• Ask the Guru

  • eBook Reviews

  • Back to School 2012

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.


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.


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.


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?

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.



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.
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.


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.
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.
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.
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.

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).

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 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.

It’s not that often that I have the chance to follow legal proceedings. I don’t care much for lawyers or being sued and when I read legal documents, I sometimes get confused and annoyed by the jargon that I frustratedly walk away after wishing for a Cliffs Notes version.

For as much as I try to stay away from legalese, two legal matters have crossed my desk and caught my attention in the last week alone. The first: on Friday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that items purchased outside of the United States and then brought in and resold do not apply to the first sale doctrine. Why does this matter? Because this is the law that many resellers have been hiding behind to import international editions of textbooks. In the past, we have covered international/overseas editions and I won’t rehash that here. What you need to know is that the Friday’s ruling paves the way for publishers to go on the offensive against any resellers of these books.

Over the past two years, publishers have been aggressive in their pursuits to remove overseas editions of textbooks from the U.S. market, and with good reason: sales of these editions cut into sales that the domestic copyright holder (the publisher) would otherwise make. Publishers have been successful in getting wholesalers to stop participating in the trade, but this new ruling could have far-reaching arms as it would embolden publishers to clamp down on marketplaces such as AbeBooks and Alibris and force them to regulate individual sellers’ listings  that violate the new law. Only time will tell how this plays out.

In other interesting news, it seems the breakup between Follett and BookRenter is not as amicable as it seemed back when the first announcement of the split was made at CAMEX . In recent legal news, it seems that while Follett has moved forward with its own solution, BookRenter doesn’t want to just give up all those relationships without a bit of a fight. Since I haven’t seen any of the legal contracts, I won’t speculate, but Follett has been known to protect itself when it comes to legal battles so I wonder of BookRenter is really ready for a fight or just trying to delay the inevitable.

Last week, we launched CampusBooks’ new e-book search service, and with it,findings comparing the availability of the top 1000 textbooks at each of those e-book merchants (see what Mashable had to say about it, too). This week, we took it one step further, and compared what everyone actually cares about: pricing.

We compared prices for the top 1000 textbooks from CampusBooks’ rental, used, and new options, finding the average price. We also then found the prices from our seven e-book retailers. The results? Whether you pick e-books, old-school books, or both, if you don’t compare, it’s going to cost you.

Specifically, 92% of the time, used and rental textbooks were the best deal-but before you run out to rent your textbooks, keep in mind that these prices were already aggregated from our entire list of over 40 merchants on CampusBooks. Picking just one rental or used site won’t yield the same results.

And even if you went with just used or rental, you’d be missing out on the opportunity to save serious money the other 8% of the time. In one instance, a book was a whopping $50 cheaper as an e-book version.

Still, comparing just between e-book retailers proved that even in that realm, while CourseSmart dominated in availability, the best prices were spread across the board. The three retailers with the highest likelihood of having the cheapest option were: CourseSmart (32.6%), Kno using the exclusive coupon only on CampusBooks (29.4%), and Barnes & Noble  (26.5%).
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In March, we speculated how Chegg was in the process of repositioning itself within the market . It seems that Chegg has confirmed our suspicions with a few recent moves. After the purchase of Student of Fortune, the rentals giant began referring to itself as the “Social Educational Platform” and developing a “Social Graph” with students. Now we see it using the language of a “One Stop Shop” from planning courses (Course Rank), to notes (NoteHall), and now tutoring (Student of Fortune).

The final piece of the puzzle was placed when Chegg released HTML5 textbooks. Why is that important? While others are fighting over iPad, Android, PC, Mac, and Facebook, Chegg released a version of the book that will work on all those platforms with out any apps needed. It changes the content-delivery game. Chegg can now provide an instant download while the student is waiting for his or her ordered book.  It can wrap a seven-day eRental with a semester textbook rental for students who just can’t wait for the book to arrive. The biggest question everyone had about Chegg was: “How does it sustain growth as the world moves digital?” Well, if CEO Dan Rosensweig is right and 30% of college students are using Chegg services, it is unlike any brand that has so far penetrated the college market; it is no longer a textbook company, it is no longer the “Netfilx of textbooks,” it is now a power brand that can influence student behavior.

What’s next for Chegg? The IPO?  Another acquisition? At this point it is anyone’s guess and only time will tell, but the company is poised for big doings.

This is a guest post from Andrea Woroch, consumer & money-saving expert for Kinoli Inc, who’s appeared on Good Morning America, NBC’s Today, the New York Times and more. She shares some tips for college students!

