Archive for March, 2011

Guru Roundup: This Week’s Most-Relevant Industry-Related News

Tech-Talk: Focus on Digital Textbooks

  • Wall Street Journal Digits: McGraw-Hill, Pearson Invest in E-Textbooks “Colleges and universities that have been testing Apple’s iPad tablet in classrooms have said that the biggest hurdle to incorporating the devices more deeply into their curriculum is an insufficient selection of textbooks that go beyond just converting the print version into a digital format. San Francisco-based Inkling is changing that. The interactive textbook developer said that McGraw-Hill and Pearson, two of the world’s largest textbook publishers, made multimillion dollar minority investments in the company on Monday…”

Textbook Rentals and Rental Companies

  • VentureBeat: Chegg Moves Beyond Textbooks with Course Selection, Homework Help “Chegg is already leading the pack of textbook rental websites, and with new features unveiled today, it’s moving closer to chief executive Dan Rosensweig’s vision of reaching college students every day of the year. Specifically, the Santa Clara, Calif. startup is launching new features that allow students to select classes and ask for homework help on the Chegg site. These additions use the technology that Chegg acquired when it bought CourseRank and Cramster last year…”

Campus Books releases a treasure trove of Buy Back data. Now, what it means.


Today is a big day: Campus Books released a cache of data from our Spring buy back period last year. This is big for a number of reasons. First, as one of the biggest price aggregators out there, we have a lot of data, and we’re sharing it with you. Second, this data can be a valuable tool for retailers and deal-seekers alike. It’s common (but often overlooked) sense when you compare it to any other investment: you wouldn’t purchase an investment looking only at purchase cost. You’d also plan for the best resale value.

The full amount of data and some notable results are available for download, so I won’t go into them here. However, the results have some important implications that go beyond just the data points.

First and foremost, students need to be vigilant about selling books in the same way they seek savings when looking to buy. The sentiment is often, “end-of-semester, get me to summer already,” but students can really benefit from doing some final homework.

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Chegg makes big moves to reposition itself


But what does this mean for the industry, competitors, and a possible IPO?

Late last week, in a press release entitled “Chegg Expands Beyond Textbook Rental Industry; New Educational Services Include Class Scheduling and Homework Help,” the textbook-rental giant discussed its expansion into other educational areas such as homework help and class selection. While many news sites simply reprinted the story, I dug deeper to look at what Chegg has done and the bigger-picture ramifications. 

Let’s start with some history: In early 2010, I made a prediction (and since it never came to fruition, I’m off the hook for having to prove that I made it!). I was positive that Chegg was going to purchase a large marketplace website. To me, it made perfect sense and was a natural fit: if a rental company owned a big marketplace, the company would have access to all of the sellers and most of the inventory, essentially creating a ready-made drop-ship fulfillment model. And in some senses, this has played out, though not exactly as I envisioned. The changes manifested in the form of websites such as providing textbook-rental sites (and other sites as well) with access to the inventory data without the rental sites having to build (or buy) any of the infrastructure.

Based on observations and predictions, I posit that in order for Chegg to go public (the direction in which it the company is apparently headed), Chegg must address three main points:
 1) How it would obtain inventory
 2) How it would engage students during the school year
 3) How it would handle the emergence of eTextbooks

Homework Help: Rounding up the options


As students spend more and more time online, it’s only natural that hundreds of sites and businesses catering to their needs have cropped over the past decade. and other textbook retailers are one category, but it’s also a fact of life that many college students won’t read those books. Will midterms winding down and finals just around the corner, sites that provide help or connect students with resources can be helpful. Rounding up a few of the options out there:

Study Guides

CliffsNotes and SparkNotes are the clear leaders in this arena. They offer guides in all subject areas, from basic literature summaries to AP, SAT and ACT prep materials. If you’re just looking for some basic help with understanding concepts or themes, or need to cram before a test, these are a great place to start.

More interactive sites like provide study guides, but also “communities” where students can pose questions to their peers and even teacher members. The interactivity comes with a membership price tag, but the benefit is both ways: students get help, and teacher members get paid.

The Good: The basics are completely free, and you don’t even have to sign up to view the materials. There is nothing to lose if you don’t find the help you need, and if you need a bit more help, asking questions in a directed forum is a better bet than posing it on Yahoo! Answers.

