Archive for September, 2011

Using CSI Methods to Understand the DNA of Books

Early in our educations we learn the components of a good story. We become familiar with the concept of the characters, settings, plot, and themes. We look for the protagonist, we follow the dialogue and descriptors, we follow the arc of the story and recognize the climax. Some books speak to us as if they were written just for us and when we find a story we love, we share it with our friends or read another book by the same author because we feel a powerful connection with the literature.

Have you ever thought of a book as having DNA? You know, the biological stuff we’re all comprised of and that makes us unique and individual and plays a big part in who and why we are ourselves. Well, Aaron Stanton did just that and then he identified 32,162 genomic measurements and created an ever-expanding database of hundreds of million data points that uniquely classify components of a book.

The result is BookLamp.org, a Pandora.com-like suggestion recommendation engine for books. As Aaron describes it, “If you like vampire books, we will try to identify and suggest other books that are written in a similar fashion and with similar themes that take place at the same period of time or with similar characters, showing which book may be a good fit compared to others you’ve read.  For example, we don’t just look at whether on not the book you liked has “Vampires” in it, but instead that it has 15% vampires, is written like Anne Rice, and also takes place in a modern city.  So we try to find other titles that match that, instead of 50% vampires, written like Stephenie Meyer, taking place around kings and castles.  Both of those might be good books, but we try to find the subtle similarities as well as the obvious.” To take this wealth of knowledge and offer it to readers, Aaron created BookLamp.org, which went live only a few short weeks ago and is still growing (and invites you to contribute).

The site is the public-facing component of what began as a back-end programming project Aaron has been working on. “We found that as we described our process to publishers, they always needed to prove our system.  Booklamp is a fun way for us to prove our system and let others have a hand in helping us get better at what we do,” Aaron said.

Both Booklamp and the Book Genome Project that spawned it are financially self-sustaining through back-end tools technology purchased by publishers. This income allows the bibliophiles at Booklamp to offer avid readers an ad-free service that finds other books that they might enjoy.

If you search the database today, you may not find every book you’re looking to DNA-type and connect with other books. That’s because BookLamp is an ambitious project in the early stages and will always be in a state of evolution as new books are published. Currently, the site has DNA fingerprints for only book listings provided by participating publishers, roughly 20,000 titles. But there are big plans ahead and BookLamp.org is an ambitious endeavor. About the future, Aaron says, “Attracting publishers to the project to help grow our book database is the primary reason BookLamp.org exists. Our biggest criticism of ourselves at this point is that we don’t have enough books to be a “real” project, yet.  That said, I made the resolution some time ago to only read books I found through our tools – because I want to know how it’s working – and I can tell you that 20,000 titles is a fantastic number of books.  It doesn’t feels limiting once you get past the front page and start browsing from book to book.  Where it hurts is when you want to use a book like Ender’s Game as a starting point into the browse and discovery part of the tools, and we don’t have Ender’s Game, yet.  Our goal is to get more books into the system that can serve as a starting place for discovering the books that are here.”

I have to say I was impressed with what this guy has done and I am pretty shocked that publishers are not beating down his door to get involved with such cutting-edge powerful technology. BookLamp.org is a truly impressive tool and one that has some unbelievable potential. Good luck, Aaron, can’t wait to see the progress!

College Dorm Survival Guide Pt. 2: Roommates

The transition into dorm life can be a difficult one for many college freshmen. Some simply are not accustomed to taking care of themselves and others go a little crazy without parental supervision. Most freshmen do just fine, but after the allure of being away from your parents wears off and the excitement of dorm life fades, you start to realize that you have an entire year to live in a small dorm room, in a hall full of strangers.

Fortunately they won’t be strangers for long, but that’s part of the lessons I hope to show you today. From how to live with a total stranger, to avoiding trouble with the RA and the police, I hope to help you navigate your dorm life successfully with a few tips and tricks from those of us who have been there and made those mistakes you’re hoping to avoid.

