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Jen Slemp

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Textbook Costs Top of Mind for College Students

Posted by Jen Slemp on January 9, 2015

Winter break is quickly coming to an end and students nationwide are getting ready for the upcoming term.  We recently caught up with a returning freshman to find out what they were most and least excited about as they prepared to head back to school.

It was no surprise to us when this student noted the cost of textbooks as something they hate about going back to school. Students around the country are agitated by rising textbook costs and are seeking lower-cost course materials whenever possible.  This particular student was planning on ordering course materials for the upcoming term, despite cost, simply because they are required for class.  Additional interview questions can be found below.

 

Student Profile

School: CUNY John Jay College

Year: Freshman

Major: Security Management

 

Student Interview

Q: What is the most exciting thing about going back to school?
A: Looking at the syllabus and finding out what will be on the semester's agenda

Q: Is there anything you hate about going back to school?
A: Expensive textbooks

Q: Do you plan on ordering textbooks for the upcoming term? Why or why not?
A: Yes, because they are required

Q: Where do you plan to shop for your textbooks?
A: The John Jay Online Bookstore

Q: What key considerations do you have when selecting your course materials?
A: Price and condition

Q: What changes could be made to make it better?
A: More discounts!

 

At Akademos, we strive to provide affordable course materials for all students.  Through our innovative bookstore solutions we offer a variety of textbook purchasing options including new, used, rental, and eBooks.  Students save an average of 60% off list price when they shop on our integrated marketplace (a network of third-party sellers).  To learn and see how the Akademos solution can save students money and lower textbook costs at your school, register today for a 1:1 consultation.

Topics: Textbook Affordability

Akademos Awards Nine Textbook Scholarships

Posted by Jen Slemp on August 19, 2014

Akademos, Inc., has recognized nine students at colleges across the country for their creativity in this year’s Akademos/TextbookX Textbook Scholarship Contest. The first place winner, two runner-up winners, and six honorable mention winners all received a textbook scholarship to apply towards course materials for fall 2014.

To participate in the contest, students posed with their favorite book and submitted their self-taken photos with a creative caption to the TextbookX Facebook page.  After uploading their#BookShelfie —a play on the word “bookshelf” and the social media “selfie” trend— students encouraged friends and family to vote for their entry.

The scholarship contest winners were announced on August 12th, during what Akademos has designated as “Textbook Affordability Week.”  Textbook Affordability Week was developed to educate students about the benefits of shopping for textbooks early in the back to school shopping season, when prices are the most competitive.

After most college Spring terms end and right before fall term begins, the market is flooded with used books that students have sold back into circulation as part of textbook buy-back initiatives, thereby increasing inventory and decreasing book costs. College students who buy earlier in the summer are more likely to find discounts on textbooks.

The Akademos / TextbookX Textbook Scholarship winners are listed below:

  •     Grand Prize Winner ($500 Textbook Scholarship)– Faizan Haque, University of California Irvine
  •     Runner Up ($250 Textbook Scholarship) – Chrissi Lopez, Fort Myers Institute of Technology
  •     Runner Up ($250 Textbook Scholarship) – Michelle Stock, Millikin University

Our honorable mention winners, awarded with a $25 textbook scholarship, were:

  •     Honorable Mention – Holly Tidwell, Union College of Kentucky
  •     Honorable Mention – Tori Thoutt, University of Northern Colorado
  •     Honorable Mention – Tiffany Latshaw, Central College
  •     Honorable Mention – Katie Perry, Columbia International University
  •     Honorable Mention – Breanna Berry, Hamline University
  •     Honorable Mention – Joy Law, Columbia International University

To view the entries, visit http://textbookx.com/scholarship.

Akademos / TextbookX would like to thank all students for entering their fall 2014 Textbook Scholarship Photo Contest. To stay updated on TextbookX Scholarship opportunities, like TextbookX on Facebook.

 ScholarshipContest

Topics: Company News

TextbookX Launches Second Annual Scholarship Contest

Posted by Jen Slemp on July 15, 2014

TextbookX, the Akademos direct-to-student ecommerce platform, is pleased to announce its second annual textbook scholarship photo contest.

To enter for a chance to win, students are encouraged to upload a #BookShelfie (defined as a "selfie" with his/her favorite book) to the TextbookX Scholarship Contest Page today through August 8th.

The entry with the most votes at the end of the contest period will win! Both the Grand Prize Winner (who will receive a $500 textbook scholarship) and Runner-Up Winner(s) (who will receive a $250 textbook scholarship) will be announced during the week of August 11th.

 

The TextbookX Mission: TextbookX.com is dedicated to finding students the lowest price for their books. TextbookX offers new, used, eBook and rental options to customers nationwide from a variety of sellers on the TextbookX Marketplace. The average savings on marketplace books is 60% off list price. TextbookX also offers students a year-round buyback program where they earn up to two times more than standard buyback prices.