The Bad: If you have specific questions about a subject matter, or need help with a particularly difficult homework assignment, or if you are writing or editing an essay, chances are you won’t find the assistance you’re looking for immediately.

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Guru Roundup: Bringing You the Most-Relevant Industry-Related News

The State of Higher Education 
CNBC Education and You: Is the Four-Year, Liberal-Arts Education Model Dead?
“This may sound like an issue for the high school debate club, but it’s arguably a more suitable subject for cost-benefit analysis. Is the classic, four-year, liberal arts education a dying model? More and more people are questioning the practicality of a traditional bachelor of arts degree as the United States struggles to create jobs in a global economy while U.S. colleges fail to contain tuition costs…”
New York Times: College the Easy Way
“The cost of college has skyrocketed and a four-year degree has become an ever more essential cornerstone to a middle-class standard of living. But what are America’s kids actually learning in college? For an awful lot of students, the answer appears to be not much. A provocative new book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, makes a strong case that for a large portion of the nation’s seemingly successful undergraduates the years in college barely improve their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing…”
PR Newswire: New Direction and Hope for College Students
“The pillars of academe are crumbling — that seems to be the message in the media of late. Costs are out of control, some say rising faster than the value of an education. Others question whether or not students are actually learning — claiming we are ‘academically adrift.’ Meanwhile, colleges are accused of being more focused on creating appeal in the admissions process than on increasing the quality and lowering the cost of education. In Making College Count, author Patrick O’Brien states that college continues to be the best investment students can make in their futures — and uniquely shows students how to take ownership of it. The book helps students strategically choose a college and offers them a proven framework to find college success in the classroom, extracurricular activities, and work experiences that will open doors to successful futures…” 

GOOD: The Chalk Board: Where Do Colleges Get Their Money? Infographic
“Over the last decade, public institutions have grown increasingly reliant on tuition revenue; whereas tuition as a percentage of revenues at private colleges have declined. We examined public, private not-for-profit, and for-profit institutions to compare and contrast how their revenues stacked up. Which of the three models do you think is the most sustainable?…”<!–more–>

Textbooks, Trends, and Tech-Talk 

Campus Technology: Ohio System Teams with Flat World Knowledge on Freebie Digital Textbooks
“The University System of Ohio is setting a spark under faculty members to encourage them to try out digital textbooks in the classroom with a new pilot program that will allow 1,000 Ohio students to receive the texts for free. The system is working with Flat World Knowledge, a company that publishes textbooks online and in other formats. The deal made by the Ohio Board of Regents is just one of multiple digital book projects the university system is currently undertaking to encourage faculty to use digital resources in their courses. The goal is to drive down textbook costs for students and make college more affordable — a key strategy in Ohio’s 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education…” 

ReadWriteWeb: 1 in 4 College Textbooks Will Be Digital By 2015
“Sales of digital textbooks still only account for a small fraction of the U.S. college market. But according to the latest report by the social learning platform Xplana, we have reached the tipping point for e-textbooks, and the company predicts that in the next five years digital textbook sales will surpass 25% of sales for the higher education and career education markets. That figure is a revision from the company’s report last year, which predicted that one in five college textbooks would be digital by the year 2014. Due to the rate at which colleges are embracing digital textbooks, Xplana now projects that sales will grow by 80 to 100% over the next four years…” 

BusinessWire: Barnes and Noble’s SparkNotes Taps Triad Retail Media to Create Innovative Digital Ad Platform
“Triad Retail Media today announced that SparkNotes, the number one study aid website, now offers advertisers the opportunity to run innovative and highly customized digital ad campaigns on the SparkNotes website., one of the Web’s most trafficked sites by students, is an all-in-one Web destination that offers Internet study materials, test preparation guides, video tutorials, advice columns and book, music and web page recommendations. SparkNotes captures one of the highest online concentrations of students from ages 13-24, and garners more than 10 million unique users and 100 million page views each month. The site offers timely content that is relevant to advertiser verticals such as music, movies, games, fashion, food and TV. By partnering with Triad, SparkNotes offers advertisers the ability to go beyond the banner to integrate their brand message into this content, engaging with students on a massive scale…” 