Roommates:

Chances are if you ask friends and family about their past roommates, you’ll start hearing some pretty interesting stories, from peeing in a hamper in the middle of the night to walking in on some unsightly interactions your roommate is having. So here’s the low down on how to have at least an agreeable, if not meaningful relationship with your new roommate.
The first thing you need to do is shake the notion that you are ‘just roommates.’ When you have roommates in a large house, it’s possible to avoid them if they annoy you, but in a 12’x10’ room, that is never going to happen. The fact of the matter is that you are basically dating this person, so you should treat your relationship with them as such.

Unfortunately, you didn’t have the opportunity to date around with other roommates before deciding which one to move in with, so having clear, open and honest communication is essential. Issues will arise over the year you spend with this person, so even if you never chat with your roomie socially, being able to discuss these issues is an important factor.

When you do sit down to discuss these issues, it’s important to keep in mind that if something they are doing annoys you, it doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to do it. Obviously there are exceptions to this, like the hamper incident, but the key is to compromise. If you want to get something from your roommate, chances are you’ll have to give something up. This may mean they only practice electric guitar with their headphones instead of the amp, or they give you advance notice of any ‘guests’ they might have over. It’s their room too, and although you may not agree with parts of their lifestyle, or some of their habits, they have a right to use the room as well.

If you’ve tried open communication and compromise and things are still going poorly, it’s probably time to get your RA involved. They may not be the therapist you wish you could find to fix your crazy roommate, but they can help mediate a compromise. They may even put everything in writing, having you both sign to show your commitment to working things out. This can be important if it comes to the point where you need to part ways since most colleges try to keep their dorms at capacity (making moves difficult). Having your attempt at resolution in writing lets them know you’re not just crying over spilt milk and you’ve tried to work things out.

The College Textbook Adoption Process Is Broken, Here’s Why (and How to Fix It)

In triangulation, each of three separate entities uses the other two to its advantage by shifting accountability onto them, playing them against each other, or consolidating power by making them dependent. All of this has been at work for a very long time in academic bookselling and the college-textbooks sales and buyback process.

In this case, the three entities blaming, needing, and using one another are the publishers, faculty, and bookstores. None of them owns the system per se, they are all interdependent and perceived as bad guys by the consumer, and they are all frightened of data being freely shared in the marketplace. Let’s look closely at theses three players and their roles and how they affect college-textbook selection and pricing.

Publishers:

They own the copyrighted content and material contained within textbooks and they do everything possible to encourage professors to use their book on physics rather than that published by a competitor. The publishers work directly with the faculty through sales reps and they offer them incentives such as free resources or technology for using their books. Publishers encourage faculty to build custom editions that eliminate the stuff that the professor won’t be covering, and they tell the prof that these custom edits makes a cheaper book for the student. And that is true. Also true is that the book is now a specialty publication limited to that professor’s class at that college that term and the textbook has absolutely no buyback value for the student afterward. This suits the publisher as it keeps used books from entering circulation and eating profits from sales of new books and eTextbooks. They also create a false sense of demand by constantly creating new editions if even a few pages have changed.

Faculty:

Course instructors work with the publisher to select books and then they work with the bookstore to get the books stocked and made available to students (this is called the textbook-adoptions process). Publisher sales reps compete for their selections (see above) and bookstores tend to badger faculty to make textbook selections as early as possible so that the store can secure enough copies and the greatest number of used books. Faculty want to teach, not deal with multiple booksellers or costs and conditions, so they tend to tell only the main campus bookstore what titles they will be using and they tend not to be in a hurry to do this given their classroom commitments.

The book-selection process is not always spelled out for instructors. Many times the publisher is selected by the department chair who has committed to titles from a certain publisher. In some cases, department budgets are so limited that faculty need the resources that the publisher agrees to include in exchange for a commitment to selection of one of their titles. And finally, I believe that in many cases, instructors want what they think is best for students even when it is not the case. If you were a history professor and a sales rep from a publisher told you that cutting 20% of the content would also cut 20% of the book’s price (but not that the book lost all buyback value), you would think you were helping your students.

Bookstores:

The bookstores don’t want to own the process in a technical sense but they do want to own it in a practical one, which is to say that they want control because they do most of the work (ordering, receiving, sales, returns, buyback, etc.) Given how much effort they expend in terms of cost and labor, they are not eager to share the data they amass along the way (students purchasing habits, bestselling texts by subject, required reading by course and location, other market trends, etc.). And why would they? Doing so would help competitors. Knowledge is power and informed consumers have the power of choice.

