Archive for July, 2011

Five Last-Chance Summer Destinations for Cash-Strapped Students

For some students, the end of summer is drawing ominously near, internships will be ending in a few weeks, and it’s time to plan a week-long vacation before going back to the busy jumble of activities that is the new school year. The problem with this is the fact that vacationing is a luxury for anyone right now, let alone broke, penny-pinching college students. This is why I’ve compiled a list of 5 fun and affordable summer vacation destinations for college students to see you out this Friday!

1.    Los Angeles, California: While at first, Los Angeles may bring to mind a city of affluence because of places like Beverly Hills, it’s not all like that. Los Angeles has great little beach areas like Venice, downtown Santa Monica, and Hermosa Beach. There are plenty of inexpensive places to stay like the Best Western in Santa Monica, which is a short drive from places like The Getty, which offers free admission.  There are also plenty of tourist attractions in Los Angeles, like Grauman’s Chinese Theater and The Walk of Fame, which can be fun for those of you who are interested in old Hollywood.

2.    Tulum, Mexico: Tulum is near Cancun, but it’s far less expensive. It has interesting things to see, like Mayan ruins. If you feel like some relaxation between visits to the Mayan site and partying in nearby Cancun, you can relax on the gorgeous beaches. Mexico is generally much cheaper than the US, so savings during the trip itself make up for money spent on plane tickets.  There are inexpensive places to stay in Tulum, such as Posada Dos  Ceibas.


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4 Concerns with Amazon Kindle Rental

With Amazon’s announcement that textbooks will now be available for rental on the Kindle, the media has become inundated with articles praising the new service. Naturally, I was skeptical (see my original post), and so we did some digging at CampusBooks. 

Turns out, sure, Amazon has fantastic prices–if you can get them. Research found that only 18% of the top 100 textbooks for back-to-school are available on Amazon’s Kindle rental service, as stated in the press release. This primary flaw is obviously a big one: Amazon’s service is a great deal, but with limited availability, is far from the game-changer the media is making it out to be. It’s a great use of hype and PR to get attention, but here are some of the holes I see in the story:

Textbook availability is scarce.

Although the ability to rent textbooks based upon days of use for Kindle is a great idea, there’s really no point to it if the necessary books aren’t integrated into the service.  With only 18% of the top 100 college textbooks on Amazon’s Kindle rental service, only the lucky few students will be able to actually rent their books for Kindle.

Books are difficult to find.

When using the Kindle app, it’s basically impossible to find books using their ISBN number. This takes away flexibility for students who don’t have access to a computer, but do have the Kindle app on their cell phone or, god forbid, on their actual Kindle. It’s incredibly tedious to even find the textbook rental store on, and students may become discouraged when they have to search the entire site for it. You can find the prices if you search via ISBN via Amazon’s master search bar at the top of the screen, but with a new service to highlight, isn’t a new search method a good idea?

Guru Roundup: Bringing You the Industry’s Need-to-Know News

Business and Industry News and Findings

First, the biggie that’s on everyone’s mind:

New York Times DealBook Blog: Calling Off Auction, Borders to Liquidate

“The Borders Group said Monday that it would liquidate, shutting down the 40-year-old bookseller after it failed to find a last-minute savior. Though it is not a big surprise, the move will still strip the publishing industry of shelf space that is becoming increasingly scarce as brick-and-mortar stores continue to founder. Borders said it would proceed with a proposal by the private equity firms Hilco and the Gordon Brothers Group to close down its 399 remaining stores. That liquidation plan will be presented on Thursday to the federal judge overseeing the company’s bankruptcy case. The company will begin closing its remaining stores as soon as Friday, and the liquidation is expected to run through September. The chain has 10,700 employees…”

Zacks Investment Research: Amazon to Acquire Book Depository

“ Inc. has announced that it will acquire UK-based online bookseller, The Book Depository International. The acquisition will add over six million titles to Amazon’s already large stock of books. The cost of the transaction was not revealed and the acquisition is subject to customary closing conditions, including regulatory approvals. It is unclear whether The Book Depository will retain its individuality and continue to operate as a separate website or if it will be folded into But in any case, Amazon will reduce its competition in the e-commerce market as the Book Depository is one of its major rivals…”

