iPads in the Classroom

Trinity College, University of Melbourne, has released a report on the results of its
Step Forward iPad Pilot Project, which saw the iPad “test-driven” in classroom settings by select staff and students in the Trinity College Foundation Studies (TCFS) program, a one-year course that qualifies about 700 international students annually for undergraduate entry into the University of Melbourne and other Australian universities.

Issued iPads with wireless and 3G capability, faculty in nine academic disciplines and 44 students, along with some IT staff and administrators, evaluated the Apple device to determine whether its wider adoption would make sense for TCFS. Participants also tested several other devices, including laptops, netbooks, e-readers, and a Samsung Galaxy tablet with Android OS.

The results were overwhelmingly positive for the iPad. While noting that the device is an “enhancement” rather than a replacement for desktop/laptop computers or other educational technologies, 80% of students and 76% of staff said they would recommend the iPad for use by their peers at Trinity.

“I found the iPad helped us experience the world of learning from a greater range of vantage points and gave us more opportunities to meet individual learning needs,” said one participant.

Quality audiovisual equipment in the classroom, along with agile IT support, were cited as necessities to make the best use of the tablet.

The report’s final recommendations include allocating iPads to all TCFS staff this year, dedicating IT staff to iPad support, and rolling out iPads to all TCFS students in 2012.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reinventing the print business model

While enticing people to come to their conference, Publishing Business' interview with Brian Kelly, editor, U.S. News & World Report is an interesting read. Here are a few excerpts that booksellers might find reminiscent of our own industry:

By far, my favorite quote in the short piece (and what might get me to attend the conference to see this guy) was the following:
Kelly: In moments of weakness, I still wish the good old days would come back, but then I slap myself back to reality. The most unsettling thing was to come to the conclusion—about five years ago—that the old ways were gone for good, that the industry changes were fundamental and nothing would be the same again. Once I accepted that, my job became creating something new, and that made my stomach feel a lot better.
One on how even top companies can be quickly eclipsed by technology-based change:
News weeklies are one category that has been hit particularly hard by shifts in the marketplace, including the way consumers get their news (and what—or if—they’ll pay for it). So, while it may have been a sad day for news weeklies, it wasn’t necessarily shocking when U.S. News & World Report first announced in 2008 that it would shift from its weekly frequency to bimonthly in 2009, and then later announced that it would shutter its monthly print publication entirely, after 60-some years as one of the top news magazines worldwide.

One on changes in business models:
Kelly: We were fortunate that we had developed a strong website and had other print products, so we knew that we had a good business and a large audience beyond print subscriptions. The subscriber business model just didn’t work for us. I thought about having a proper wake, but in this climate you can’t afford nostalgia.

So if I were to take some lessons away from this for the college store environment (and associated/related industries), they might include concepts such as: it is time to stop thinking about how things used to be and begin to embrace new ideas and the future. The importance of having a strong website/ecommerce presence and developing a diversified mix of products. Our future role is to not to shepherd the past to the grave, but to create something new that will will revitalize our businesses and our channel.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

CAMEX and digital course materials

Publisher's Weekly had an article this week on CAMEX and the emphasis on a future of online business, including digital course materials. The article briefly captures some of the current initiatives underway within NACS Media Solutions and its partners.

Friday, March 4, 2011

CAMEX questions answered: market share versus margin

As promised, over the next few weeks, I will answer questions CAMEX attendees wrote on index cards during my session. I have a few dozen cards, and some of the questions are redundant.

Looking across the questions submitted, they appear to fall into a few categories: rental, DRM, NACS/NMS initiatives, market share versus margin, facilitating change on campus and/or integrating with campus better, inventory questions, and then a few others. There are a number of good questions, and more than a couple without simple answers.

I will aim to answer 1-3 of the questions here each Friday until I have completed them all, so check back weekly to see if I have answered your question(s). This week I will answer one of the "market share versus margin" questions. If you have additional questions you would like to pose, please post a comment or drop me an email.


Q1. Can you elaborate on the importance of focusing on market share rather than margin?
Yes. This is one of my favorite questions -- and lucky for you, I already have an answer prepared. Please see the August issue of InCITE which provides a detailed discussion, with examples and rationale as to why market share is important. This issue of InCITE went out to all NACS store members, and received a fair amount of positive feedback. Normally, the InCITE discussion is about 1-2 pages in length, but this one is a bit longer, giving detailed elaboration on this important topic. I believe it will help answer your question, and give you a resource you can share with your administration or other store employees to help them understand why certain actions or changes in business practice are necessary.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

E-textbooks in California K-12: Video

This is the video to accompany the prior post.

E-textbooks in California K-12

Here is a recent article in EdWeek on eTextbooks in Riverside, California K-12. One of the interesting aspects of the article is the focus on pilots and experiments, and the lessons learned. The article describes some of the challenges K-12 has in building digital course material initiatives, including: money for infrastructure to deliver digital textbooks and the tools students need to access them, political support to change polices around textbook adoption, and perceived quality differences of digital versus print as learning media. Approaches that are device agnostic are seen as critical.

On the flip side, the use of digital is believed to increase 1-on-1 learning time and student engagement. As one teacher notes: “It’s not about digitizing a textbook as it exists now,” he says, but using technology to improve the learning experience."

The article is accompanied by a good short video on e-textbooks in K-12. The embedded code was not working properly, so I have autogenerated a separate post with the video.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

E-Book Revolution More of an Evolution on Campus

Sales figures of Kindles and iPads, along with exploding numbers of e-book titles over the last year, suggest the long-predicted e-book revolution is finally here. But this Campus Technology article says the digital textbook market may be more of an evolution, with students, teachers, and publishers working on solutions to combine value, convenience, and low cost.

Matt MacInnis, co-founder and CEO of e-book publisher Inkling, says digital course materials lag behind because the current model replicates a print book rather than integrating all of the available technology, such as audio, video, and animation. Others view high-tech gadgetry as a bonus, while firms such as CourseSmart and Flat World Knowledge—also featured in the article—provide solutions that can work now.

Studies by NACS and others have shown that while digital book sales are on the rise, a large majority of college students continue to prefer the printed textbook so the tipping point isn’t here yet. In the meantime, publishers have to decipher the best way to deliver course content at a price point acceptable to students.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Tablet wars: IPad vs Xoom

David Pogue, NYTimes Technology blogger frequently has interesting posts. Last week he had an interesting post reviewing the new Motorola Xoom tablet -- a potential competitor to the iPad. The article covers the features of the Xoom as they compare to the iPad - -from price and cameras, to connectivity, speed and display quality.

The Xoom is also one of the first (the first??) tablet to use Google's new 'Honeycomb' software. David's review is interesting -- pointing out both the plusses and minuses of the first iteration of the Android-based tablet operating system. Always interesting -- the specific apps discussed in comparison include e-book reading.

If you are interested in the tablet market, Pogue's piece is a good one to read for product comparison.