So what’s the solution? I wish that it was a simple one. The problem is that we have big money at stake and the key holders of the information do not have a financial incentive to share this money and push sales away from their current channel. Here is one that most benefits students but it would be a tough sale to the publishers and bookstores:

Most schools already have digital catalogs for classes. In many cases, these catalogs are already tied to required textbooks via links to the bookstore based on data that was made public via the Higher Education Act. Standardizing and sharing this data would break up the triangle-shaped monopoly that exists between publishers, faculty, and bookstores. The original legislation in Congress was a start, but it didn’t go far enough in enacting specific formats by which the information should be shared or by creating a standard body with which the information should be shared. A central collection of the data would initially be an intense investment, but would quickly benefit all when shared in an equal format that created a more competitive marketplace where the playing field were more level and the students benefited.

How do we find a middle ground?
What other solutions do you suggest?

College Stress and How to Avoid It.

You’ve finally made it to college and you’re a few weeks into classes. Next up is mid-terms and your first real tests at a college level. Maybe you’re a rock star student, maybe you’re in the library day and night, but either way how you manage your time and stress is crucial.

Many students have a hard time with this because unlike high school, college schedules can be erratic and it is easy to get distracted by all the various campus activities. So to help you avoid falling behind during your first term, we’ve compiled a few stress and time management tips to help you stay on top of your game.

 

Stress:

Naps:
It may sound simple or juvenile, but catching a quick 20 minute power nap between classes is an easy way to get your mind in the right place. It’s also a great alternative to knocking back an energy drink or another cup of coffee which will only leave you tired again in a few hours.
Eat Right:
When things get busy, your diet is usually the first thing to fall by the way side. Grabbing a quick burger or going without a meal may seem like an easy way to save time, but it will catch up to you. Eating regular, well rounded meals consistently will keep your body and metabolism on a regular schedule and ultimately give you more energy.
Exercise:
It’s hard enough to work out when you have the time, let alone when you are slammed with homework and study groups, but getting some form of exercise every day will help you tremendously. Not only does it release endorphins which lift your mood, it will also help you release a lot of the pent up nervous energy,, causing stress.
Play Time:
Going to parties is a regular part of college, but that shouldn’t be your only fun activity. Scheduling something fun on a daily basis is a great way to break up your work and stay motivated. Playing pick-up games at the gym, a few quick Halo games with your floor mates or even just setting down the text book and picking up a novel are great ways to break the monotony of school work without switching gears completely.


Time:

Organization:
With so much going on at college and so little structure, it can be hard to keep all the balls in the air at once. Finding a system that works for you is a trial and error method, but once you find one it will save you. Maybe you are all digital and have a detailed Google Calendar that knows every minute of your day. You might go analog with a notebook and a pen, or maybe you’ve got a wall full of color coded post-it notes. Whatever system helps you keep track of everything, stick to it.
Studying:
You might be one of those academic gods who never need to study, but in case you’re like the rest of us, the first thing is to find a place to study. Be it the library, coffee shop or your dorm basement, having a place that is just about studying will help you stay focused to the task. Then, schedule time for studying and eliminate distractions like Facebook and your phone to help you make the most of your time. Lastly, make your study schedule consistent by dedicating the same window in your day to studying.
Sleep:
Keeping a regular sleep schedule is very difficult in college, but is the foundation of everything you do day-to-day. Sleep usually comes last on a long list of things you need to do, but having the forethought to plan out a ‘hard shut-off’ at the same time each day will allow your body to adjust, resulting in more energy. Remember, extra caffeine in the morning is never a replacement for hours of sleep lost and those hours will catch up with you eventually, they always do.
Homework:
Just like high school, college is full of homework and term papers. Also like high school, planning out the time to work on these projects, and doing so in advance of the due date is crucial. Homework ‘binges’ are all too common place in college, and do little to produce good work and only create more stress. Instead, of biting off a whole side of beef, break each task down into smaller, bite sized portions. Then plan out when you will attack each portion so that you have enough time to review your work and turn it in on-time and with confidence. Also keep in mind that college classes typically do not have daily or even weekly assignments, and in some you may only turn in a couple papers to base your grade off of. With these types of classes it is even more important that you start assignments in advance. Set reminder to let you know when you need to put a task on your radar, even if it’s a few weeks in advance.