BusinessWire: Facebook/Website Integration Drives $29M in Revenues Using CommonSpot by PaperThin
“PaperThin, Inc., provider of the leading Web content management solution CommonSpot™, today announced that Seton Hall University (SHU) has used CommonSpot to integrate its website with social media sites Facebook and Twitter resulting in an 18% increase in new student registrations for the freshman class of 2010, resulting in a $29M jump in year-over-year revenues. SHU leveraged an open source Facebook application built using CommonSpot’s application development framework to integrate its website with Facebook, enabling site visitors to ‘like’, share and comment on content. The combination of the two marketing vehicles provided unprecedented results that proved to be the most powerful marketing combination for influencing student conversions…”

PR Web: South Eastern Book Company Announces Release of Rental Site for College Bookstores
“SEB Rental allows college bookstores to cater to the needs of today’s college students by offering an online textbook rental program. SEB customizes each bookstore’s rental site using the appropriate school colors and bookstore logo. Unlike its competitors which require a seven to ten day turnaround, SEB guarantees that a bookstore’s rental site will be live within three business days of the customer’s initial request. The company provides necessary customer support and IT assistance, and even facilitates customers’ textbook returns. SEB will assume any losses associated with students’ failure to return textbooks, and bookstores collect 10% commission on all rented textbooks through their SEB rental site…”


Finances and Funding 

The Washington Post with Bloomberg Business: Get Real on Scholarships
“As the parent of a soon-to-be college student, I’m privy to a lot of conversations other parents have about their child’s chances of getting significant scholarship or grant money. I have one word to describe many of these conversations: delusional. It’s delusion that soothes many parents who know they haven’t saved as much as they could have saved, and/or those who cheer their children on to go to their college of choice regardless of the cost. They think if their child gets superior grades, can play an instrument exceptionally well or is a star athlete, he or she will qualify for substantial financial assistance. Some will. Most won’t….” .Me Scholarship — Hurry, Entries Due by March 31, 2011 at 11:59 pm (PT)
“Do you have what it takes to be a Go Daddy Scholar? We want to know how the Internet or Internet technology (e.g., websites, blogs, forums, social media, etc.) has helped you during the course of your studies. Have you used the Internet to advance your athletic, artistic or intellectual pursuits? How do you envision benefiting from it through college and beyond? Tell us in 500 words or less and you can become one of 10 Go Daddy Scholars to receive $10,000 for your college tuition…” 

eHow Money: Are College Textbooks Deductible?
“There are several ways you can deduct your books from your income taxes. You can either use them as a tax deduction or as a tax credit. If you are eligible for the American Opportunity Credit or the Lifetime Learning Credit, you can take your books as a credit on your taxes, which reduces the tax you owe. You may alternately take the books as a tax deduction even if you don’t itemize…”
For more information (and helpful links), read our blog entry Textbooks, Tuition, and Tax Credits!

More Rental Options for the College Bookstore, New Survey Results


The battle over textbook rentals is moving off line and into the campus bookstore, and the turf up for grabs includes both institutional and private stores. During our

CAMEX recap, we shared stories about Follett’s new partner program with independent bookstores, as well as a new partnership between Chegg and ICBA and one between and NACS. And the trend continues with other companies following suit.


South Eastern Book Co. Joins Forces with
SEB, through their $10-million investment in CollegeBookRenter becomes an in-store rental player catering to the needs of today’s college students by offering an online textbook rental program. SEB Rental customizes each bookstore’s rental site using the appropriate school colors and bookstore logo. Unlike its competitors that require a 7-10 day turnaround, SEB guarantees that a bookstore’s rental site will be live within three business days of the initial request. SEB provides the necessary customer support and IT assistance and even facilitates customer returns. SEB will assume any losses associated with students’ failure to return textbooks, and bookstores will collect a 10% commission on all textbooks rented through their SEB rental site. SEB Rental offers a store-reporting function and the company provides promotional materials to drive traffic to bookstores’ rental sites and help ensure their success.

