College Bookstores Head Back To Class / Publishers Weekly / 257 (42): 4, 6 / Oct 25 2010 / Judith Rosen
Textbook rentals, digital texts force an examination of business models
"We think the August pop is done. It’s a different world,” said Mark Mouser, manager of general books at University Book Store in Seattle. He’s not alone. With Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Follett Higher Education Group, and Nebraska Book Company all pushing textbook rental, not to mention online players like Chegg.com and BookRenter.com, 2010 is shaping up to be the year of the rented textbook. Add to that digital textbooks, which, according to Jade Roth, v-p of Barnes & Noble College Booksellers’ books and digital strategy, are gaining traction for the first time, and college bookstores are facing new pressure to abandon old business models that relied on sales of printed texts.
Still, digital and open-source textbooks could become game changers. E-books now account for 2.8% of course material sales, according to NACS’s Schmidt, who predicted that they will grow to 10%–15% by 2012. Although Flat World Knowledge is currently the only publisher to offer open texts, which allow free digital access and low-cost printing, it is the option of choice of the Student Public Interest Research Groups, headquartered in Chicago. “Rental is a great way to reduce costs in the short term. It’s not a long-term solution,” said Student PIRG’s textbook advocate, Nicole Allen. As she sees it, the role of the bookstore is going to change, and stores like Arizona BookStores and University Book Store, which have Espresso Book Machines, are positioned to take advantage of professors’ ability to customize open-source books.