Remember, you may not be able to control how hectic or crazy your college schedule and classes are, but you can control how you deal with the stress. Don’t underestimate your workload or overestimate your abilities, it is always better to finish with time to spare then to be rushing at the last minute. In the end it’s really all about staying on top of things. Every time you put something off, be it a paper, a meal, sleep, exercise, it will catch up with you in some way. So show your stress who’s boss and make your time work hard for you.

College Dorm Survival Guide Pt. 1: The RA

The transition into dorm life can be a difficult one for many college freshmen. Some simply are not accustomed to taking care of themselves and others go a little crazy without parental supervision. Most freshmen do just fine, but after the allure of being away from your parents wears off and the excitement of dorm life fades, you start to realize that you have an entire year to live in a small dorm room, in a hall full of strangers. 

Fortunately they won’t be strangers for long, but that’s part of the lessons I hope to show you today. From how to live with a total stranger, to avoiding trouble with the RA and the police, I hope to help you navigate your dorm life successfully with a few tips and tricks from those of us who have been there and made those mistakes you’re hoping to avoid.

Dealing With The RA:

The Resident Assistant, or Resident Attendant (depending on your school) is essentially a babysitter for freshmen. That may sound degrading to freshmen, but it’s true if you look at the dynamics between the two. RAs aren’t changing diapers, but they are a strange pseudo authority figure/friend and there tends to be a ‘you can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my mom’ mentality for some freshmen. On the other side, RAs are trying to be friends with their residents while at the same time telling them to ‘turn the music down, it’s 4 am on a Tuesday,’ or ‘yes you have to go to class if you expect to pass.’

Many residents, especially those with authority issues, look at RAs as the enemy because they represent ‘the man.’ However this ‘us vs. them’ mentality can be the cause of a lot of tension in your dorm.

The best way to handle your RA, whether you’re a rule breaker or just want to have a pleasant year, is to become friends with him or her. Now, this won’t always be possible, and there are definitely some RAs out there who abuse their power, but putting forth your best effort to be friendly and kind with your RA will help you down the road. I’m not saying you’ll be drinking beers with your RA any time soon, but if you ever run into trouble and there’s the possibility of getting out of it, that friendship you’ve built up will be the lubricant to help you wiggle your way out of the situation. Who knows, you may get lucky and they might just look the other way for you ( it’s happened before).

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

Financial Edge: Who Will Dominate The Electronic Textbook Market?

“Two of the biggest book retailers in the U.S., Amazon and Barnes and Noble, both offer electronic textbook rentals. The service doesn’t always offer cost savings compared to purchasing a traditional textbook, but it does offer convenience. If you’re not sure where to shop, consider how the two companies compare on pricing, rental terms, portability and other factors . . .”

Geek.com: Plastic Logic 100 eReader offers a shatterproof way to replace textbooks

“Being a textbook can be tough. It’s a hard knock life getting chucked into backpacks and lockers, after all. It’s also tough being a kid that has to lug around 20 pounds of assorted books all day long while trudging up and down the stairs (or around campus) at school. The dead-tree drudgery could soon be at an end, however, if the Plastic Logic 100 eReader catches on . . .”

Publishers Weekly: Ukazoo Books to Quadruple Number of Stores

“It’s not only Books-A-Million that is benefiting from empty Borders locations with fixtures in place. On Tuesday online third-party bookseller Ukazoo Books signed a lease for a former Borders Express store in Southgate, Mich. It plans to close on a second Borders Express in the Philadelphia area and will open a new store in its Toledo, Oh., warehouse, according to Edward Whitfill, general manager for the retail stores. Ukazoo, which was founded a decade ago by brothers Jack and Seth Revelle to sell their college textbooks, opened its first bricks-and-mortar store in the Baltimore suburb of Towson four years ago. Taken together, the new stores will quadruple its on-the-ground presence . . .”