Spring Break tips for students: Saving money, and staying safe


It is officially the mid-semester season of increasing temperatures, mid terms, and job recruiting—and obviously, Spring Break is right around the corner. ‘Tis the season for college students to create those embarrassing memories, soak up the sun, and have the best times of their young lives. Unfortunately, the huge hype of Spring Break comes with a fat price tag and dangerous risks. Here are a few tips to keep your wallets fat and your face not on the 6 o’clock news.

1.     If you go abroad, know the exchange rates

 Luckily for most American students, the prime foreign destination for spring break is Mexico, where the peso is fiscally dominated by the US dollar. However, if you are passing more than ten time zones, the US dollar may not stand so strong. Avoid exchanging currencies at the airport where they are notorious for ripping off travellers. You are best off exchanging at the local bank, through your credit cards, or an ATM (which may be subject to a fee). Regardless, check the newspaper or a currency converter to at least gain the accurate information, and always do a mental double check before buying anything, to make sure you’re getting a good deal.

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Weekly Roundup March 9, 2011

Every week, The Textbook Guru will round up the top news stories of the week, from the important to the intriguing.

Kindle and Amazon Roundup:

1. Free Kindle This November from The Technium

 In October 2009 John Walkenbach noticed that the price of the Kindle was falling at a consistent rate, lowering almost on a schedule. By June 2010, the rate was so unwavering that he could easily forecast the date at which the Kindle would be free: November 2011 . . . “ 

2. Why Amazon Would Be Smart to Give Away the Kindle from CNN Tech

 “E-books are revolutionizing the publishing industry and reader preferences, and Amazon might be in a unique position to hasten that change — if they decide to start giving away their popular Kindle e-reader for free . . . “

3. Amazon Executive Explains Company’s Kindle Vision from

 “When Inc. launched its Kindle digital book business in 2007, little did many people realize that the company was really rewriting the book on the entire publishing industry . . . ” 

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CAMEX RECAP – Rental, Digital, and Bankruptcy!

Last week was the annual Campus Market Expo. The 2011 event was held in Houston, Texas, and while this show is for anything and everything college bookstores, the textbook industry favors the expo as a launching pad for new programs, training, and announcements, as well as a chance to set the stage for the August back-to-school season. So what’s the scoop on CAMEX 2011?  What was the buzz? What were the trends? And what were the expectations? Keep reading to find out.
Like general e-commerce, textbook rental was again center stage. In addition to the traditional CAMEX vendors, several online rental companies, including, (through Bookstore Solutions), and Chegg, were present at the show. 

Surrounding the event were several important press releases regarding rental and the rental players:

  • announced its partnership with NACS in order to position the move as uniting online rentals and bricks-and-mortar college stores as the ultimate source for affordable textbooks.
  • BookRenter also had a nice timely release on the company’s stability and immediate intentions as they announced raising a Series-C round of funding in the amount of  $40 million.
  • Chegg announced its partnership with the Independent College Bookstore Association in a new commitment to deliver affordable textbook rentals to campuses nationwide.
  • Follett announced a new online-rental solution for independent bookstores.

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Cash-Strapped College Part 3: Now what?


This is the last of a three-part series on how to save money on your education. Find the first post here, and the second here.


I believe more congratulations are in order if you are reading this section. You’ve suffered through 4-5 years of undergrad and you’re looking toward the future. Maybe you are a bit more weathered and a bit less bright eyed and bushy tailed about the future, but you’re here and you’re going to make the best of it.


Dealing with huge loan payments in an already dismal employment market can be back breaking. On top of the car payment, credit card payment(s) and cell phone bill, you now have to start paying for that sheet of paper on your wall that says you learned something. But don’t fret too much—you do have options.


STAY IN SCHOOL: This is the first option many consider and as counter intuitive as it may seem, the idea has some merit. While sticking around for grad school or another BS/BA may easily double your debt, it also allows you to defer your payments until you graduate. While this tactic obviously digs the hole even deeper, it buys you time. Time to get more education, more internships and presumably a competitive edge in the job market. It also buys you time outside of the job market in the hopes that when you are finally forced from the warm cocoon of college life into the unforgiving “real world” that the job market will have improved.

DEFERMENT: Instead of staying in school to defer your debt, among other reasons, you can also defer your debt for other reasons that don’t come with more student loans. Besides student enrollment, deferment comes in two other flavors that you should know about: economic hardship and unemployment.

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