TextbookX_Selfie

Topics: Company News

Ed Tech Friends in Open Places: OERs Plan to Reduce Textbook Costs

Posted by Jen Slemp on October 10, 2013

We received a visit from Akademos founder and chairman of the board Brian Jacobs today! As noted previously on our blog, Brian left Akademos to start a new company focused on Open Educational Resources called panOpen. panOpen was selected to be part of the Kaplan EdTech Accelerator program and has been busy building an OER platform for a list of new client schools. To sign up for panOpen's OER pilot program, visit them at http://www.panopen.org/.

Brians-visit-to-Akademos-1024x764

Topics: Company News

Does Bigger Mean Better in the College Bookstore Business?

Posted by Jen Slemp on July 31, 2013

As a virtual bookstore provider, part of our philosophy is that you really don't need a large physical footprint to sell textbooks. So, sometimes I grapple with how much exhibit space to get at the education conferences we attend (one booth is 10' by 10').  Does an innovative education technology company that is trying to change mindsets about the business model of a college bookstore really need 800 square feet to get the message across? That is a question that you, the college administrator, would probably be able to help me answer. But let's agree that selling to CFOs is a little different than selling to students.

At a recent conference, as I walked the hall, I did note some organizations with build-outs that proved Rome can be built in a day.  Just one question--who is paying for all this? Yes, the company, but more than likely the school and their students. So, as an educational eCommerce company that is in a growth stage, does buying more booth space show that we are bigger?

The irony is, we are bigger because the market has finally caught up to the importance of online bookstore services for physical and digital textbook delivery (AKA, students are fleeing brick-and-mortars for online retailers in their search for cheap textbooks). If I defer to my retail 101, the bottom line is that every square foot of physical space better be performing darn well. Otherwise, eCommerce 101 will tell you to put it on the Web. And there, I will be judging sales performance per square inch. We also need to account for the cost of warehousing. What does it cost to store and ship all this overhead?

I'm pleased to say that the Akademos booth has been packed with customers stopping by to say hello. If I had to judge our performance per square foot, I'd say we exceeded projections by a mile.

Why Students are Leaving the College Bookstore (According to College CFOs)

Posted by Jen Slemp on April 24, 2013

As an education technology company that provides online bookstore services to schools and their students, Akademos has always had anecdotal information from clients and students regarding the changing landscape for textbook services. We sought to validate the concerns that college chief financial officers (CFOs) had expressed to us about the future of their textbook services given the challenges presented by a vast marketplace of external competition, and the requirements of meeting new digital delivery needs presented by growing online curriculum.

Thus, we commissioned the first comprehensive survey of college CFOs regarding the future of bookstore services, with the results published in March 2013 here in a white paper. Here is a snapshot of some key findings:

  • 89% of respondents confirmed that students are increasingly turning away from campus-based bookstores in favor of third-party providers, citing, on average, 28% of students are shopping elsewhere.
  • Respondents pointed to price as the primary reason students bypass the college bookstore (78%), with students' inclination to purchase online a distant second (12%).
  • Survey respondents indicated that on average, 56% of textbook sales are transacted with financial aid.
  • Respondents ranked giving students access to high-quality, low-cost textbooks as the most important service institutions can provide regarding the sale of textbooks.
  • 88% believe textbook costs impact student retention and persistence.
  • 82% indicated that textbook sales have been flat or down over the past three years.
  • 18% stated they believe textbooks will be sold exclusively in a school online bookstore, while 80% are of the opinion that their school will utilize both an online and brick-and-mortar store.

Overall, textbook delivery and bookstore services are only now becoming a prominent issue for CFOs (the topic doesn't even come up on previous surveys about CFOs' general responsibilities). This rise in priority is likely due in part to increasing attention to the costs vs. outcomes of higher education from students and their families, accreditation committees, and the government (e.g., HEOA). The question becomes whether the competitive and technical challenges of serving student-needs in an increasingly online world can be met by the current model, particularly by college bookstores that sell textbooks in a brick-and-mortar environment.

Competition from online, third-party providers is of major concern for the viability of the textbook business at campus bookstores. Students are leaving the school-sanctioned bookstore because of better pricing elsewhere, and this loss of customers is driving schools to more closely examine their textbook affordability, both for business reasons—revenue from textbooks appears to be in decline—and for educational reasons—charging students exorbitant mark-ups on course materials to help fund school initiatives is becoming an increasingly questionable practice in higher education.

Below is a summary of top outcomes and analysis from our survey on textbook delivery and bookstore services.

 

Textbook costs impact retention and persistence

The impact of college affordability on student outcomes such as retention, persistence and completion is becoming more evident, particularly in those programs where the cost of textbooks could exceed the cost of the course.