MarketWire: Flat World Knowledge Doubles Growth, Outpaces Digital Textbook Trend

“Flat World Knowledge, the largest commercial publisher of free and open college textbooks, today announced 7 out of 10 of its student users will be consuming digital textbooks during the new academic year that begins this month, far ahead of the industry curve. The publisher also announced that the overall number of students using its textbooks has doubled, compared to last year. For the 2011/2012 school year, 300,000 students at more than 2,000 colleges are expected to access its textbooks across a wide spectrum of digital and print formats . . .”

BusinessWire: Inkling Launches Version 2.0, Brings the Collective Wisdom of Every Student to the Textbook

“Students often say they learn more from each other than from their textbook. But what if students could tap into the knowledge of their peers from right inside their book? Today, Inkling, the leading platform for interactive learning content on iPad, announced the release of version 2.0 for iPad. Now, each Inkling textbook channels the collective wisdom of every student who has used it, anywhere in the world. Students can collaborate, search and study more effectively than ever before . . .”

The Changing Landscape of Textbook Rental: An Interview with Chuck Jones, President of CA Jones Management

The textbook rental market has exploded over the past three years expanding from a handful of rental websites to over 15 sites that offer their own rental program.  One of the leaders in this space is College Book Renter.  The Textbook Guru took a second to sit down with the Chuck Jones, President of CA Jones Management, the company that owns College Book Renter, SE Books and a few other textbook-related companies.

 

With many of your early successes in the wireless broadband space what peaked you’re interested in the college textbook world prior to opening your first bookstore or acquisition’s of SE Books?

From an early age, my interest has been technology and anything that deals with technology.   We have a company that specializes in search engine optimization and had a client in the textbook business.  It peaked my interest so with South Eastern Book Company based in Murray, KY I researched the opportunity to purchase it and was able to get it done.

 

Many consider the college textbook world to be an “insiders” game of who you know and how long you have known them.  As a new player how were you accepted and feel the community embraced you as a new owner of a major textbook wholesaler?

All of our business success is based on the ability to develop relationships with our customers and business partners.  I enjoy that part of doing business and understand that it is essential to our success.  The textbook business has been very open to us.   We have worked hard to become a player in the wholesale market with our participation in NACS and CAMEX.  We want to be a good partner to the bookstores that depend on us to deliver outstanding service on the textbook front and with Logitext, which is our POS system.  Every customer that takes a look at Logitext tries to find a way to make a change in their bookstore.

 

Your second biggest move in the industry was your acquisition of College Book Renter in July of 2010.  What excites you about the rental market?

Early in our ownership of South Eastern Book Company we recognized the fact that rental was becoming a large component of the college textbook business.  After researching the concept we felt like it would be a great addition to our wholesale business.  My background is based on technology so we used our expertise to grow College Book Renter at an astronomical rate.  We are driving significant amounts of traffic to our site and are delivering first class customer service to those who visit our site.  Our ability to source books at a low cost enables us to pass along the savings to the students.

 

Do you have any numbers on College Book Renter you would be willing to share?  

I really don’t believe in boasting about what our numbers are in the rental business but I will say that we are growing at a rate that will make you double check the numbers!  We are very pleased with the growth at this point.

 

Everyone in the industry wonders about the total affect of eTextbooks.  When do you think they will start to make a bigger impact and what type of effect will they have on the physical book?

Obviously, they are going to be a part of the textbook discussion.  We are watching the trade industry embrace the ebook platform so we are watching closely to see how it will affect the textbook business.  Our research tells us a small percentage of students are embracing the change and that it will continue to grow.

 

With changes we see a swing back and forth from online to the bookstore and back.  What do you feel is the long-term role of the college bookstore in the distribution of course materials to students? How do you think the college bookstore will need to change to remain relevant?

We think the college bookstore plays a significant role with the current college student.  We are continuing to provide business concepts to our customers so they can adapt to the changes occurring in the industry.   The opportunity to have your customers in the same city is an overwhelming advantage for college bookstores but they must be adaptable to the changes that students are requesting.  The ability to react to change is the key component of success for college stores.

 

Thank you for  your time.

%d bloggers like this: