Tag Archives: booksellers

US perceptions of the e-text landscape: part 2

textbooks

My exploration into digital textbooks began at the University of Central Florida in 2012, when the Vice President of the Center for Distributed Learning called for members of the Instructional Design team to summarize the trends, identify key players, understand what options were available, and grasp how instructors and students could potentially benefit from their use. The timing of this call was not surprising, as textbook affordability was a growing concern among universities in the United States. In 2012, college students were spending an average of $1100 per year on books; three years later the cost has increased to $1200.

As lead of the eTextbook sub-team, I realized that we had little understanding of the digital landscape on our own campus. This forced us to begin a grass-roots movement whose efforts can be categorized as: forming relationships with stakeholders on campus; building a baseline in order to track trends; and sharing what we’re learning with the university community.

Identifying stakeholders on campus

We met with the most obvious first: the textbook managers at the campus bookstore, where only 1% of book sales were in digital form. We received a demonstration of the digital platform and are now doing informal testing. This led to the creation of a Digital Course Materials page, to share the university’s materials ordering policy, information about the digital platform, and textbook alternatives. We’ve joined their Bookstore Innovation Group which represents students, faculty, and administrators, with the goal of sharing insights and ideas. We also formed an eTextbook special interest group in order to share best practices, foster research opportunities, and support classroom integration. Several products have come out of this group, including a Flipboard magazine, a blog about eTextbook research, and an article about the creation and processes of the group. One of the highlights was support for a faculty member who incorporated Flipboard into his course, allowing students to create a digital magazine. The research results were reported in the Flipboard blog, presented at an international conference in 2015, with an article to be published in Tech Trends in the near future.

Collecting data about student use on campus

In 2012 we deployed a university-wide survey to faculty and students. We found that 42% of students reported using an eTextbook at least once in their college studies, but were mixed about the learning effectiveness, engagement and sense of community. One of our recommendations is to establish a faculty focus group, recruited from the faculty members who participated in the survey. The idea is to address and clarify issues emerging from the survey in order to drive future research, and investigate how faculty are currently using eTextbooks in the classroom. We conducted a follow-up survey in 2014 to see how the trends had evolved and are currently preparing to run the survey again in 2016. This helps us understand and share trends.

Disseminating the information to faculty

A page about eTextbook ordering was created to explain the various options for procuring eTextbooks. We created an open online course for UCF instructors. Called eTextbook Essentials, it covers topics such as the overview of eTextbooks, device usage and formats, common barriers to integration, and examples to help people learn to integrate eTextbooks into their courses. It also details university-specific policies, resources, and access.

Our current and future work includes partnering with librarians who are interested in offering resources beyond textbooks, and a document analysis of the contracts for the public system in Florida universities, to see how digital materials are referenced.

Aimee deNoyelles, Instructional Designer, University of Central Florida

photo credit Day 83 via Flickr (license)

What about Amazon?

We are always looking for solutions to the challenge of supplying core texts to our students, particularly if we can make the texts easily accessible in ways our students want. If we can find a neat technical solution and a viable financial model in the process then even better!

To this end we were interested to see what – if anything – Amazon is doing in this area and how it might help us increase student reading of core texts and improve the student experience. Given Amazon’s propensity to reach out to potential new business areas and its ability to spot and develop client-focused solutions we hoped to find a lot of information.

While we did find that they have developed a product for the US market called Whispercast, there are as yet apparently no plans to launch this in the UK. One example of an institutional deal is in Brazil, where the Brazilian Ministry of Education – via its National Fund for Educational Development (FNDE) – selected Amazon to convert and distribute textbooks using Whispercast for up to 600,000 tablets used by teachers across the country.

5881566599_d20b270c7d_b

The immediate benefits to us of this kind of service are obvious. The market reach and brand recognition of Amazon mean its services are instantly familiar to students. Amazon’s simple, intuitive ordering, payment and supply models are attractive both to us (in terms of managing the project) and to students and academic colleagues (who would be the primary users). Notwithstanding any ethical issues these groups may have about Amazon, it is a fact that most will be at least familiar with the Amazon interface and many will have been customers in some capacity.

Amazon’s charging mechanism is based on a simple 1:1 transaction model, something we are committed to developing. In many ways, it appears that Amazon’s approach is not really a nuanced institutional pricing model but more of an attempt to encourage institutions to purchase books directly for students using Amazon’s technology and systems.

Further investigation on our part will continue over the next year but we are definitely interested in trying to move this forward for three main reasons:

  • Amazon’s experience of working with publishers and their ability to leverage pricing and availability is something we would be keen to tap into, perhaps with them acting in an intermediary capacity
  • Their experience of supplying both content and devices brings an understanding of the whole supply chain
  • We know that academics and students are increasingly using Kindles – for example, English Literature students are consulting poetry texts in seminars on them – and in addition to provision of core texts we also want to enhance the provision and accessibility of other library material and this could be a way to help achieve it

It’s very early days, but this is something of real interest to us in terms of our options for future core text provision.

