The basic concepts taught in Physics 101 or Intro to English Lit might have gone largely unchanged for several years, but make no mistake: there are massive changes occurring within the textbook and course materials landscape.
With new expectations from students, faculty, and administrators, paired with advances in technology, course materials have transformed, disrupting the status quo. When it comes to how students obtain and interact with their course materials and how faculty and administrators adopt and distribute this content, the university bookstore is at the forefront of this disruption.
With more universities transitioning to or adding a managed online bookstore to their course material strategy, many educators want to understand what’s driving this change and what this means for their university and student success.
Here are 5 key benefits that show how managed online bookstores are an opportunity, not a challenge, for university revenue, student success, and faculty satisfaction.
Managed online bookstores improve visibility
Traditionally, administrators have been left in the dark as to what occurs when faculty adopt course materials, losing visibility over completed or missing submissions, costs, and even textbook effectiveness—with the added inefficiency of managing dozens of vendors.
Plus, faculty were often shielded from the ability to comparison shop for the best textbook prices their students would pay, at times leading students to forego purchasing course materials altogether due to cost.
However, a centralized online bookstore streamlines the course material adoption process, giving faculty transparency over pricing for multiple formats or editions through a single vendor (learn more about how online bookstores improve visibility). For administrators, this means greater control over course material adoption, textbook affordability, and vendor agreements.
Technology helps here, too, with tools that give administrators and faculty actionable metrics, showing whether or not students have ordered their materials and providing insights into the connection between course material adoption and student performance. Through integration with the university’s Student Information System (SIS), there can be an end-to-end connection between course materials and students. Not only does this mean more visibility, it ensures streamlined technology for more efficiency, easier use, and fewer barriers separating students from the information they need.
Managed online bookstores are more convenient
Shoppers used to flock to retail stores, but now they’re shopping online—and it’s no different for students and course materials. Along with rising textbook prices that have led many students to shop through online sources, students have also been seeking out the most convenient shopping methods for their on-the-go lifestyle, ordering from their phone or laptop.
When adopting materials, faculty have typically endured a manual, time-consuming process of researching and choosing their textbooks, often managing this through spreadsheets and multiple vendors, a recipe for confusion and inefficiency.
For faculty, online bookstores offer an easy, streamlined portal for all their course material choices, streamlining the process and exposing new course material options that may be hidden by siloed, competing publishers.
With online bookstores, future-focused universities embrace the fact that students are used to shopping online and visiting a retail store may be outside the norm for students. By meeting students where they are, online bookstores can also integrate students’ course lists, financial aid details, and preferred payment methods, creating a personalized shopping experience the students are accustomed to, just like ordering through Uber or Postmates.
Online bookstores aren’t just more relevant to today’s students, they’re more streamlined, too. Through integrations with a university SIS and LMS, it’s easy for students to register for a class, understand what's required, and order course materials. Through these integrations with back-end systems, students can also gain the ability to pay for course materials with financial aid directly through the platform.
Plus, with a centralized eLibrary, students can access digital course materials from multiple publishers, an advantage that prevents students from having to find and order from multiple sites.
Managed online bookstores lead to greater cost savings
As textbook affordability has become a major challenge for higher ed institutions, many students resort to shopping for lower cost course materials from online sources—or, for 7 in 10 students, they didn’t purchase a portion of their course materials at all, impacting their success.
Adding to the cost, faculty may adopt an entire book, even if only part of the material is relevant for the class, because there was simply no better way to gain access to the information.
Through an online bookstore, faculty can pick and choose specific chapters, papers, and sections, assembling them into a customized course pack without requiring their students to purchase each book or information source, a major money saver.
For students, an online bookstore provides more choices and points of comparison, allowing them to rent or buy new and used books, and ensuring they get the right edition for their course. Plus, at the end of the term, students can sell and ship back their books, knowing from the moment they purchased it exactly how much they’d receive for it later during buybacks.
Managed online bookstores create new revenue opportunities
Although university bookstores historically have been revenue generators, they’ve come under pressure as textbook sales continue to decline year over year due to market shifts and students choosing to obtain course materials elsewhere.
For universities that are experiencing this lost revenue or are proactively preparing for it, they are adopting online bookstores to gain a 24/7 revenue generator. In tandem with the online bookstore, universities redefined their retail space, expanding their spirit wear offerings or renting to outside vendors, gaining higher margins than textbooks ever offered.
Alternatively, universities have also re-purposed their bookstores for student experiences and new services, from career centers to technology hubs to meditation spaces. These features may not be immediately recognizable as revenue drivers, but they grab the attention of prospective students who direct tuition dollars to universities that understands their needs.
An online bookstore empowers yet another possibility: inclusive access, a method of providing course materials to students, giving them full access to textbooks and course content, which are usually fully or partially included in tuition costs. Inclusive access is a university’s chance to guarantee nearly all students go through the university for course materials, recapturing revenue that otherwise went to other sources of course materials. With an online bookstore, inclusive access becomes possible.
There’s an efficiency and cost savings benefit here, too. By taking a bookstore online, universities eliminate the need to manage inventory and returns, provide customer service, maintain technology integrations, or even make up for losses from damage or theft. Instead of having thousands of dollars invested in inventory, universities can rely upon a lean, on-demand online bookstore that frees up financial and human resources for valuable university priorities.
Managed online bookstores allow universities to adapt to the future
Retailers face a difficult future and campus bookstores are not insulated from these challenges; even if a retail bookstore is currently beating the industry-wide trends of falling revenue, more change is coming.. As course materials go digital, a trend that has only accelerated in recent years, reserving valuable retail space to sell an ever dwindling supply of physical textbooks won’t make economic sense. That’s when faculty and administrators will have to retroactively find a solution to ordering and supplying course materials.
For Gen Z and upcoming students, their past, present, and future is digital and, if they get a sense that a university isn’t innovative or technologically savvy, it may influence their decision to choose a university that is. Online bookstores are not only a sign of an innovation-focused university, but online bookstores can also respond with more agility to changes in student expectations while offering an experience more in line with Uber and Netflix, platforms they’re already familiar with.
The benefits of online bookstores are proving to be powerful and plentiful for universities that adopt this new competitive advantage, bringing visibility, convenience, affordability, revenue, and adaptability, providing an alternative or additional tool for course material delivery.
To discover what an online bookstore can mean for your university, contact us for an in-depth understanding of your university’s online bookstore opportunities.