Digital Journal: Digital Textbooks Prove More Expensive

“Don’t be fooled by the digital hype this back-to-school season: a recent study by shows that as cool as high-tech gadgets and digital textbooks seem, they are costing students far more than buying and selling old fashioned, hard copies. CampusBooks, the top textbook price comparison website online, compared the prices of the 25 most popular college textbooks during the spring semester of 2011. Seventeen of the 25 books had e-book options, and in every case but one, the up-front cost of an e-book was cheaper than buying the print version. However, e-books have no resale value. After factoring in the average buy-back prices of printed textbooks, only one of the e-book versions were cheaper than buying and eventually reselling the used print version–and the savings were nearly always in the double-digits…”

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Four things to consider amid the Amazon Kindle Rental hype

This week, all of the big news has been about Amazon’s announcement of Kindle Rental. Everyone from SmartMoney to MarketWatch are posting articles and press releases touting the new service, which claims to offer 80% list prices and flexible rental. BlackBook even sounds the toll, claiming the
new service “hastens the death of print.”
Really? Death? Luckily, a few smart journalists have taken pause to actually look into the new service, and I have to agree.

Combining digital and rental definitely is an innovative service, but it is not new by any means. eBooks in the college space have always been “rentals” meaning that they have a term assigned to them for how long you have access to the content.  Since the early digital projects from coursesmart and the universal digital textbook project the eBooks always had an expiring term.  Someone just got smart and started calling it a rental.

I have five points we should remember when looking at the new Amazon Rental service:

1. Its textbook options are limited.

If you’ve been following along, you know that CampusBooks released data from last semester, showing the different prices for the top 25 textbooks searched and purchased. We tried to see how Kindle’s new rental stacked up, and guess what? Only three of the top 25 books search on the site were even available on the new service.

Granted, 25 textbooks is a small sample size, but it’s still significant that a service claiming to change the college textbook game has limited textbooks available. We’re looking into a larger sample size for more insight, but right off the bat, this is a warning sign that Amazon Kindle Rental might not be as easy and helpful as they claim.

2. Does flexible rental time make sense for a four month semester?

A 30-day rental sounds great for the student that crams, but does it make sense for the average, dutiful, semester-long renter? If students were to buy their textbooks now for  the entire next semester, they’d be looking closer to 150 days. Maybe Amazon Rental will make more sense for those crammers or English students only looking at one novel at a time. For most, shiny 30-day prices up front don’t do students much good, and they need to be careful and see what the cost will actually be.

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Amazon Rental: Are e-books and rental actually cheaper?

Today’s big news is Amazon’s announcement about their new rental service. It’s an interesting concept, and an addition to the ongoing story of cost. Many outlets, like VentureBeat, are framing the story in a larger concept: digital is where things are going, and digital and rental save students money.

But the past week, we’ve been sharing the opposite: the hype around rental and digital (only bound to get worse) is blinding students to the real costs of textbooks, and that used books are still largely the best bet. posted a press release discussing the differences in cost between reselling books, renting them, or downloading some form of e-book. Contrary to what many students, who are dazzled by new options like renting and e-books, the data showed that the most cost-efficient form of dealing with textbooks is to buy used and back at the end of the semester. The example we released:

“The textbook Organizational Behavior by Stephen P. Robbins (ISBN 9780136124016), was on average $120.88 to buy used, $75.60 as an e-book and only $66.04 to rent. However, selling back the book for an average of $71.25 meant that the total cost of ownership was only $49.63 for those students who bought and resold the book. That’s $16.41 cheaper than renting, and a whopping $25.97 cheaper than the e-book.”

Because CampusBooks offers students price comparisons from all three forms of textbook acquiring, we had a ton of data to crunch for results.  The results are interesting because a major selling point of e-books and rentals is the supposed diminished cost of paper and reprinting.

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Seven Ways to Hack College with Apps and Online Tools

You have your laptop to take notes, e-mail to keep up with assignments, and Facebook to distract yourself from assignments.  But what about nontraditional uses of technology to enhance the college experience? Here are some of my top suggestions for Student 2.0.

  1. Grades

Grades 2 is an application for iPhone, iPod, and iPad users that makes tracking your progress simple.  You enter the classes you’re taking, fill in all your semester assignments and relative weights, and then feed the app your grades as the course progresses.  Grades 2 will then average the scores and tell you your current grade, GPA, due dates, sub-grades, etc.  Unfortunately, the app won’t be able to inform you whether or not it’s worth it to sleep through your boring 8 A.M lecture –even so, this is a free application that could save you some of that end-of-semester panic.