When most people think of college students, Ramen noodles, dirty laundry and all-night partying come to mind. It’s not that students desire this lifestyle; it’s simply that these are necessities, (except for the partying, of course). If you’re tired of struggling and scraping by at school, try a few of these savings tips.

1. Take Your ID Everywhere
Having a student ID is like owning a key to the city. It grants semi-exclusive access to all kinds of discounts and deals. Whether you’re going to the movies, the museum, or just out for a bite to eat, be sure you have your student ID on hand. You never know when and where it’ll save you some cash.

2. Get a Student Bank Account
Most major banks offer some kind of student account. While you’ll earn little to no interest with these accounts, they don’t have the fees and minimum balances of other accounts. It’s also a smart way to start building some credit history.

3. Rent Textbooks or Buy Used

It’s incredibly frustrating when the cashier rings up all of your textbooks and the price tag is half that of your semester’s tuition. Instead of shopping at the campus bookstore, rent textbooks or buy them used online. Check for the best deals at CampusBooks.com which collects and compares prices from Chegg, Half.com & Amazon. At the end of the year, you can sell those books back for a bit of cash.

4. Find a Job
We all play the sympathy card with parents, but let’s get real for a minute. Working 15 hours a week combined with a full class schedule  isn’t going to send you spiraling into academic failure. On-campus jobs are ideal because they’re usually simple and accommodating of school schedules. If you can sneak some homework in while on the clock, even better. To start your search, try looking into these five part-time jobs.

5. Coupons Can be Cool
With all the coupon books handed out on campus, using them won’t give you a cheapskate stigma. If you can’t find the discount you need, there are plenty of online coupons and even mobile coupons to choose from. [Continue Reading...]

At CampusBooks, we’ve long held that searching all of your options helps you find the best deal. That’s the whole point behind CampusBooks, and it’s why textbook comparison was a big deal for the past few years.

This year, however, is the “season of the e-book,” with Amazon Kindle Rental and apps like the Kno making the digital textbook the new big thing. I’ve talked about it extensively, and we set out to find out just how much it would “change the game.”

What we found was that, first and foremost, that Amazon Kindle Rental may have great prices, but the availability is lacking.  This got me thinking: we’ve long compared traditional textbook prices. Why is no one doing the same for e-books? Are students supposed to manually search each site, take each service’s promise of the best availability and lowest price?

That’s why I’m happy to announce that CampusBooks is now offering an e-book price comparison search. Now students can not only see who is offering their textbooks in digital form, but who has the best prices, too.

That first question, who is offering books, is an important one. We found that Amazon Kindle Rental had only 18 of the top 100 textbooks for back to school. With new access to these databases, we were able to ask: what about the top seven retailers? And the top 1000 textbooks?

We explored CourseSmart, Barnes & Noble, Kno, Textbooks.com, Cengage Brain, Amazon Kindle purchases, and eBooks.com, the seven sites students will be able to search on CampusBooks. The results? Not so good, as Mashable reiterated:

CourseSmart: 82% of the top 1000 books available

Barnes & Noble: 46.6%

Kno: 43.6%

Textbooks.com: 24.2%

Cengage Brain: 23.1%

Amazon Kindle (ebook purchases, not rental): 14.9%

eBooks.com: 0.2%

What’s the lesson here? Like I’ve said before: e-textbooks have a ways to go before they “revolutionize” the industry. These numbers will go up, sure, but for now, students have to continue to search for the best deal across all platforms.

I also thought I would add a bit of commentary on the data, to answer some questions we’ve been faced with.

1) How did you choose your list?  The data is based on the top 1000 books based on demand.  While I agree this is a limited number it should give a general picture of what is happening.

2) Why is CourseSmart so popular with these titles?  That is a great question.  Remember that CourseSmart has always had go penetration with Pearson titles and many of their titles are high demand books.

3) Do you think these numbers would hold true if you looked at more books?  I am not sure.  My guess is that while some numbers would go up, like Kno, other would go down, like CourseSmart.

4) What is your conclusion?  As stated above, the year of eBooks is upon us.  It is still to be determined if students want these books or will buy them.  Do they have the bite to go with the bark!  Students need to take time and research the books they need to see what options they have.  Only an informed student can save big money when it comes to time buying textbooks.

Our next step is to explore price comparisons, similar to the reports we’ve released in the past. It will be interesting to see if availability is tied to price, and if there are any clear leaders in the e-textbook market for both price and availability.