There’s a shift occurring in the world of academic publishing, and it is effectively changing the future of higher education and the way students can access and learn from a wider array of course material options. Even as last year’s report from the non-profit Student PIRG (Public Interest Research Groups) painted a picture of an industry in flux, with spiraling textbook prices, and more students doing without their support materials, there were signs that the industry might indeed be correcting itself.
According to College Course Materials Market Trends & Forecast 2016, a report by Simba, the much-anticipated migration from hard-copy textbooks to digital learning materials seems to be finally gaining traction, with a 42 percent adoption of digital course materials in 2015, up from 32 percent the year before. In an academic climate where students are sharing, photocopying and even pirating support materials, making choices on the class, or even the fundamental decision to attend college — based on the course load of books required — these are all developments college educators need to be aware of as they assign their students’ study aids and textbooks.
“We particularly get a lot of questions about pricing here,” says Ralph Burnette, General Manager Bakersfield Community College bookstore, “and some instructors aren’t aware that the decisions they’re making are affecting the out-of-pocket college expenses of their students,” he adds. Realizing the need among his faculty partners for better information, Burnette reserves a room at the campus library and holds faculty workshops to present educators with all the options available to them in the rapidly changing climate of academic publishing. His presentation covers the bookstore’s rental program, OER Courseware, Buy Back and Price Match programs — even ways instructors can format their materials differently to take advantage of lower-priced options for their classes.
Also covered in the presentation is a section Burnette calls “how to talk to publishers.” “We have a frank discussion about the various goals of the publisher, along with the advantages of programs like OER Courseware and our LoudCloud and Xanadu platforms,” he explains, and while Burnette says the store has a strong relationship with Bakersfield’s faculty, there are particular points he’s passionate about getting across. “For the most part, the instructors we’re really trying to reach through these workshops are those who might not be familiar with all of the affordable learning materials the campus bookstore has to offer — and how that can ultimately affect their students’ success,” he says.
It’s a concern Barnes & Noble College takes seriously, with relationships with over 7,000 publishers that can be leveraged to provide better student value, the bookstore becomes an even more significant asset for the campus. “If we can work with the publisher and take, for example, that $270 course book to a format at just over $100, and therefore something more affordable for the student, that’s something we’re perfectly positioned to do.”
There are other areas concerning affordability that particularly concern Burnette as well. With a large population of low-income pupils, many students are reliant on financial aid. “It’s another reason why we are so plugged into affordability — and the importance of the bookstore as the only outlet where they can access that aid,” he points out.
Based on a survey of nearly 5,000 students from 132 institutions, the PIRG report cited the reason for the increases in textbook prices on both the lack of competition, with five publishers controlling 80 percent of the market, and the fact that to truly succeed in their studies, students must buy the books they’re assigned. In their outreach to college faculty nationwide, Barnes & Noble College is helping them navigate those challenges with an approach based on feedback. “It comes directly from our student and faculty POV insights,” says Jenna Radigan, Corporate Marketing Manager for Barnes & Noble College. “It’s enabled us to develop a complete ecosystem of solutions that make it easier for students and faculty to find affordable materials — from researching course material options to selecting the right formats, purchasing and delivery preferences — and be able to seamlessly integrate that into our schools’ existing technology. These are the opportunities that publishers and online only vendors just can’t match.”