The majority of CFOs (89%) indicated textbooks costs do have some impact on retention and persistence. Given students are reporting that they do not buy all of their required books for a course, and graduation rates are tied to accreditation and other funding, textbook costs are joining tuition and fees as a potential cause of attrition.

 

Students are shopping outside the school-sanctioned bookstore for textbooks—predominantly choosing third-party, online retailers

Whether you are a college CFO, a faculty member, a student or parent, or just a member of the general public, you likely recognize that students are shopping online in order to find lower cost textbook prices.

Most CFOs (89%) confirmed that students are indeed shopping for textbooks outside of the school bookstore. What percentage of students shopping outside the school bookstore is too much? We think that is, and will continue to be, a central question in bookstore services. If you are a CFO reading this, do you know how many student customers are buying their books at your bookstore and how many are leaving?

CFOs in our survey reported that on average, 28% of their students are shopping elsewhere. Yet in the recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE), between 25% and 33% of students reported not even buying required textbooks. So who is shopping at the school bookstore for their texts (see Financial Aid point below in this post)? In our experience, the portion of students perceived as shopping outside the bookstore is under-reported. The majority of schools are either not tracking this data, or not analyzing this data in an actionable way. Additionally, one-on-one feedback from school administrators across the country in the last year actually points to the contrary—that less than 30% of students are shopping in the school-sanctioned bookstore for textbooks. This discrepancy is surely a challenge to be reconciled by schools and their bookstore providers.

Further, a follow-up focus group indicated an interest in understanding how many of those students are purchasing the majority of their books at the school bookstore.

 

Cost is the biggest issue chasing students away

It is likely no surprise that respondents pointed to price as the dominant reason (79%) for students shopping elsewhere, with the belief that students are more inclined to purchase online as a distant second (12%). When you put these together, it confirms an overall trend we have heard from administrators and students alike: Students are increasingly buying textbooks on third-party websites because they can find better deals there than at the school bookstore. And, again, it is no surprise that school bookstores are experiencing challenges competing when you consider the costs of running a brick-and-mortar with limited or local inventory vs. an online operation with national inventory.

 

Access to high-quality, low-cost textbooks is the most important service schools can provide

The "most important service schools can provide students regarding the sale of textbooks," as ranked by 53.5% of respondents, is to provide "access to high-quality, low-cost textbooks."

Additionally, in the open-ended answers, textbook affordability was listed as the second most-cited concern about bookstore services (after staying competitive).

 

Used books are the most important resource to the future of schools' bookstores

When asked to rank resources such as new, used, digital, rental, and OER (Open Educational Resources) in order of importance to the future of the school's bookstore, nearly 80% of respondents ranked used books as number one. It is interesting to note that a majority of CFOs rated both supplying used books and supplying rentals as very important, yet revenue from new books is still outpacing that from both of these categories combined.

 

Financial aid, designed to assist financially-challenged students, is actually leading them to the most expensive options for textbooks

On average, new books make up approximately half of all textbook sales at respondents' school bookstores. New books are also the students’ most expensive option. If our neediest students buy elsewhere, they are forgoing their aid. But, if they buy at the school bookstore, they are likely spending more than they need to on textbooks. This Catch-22 is contributing to both the rising student debt burden and mounting budgetary pressures on financial aid.

 

In the face of competition, schools still believe they will be in the business of selling textbooks out of a brick-and-mortar in the coming years

This might be the most surprising outcome of the survey. A majority of CFOs believe that their school will continue to sell books at their brick-and-mortar bookstore. Only 18% of college CFOs believe textbooks will be sold solely online. It is particularly surprising given CFOs recognize that cost is the biggest issue chasing students away, and that financial aid is binding students to shop at stores where costs are less competitive than online alternatives.

How feasible is it for schools to balance textbook pricing for their online bookstore and their brick-and-mortar store, particularly without unnecessarily inflating prices for students?

When the responses were posed to a focus group following the survey, some cited long-term contracts for brick-and-mortar services and the inability to consider alternative options until those contracts expire. The question then becomes, if the bookstore is not competitive in current times, how will long-term contracts affect schools' ability to keep up with changing trends and technologies five or ten years into the future?

 

Staying competitive is a top business concern

What are CFOs' top concerns in their own words? The open-ended answers revealed a consistent set of issues relating to textbook delivery/college bookstores, but staying competitive was the top cited issue.

 

What Can You Do? Best Practices Bookstore Services Audit

If you wish to further examine the issue of textbook affordability at your school, what can you do? We recommend starting with an audit of your bookstore practices, taking into consideration how the economic model is changing as well as how student preparedness affects overall student academic performance. We have put together the Akademos Textbook Affordability Best Practices Audit to assist you with evaluating both the health and the mission of your textbook practices. As always, you can also reach out to us directly to have a conversation about your textbook delivery mission and practices.

Topics: Research