  1. Books

If you’re looking to save money and stress on textbooks, avoid the crammed, under-stocked campus bookstore and go online, obviously, online retailers like can help you buy, rent, or sell textbooks back. And it’s not just for buying: when you’re done, selling books back online will also help you recoup your losses and avoid getting ripped off at the bookstore.

Don’t forget to explore resources like open-source and free books, like at Flat World Knowledge and other sites as an alternative to textbooks.

  1. Studying

As enjoyable as 3 A.M cram sessions in the library can be, there are a host of tech services to help improve the efficiency of your studying.  Companies like Evernote, StudyBlue, and Cramberry are online flashcard-storage services that let you create a digital note card stack which can then be synced with a smartphone and studied on the go: in line at Starbucks, at the gym, even–radical as it sounds—in the library.

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The Trouble with Course Readers

Many professors, especially those teaching article-heavy classes in the social sciences, skip textbooks entirely, opting to offer course readers instead. Course readers mix together articles, notes and textbook clippings that are directly related to the course. They are updated frequently and cost about $30 to around $80, which compared to the price of a new textbook is cheap–though they can go up above a hundred depending on the course. They are specifically designed for that course, usually by professors, which reduces the cost of wasted, unread pages.

The Stanford Flipside blog has a graphic opinion on course reader prices

Looking from that standpoint, readers seem like an easy, cheap and smart alternative to textbooks. Unfortunately, readers come with as many flaws as they do perks. The largest flaw? They can’t be resold. Textbook retailers are uninterested, and while you might get a few bucks from a future student, but course readers can change each year.

Another very simple flaw is that most of the information in readers can be found online, more often than not, for free. The cost of course readers comes from printing costs, but more than that, reprint fees that professors pay in order to reproduce the article or page in print. But when many news sites have free archives online, and most schools offer some sort of academic journal collection free for students, it’s a tough sell. Couldn’t students just click links for free?
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Guru Roundup: Bringing You the Industry’s Need-to-Know News (Tech-Talk Edition)

Content and Publishing

PR Newswire: AcademicPub™ Signs Leading Publishers and Sets Key Distribution Partnerships

“AcademicPub, the higher education unit of SharedBook Inc., made a three-part announcement underscoring rapid adoption of the service since its April 2011 launch. According to Caroline Vanderlip, CEO, SharedBook Inc., entered into two new publishing relationships, including one with industry-leader Springer Science + Business Media, and two new distribution partnerships. These innovations will ease the ability of educators to create content and obtain AcademicPub products. Additionally, a new academic advisory board has been created to help guide the unit through an accelerating period of customer growth. ‘We are moving on multiple fronts, a necessity in a higher-ed market as dynamic as this one,’ said Vanderlip . . .”

Campus Technology: Open Textbook Groups Join Forces

“The colleges in 15 states and one Canadian province that make up the Community College Consortium for Open Educational Resources (CCCOER) will now be able to tap into the collection of open textbook resources compiled by the international group of institutions that make up the OpenCourseWare Consortium (OCW Consortium) and vice versa in a new partnership. The community college consortium, which represents 200 schools, has become an associate consortia member of OCW Consortium, and its advisory board will effectively act as a voice for the two-year colleges within the global consortium’s organization . .

Digital Devices

Campus Technology: Is the iPad Ready To Replace the Printed Textbook?

“After trying out the Apple iPad for a short period–about three weeks — three out of four college freshmen said they’d be willing to purchase an Apple iPad personally if at least half of the textbooks they used during their college career were available digitally, according to the results of a classroom poll at Abilene Christian University. According to Scott Perkins, coordinator of mobile learning research in the Adams Center for Teaching and Learning at the Texas university, a similar willingness to purchase the devices was borne out among participants in semester-long pilots, which included both graduate and undergraduate students . . .”

Top Five Part-time Jobs for Students

Since I’ve been posting so much about the heavy industry-side, here’s a little break for student readers. These jobs are the most convenient and can make the most money while taking up the least time!

  1. On Campus Job—Bookstore or Library

An on campus position is the most ideal part-time job for a student. It’s convenient in proximity, and the stores tend to be more lenient when it comes to scheduling and letting you do homework or study on the job (always a plus around finals).

On-campus jobs tend to have little perks, too. It’s different for each book store, but at the University of Washington Bookstore, for example, there is a program that subsidizes your bus pass (which in a city like Seattle definitely comes in handy), and the pay is awesome (nine to nine fifty an hour). At the University of Arizona Book Store, they have a “loan a textbook” program, which essentially gives the working student free books for their semester. On top of all the extra benefits, you get valuable “real world” experience.

  1. Bartender/Server

Bartending and serving aren’t necessarily the easiest of jobs, not to mention the fact that they aren’t always “part-time,” exactly. But Infobarrel has a good rundown of three reasons to work as a bartender and/or server: friends/social interaction, convenience, and last, but definitely not least, money.

While serving, especially at a bar, chances are you won’t completely miss out on the fun because your friends will socialize where you work. Restaurants and bars, depending on the type, are typically generous to second hand priorities.

Most people who work in the food industry have other obligations—so the schedule is pretty relaxed. If you work at a bar your shifts will typically be at night—so you’ll never have to miss a class! People are usually pretty generous when it comes to switching shifts as well; everyone is just trying to make some money!

Lastly, servers and bartenders might not make the best hourly wages—but what they lack in salary they make up for in tips. A server/bartender can walk away from a nights work from anywhere in between $80-500 depending on how sophisticated their place of work is. If you work three times a week that’s at least $240 in extra spending money!

One thing Infobarrel didn’t mention was the experience required to serve or bartend. Any profession one goes into afterwards can be benefitted from a solid training in people skills, patience, multi-tasking and hard work–all of the things tested as a server.

  1. Residence advisor (RA)

Free room and board? Having your own room? And living in the perfect location? What’s better than that? Nothing! That’s why being a resident advisor (RA) is so great while in college. You save money, and there’s nothing better than free food. The benefits are outrageous—not to mention the amazing experience and leadership skills you’ll gain. It’s a well-rounded job for any college student.

  1. Nannying/babysitting

We can’t condone any illegal action—you should always consult with your employers—but most of the time nannying or babysitting, especially if done sparingly, can slide by tax-free. Don’t know anyone with kids? With plenty of websites to help the nanny/babysitter find work, finding a position is never hard. Companies like nannies4hire, sitter city, care4hire, also give background checks so you know that you are being put in good hands! While the good money is probably the biggest perk, some would say getting the chance to be a kid again is up there too!

  1. Internship

For those overachievers who already know what they want to do, (just kidding!) an internship is the perfect opportunity. It not only gives you the experience you need for your professional life, but it’s a great resume builder. If it’s not paid, or giving you a stipend, then it’s accepted as college credit. Either way you are killing two birds with one stone. It’s a great way to interact with people in your field of interest, and gain the knowledge you need to be successful once you reach your big graduation day!

The Move to Digital: Why Publishers Want It to Succeed (and what we’ve learned)

Move to Digital

As we study the move to digital reading, we are introduced to new players such as the Worldwide Center of Mathematics, Flat World Knowledge, and others such as Inkling, Kno, and increasingly more. But the more-traditional players, the established textbook publishers, are not far behind and they have their hands in the game as well. Remember, they own the content and while new players like FWK will get some adoptions, the publishers will not give up market share without a fight.

Own the Platform

Kind of like a hedge bet in Vegas when you place your bet to cover your other bets, the publishers are spreading their risk by taking ownership of the industry via  different platforms. McGraw-Hill and Pearson own stakes in Inkling while all six major publishers have stakes in CourseSmart. I think we would be naïve not to believe that if one platform were to really take off (this has yet to happen where there is a de facto standard), the publishers would be wise to invest in or own it. In addition, a successful platform is only as good as the content it delivers.

Own the Content

Academic publishers are working with different platforms to control the price, market share, and content. It will be hard for start-ups to take away significant adoptions from traditional print publishers unless they can prove to faculty and administrations that the books desired by the educational community are available on the platforms or learning systems that educators desire.

Kill the Used Book

Why do publishers really love the eBook/eTextbook? Because it is the first real used-book killer they have found. The publishers have tried for years to shrink the used-book market as it drastically diminishes their sales. They started off by marking teachers’ editions and desk copies, even drilling holes and other tactics to make these books unsellable. Then they began frequently changing the editions, adding components to create packages and bundles, and updating the book (however slightly) to make last year’s copy seem obsolete. With changes requiring publishers to unbundle books and to make ISBNs and prices more upfront, publishers now need to find a new way to keep the used-book business from hurting their overall profit. Enter the digital platform.

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