News and Insights on College Textbooks, Course Materials & Bookstore Services

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The Battle for Higher Ed's Future: Wall Streeters v. Academics (Point, Academics)

Torn down the middle. That's how the NY Times Magazine's September Education Issue portrayed UVA's campus on its cover page, along with a dramatic title: Anatomy of a Campus Coup: The inside story of the failed ouster of the University of Virginia's president--and what it means for the future of higher education.

By now, many of us know the story of UVA president Teresa Sullivan's forced resignation and subsequent reinstatement. In fact, it took me a few days to read the Times Magazine cover story because, well, I thought I already knew what had happened. It turns out there was still more to the soap opera, and a little bit of journalistic digging has helped uncover some lessons learned and a conspiracy theory or two. Allow me to summarize the article for you...

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In Response to Debt Collector's Cashing in on Student Loan Roundup

This September, the NY Times ran a front page article in their Sunday paper on college student loan defaults and the organizations that attempt to collect on defaulted loans. Look, if you take out a loan, my expectation is that it gets paid back. But what to do in the case of exigent circumstances? (And what exactly qualifies as exigent--that's a whole other blog post.) My focal point today--how hard is it becoming to watch students fall deeper under water?

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The Changing Landscape for Bookstore Services

The bookstore services landscape for educational institutions, both public and private, has been radically transformed in the past five years. More and more operations have been outsourced or restructured to resemble businesses in the private sector while bookstore operations at the majority of colleges and universities still operate under a model from a time that has come and gone.

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Stop the Presses! College Debt is now Affecting the Upper-Middle Class

An article on the cover of Thursday’s Wall Street Journal headlined with: College Debt Hits Well-Off. I had to think about it for a moment, mostly because I expected to see something more like “college debt hits record highs.” But it means what it says—college debt is now impacting the upper-middle class financially more than before.

The article focuses on families making between approximately $95,000 and $205,000 in annual income. This population experienced an increase in student loan debt from 2007 to 2010. The data came from the College Board while the analysis was provided by WSJ using data from the Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finance.

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Is the word "Textbook" obsolete?

Matt Greenfield posted a blog entry yesterday on the Huff Post on whether it’s appropriate to continue using the word “textbook,” now that the digital transition is upon us.

It’s interesting that the word in English is the only one (that I’m aware of, at least) that doesn’t designate the book specifically as an educational object. In French, for example, “textbook” would be translated as “manuel scolaire,” scholarly manual; in German, it’s “Lehrbuch,” teaching/instruction book (the Spanish “libro de texto” is likely a neologism derived from the contemporary English word). Perhaps the origin of the word “text” stems from the use of primary source materials (that makes sense to me) but the openness of the word may actually be helpful as we make the digital transition. Precisely because it has an etymological relation to weaving, blending together, it could be flexible enough for repurposing (as it has done so already in the digital realm, as, for example, “hypertext.”) There’s also a minimalist and direct sense of the word “text”: It’s clean and dry and unencumbered.  And regardless of the many ways in which the digital transition will play out, and despite the use of video, audio, 3D simulations, and other “learning objects,” who would deny that “text,” as the written word, is still the foundation of learning and will continue to be? “Visual learning” can be a great complement that helps reinforce concepts but there’s no substitute for grasping them at a textual level.

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Amazon, Apple, and the Priority of the Platform

The federal antitrust lawsuit initiated late last month against Apple and major publishers is indeed the boon to Amazon that most view it as. As a book publishing analyst put it in a NY Times article on the story, “Amazon must be unbelievably happy…Had they been puppeteering this whole play, it could not have worked out better for them.” He and others from the publishing industry see this, however, as not just a boost for Amazon but a development that portends darker days for publishers and ultimately for the reading public: “Publishers and booksellers argue that any victory for consumers will be short-lived, and that the ultimate effect of the antitrust suit will be to exchange a perceived monopoly for a real one. Amazon, already the dominant force in the industry, will hold all the cards.”

Such a suggestion, I think, is misplaced because it underestimates the depth of the changes now afoot in the publishing industry. Lower eBook prices may be one effect of Amazon’s successful drive to dominate the market for eReader devices, but the company’s comprehensive distribution platform (which includes the capacity to create and manage content) helps to raise the very question of what it means to be a publisher. “Content is king” is the cliché so often used by owners of content, and new media businesses have turned that on its head. Distribution, the “platform,” now takes priority—for a sufficiently developed and mature one will attract the highest quality content available. We’re already at the point where authors, collaborators, editors—people who create content generally—no longer require the independent services of a publisher to achieve their goals. These needs—editing, distribution, marketing—can now be handled by the distribution companies themselves, as Amazon has already demonstrated with the launch of CreateSpace and its related Kindle Publishing arm. And as supportive as Apple has been of traditional publishers, it also now operates its own self-publishing unit, ibooks Author, designed especially with the educational textbook market in mind. Publishers and their analysts may one day look at this period, in which they’re worried about pricing controls within the context of traditional publisher and bookseller relations, as the last of their halcyon days.

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