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Kindle 3 P1 via photopin (license)

Blackwell’s: a campus bookseller’s viewpoint

photo

After reading contributions from students, an academic and a librarian, I’d like to share some thoughts from another link in the ‘recommended reading’ chain – the campus bookseller.

Academic bookselling in the 21st century is a challenging pastime – the days of “pile it high, and they will come” are gone. Nowadays Blackwell’s is a multi-channel retailer: we operate ‘bricks and mortar’ bookshops but also sell online; we sell print books and e-books; our shops stock a variety of products, all the while keeping academic books at the core of everything we do.

What continues to be our lifeblood is information about recommended texts and our booksellers pursue this information all year round. While we love to receive reading lists from academics in a neat spreadsheet, with details of the publisher, edition and how highly the title is recommended, we will take the information in any form we can get it – a single line in an email, a conversation in the queue at the coffee shop, or whatever the 2015 equivalent is of “on the back of a fag packet”.

Invariably, despite our best endeavours, we will always have a customer asking for a recommended book we know nothing about. We’ll act quickly to source the book as soon as possible, but finding out late reduces the opportunity to negotiate the best price with the supplier (which we can then pass on to the customer) or to obtain an edition with exclusive content, which is becoming increasingly common in academic texts.

Taking steps to find out about recommended readings and responding quickly enables us to compete with Amazon, who are often assumed to be the cheapest supplier. While they may be for a short time, the price of textbooks can fluctuate alarmingly and titles will often go out of stock. We work hard to ensure a consistently low price and we work with the lecturers and publishers to produce ‘custom books’, only available at Blackwell’s Manchester. We can also bundle course texts together, with further price reductions for buying the pack.

We’d have to bury our heads in the sand to ignore the growth of e-books – indeed, Blackwell’s has been selling e-books in various forms for many years and we have our own e-book platform, Blackwell Learning.

There’s a swathe of research on the subject of e-books, some of it mentioned in earlier posts on this blog. My personal view is that that while e-books now take up a serious chunk of the general book market (fiction, biographies etc), the consumers of academic and professional books have been slower to migrate, though this will accelerate over time.

We work closely with the University of Manchester Library and have been observing this pilot scheme with interest. Of the free e-books made available so far, a couple have seen a big drop in print sales in the bookshop while other titles have stayed pretty level. One or two titles actually sold more than last year, so nothing is clear cut.

We’ve been consolidating content from multiple publishers (in other words, running bookshops!) since 1879 and the Blackwell Learning digital platform is a continuation of this work. Our role as campus booksellers is to continue to offer the right book at the right price, at the right time and – increasingly – in the right format.

Paul Thornton, Manager, Blackwell’s University Bookshop, Manchester

@BlackwellMcr

http://www.blackwell.co.uk/manchester

Understanding publishers: a librarian’s perspective

origin_4921290518

Like many academic librarians involved in purchasing content for their libraries, I have had my share of lengthy negotiations with publishers over the years. As we attempt to launch e-book pilots and develop a new acquisition model as part of the Books Right Here Right Now project, it can sometimes feel that publishers are unwilling or unable to understand our needs and those of our students.

However, one outcome of spending so much time talking to publishers – in person and by email – is that I feel I now have a better understanding of their world. While librarians often bemoan the lack of understanding (whether real or perceived) from publishers, we may be equally guilty of not understanding the environment that publishers are operating in, or naive in our negotiating stance.

The following key points are worth keeping in mind:

Publishers need to return a profit and the margins they want or need to make will form the basis of their negotiations. Unlike libraries, they are not a service but a business and the bottom line is paramount. While there is always room for manoeuvre and sometimes librarians may not push hard enough, unrealistic pricing requests from libraries are doomed to failure.

Publishers have to balance a series of relationships, not just the one with the library. In the context of textbooks and e-books, academic libraries may be major customers but there are two other key relationships that have a bearing on negotiations –

  • Authors have expectations about the royalties from sales of their books -this can have an impact on the pricing of books and also on the granting of digital rights for particular titles.
  • Bookshops – particularly those on university campuses – work very closely with publishers to maximise the sales of textbooks. This symbiotic relationship between the publisher and the bookshop, while subject to other market pressures, can still have an influence on negotiated deals between publishers and libraries.

Seamless access to e-books is still some way off. Despite major advances in technology, the provision of e-books to large cohorts of students through a single, problem-free interface is not yet available. Publishers and intermediaries are working hard to find solutions but librarians need to be realistic in our expectations and understanding of what is currently possible.

Libraries and publishers need each other. While we come to the table with different aims, an understanding of each other’s perspectives and differences is vital to a successful outcome. Now, let the negotiations begin!

Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Nicola Corboy via photopin cc