Recently, NACS released an announcement about a new initiative put in place grow custom publishing. The “Grow Custom, Grow Green” program was launched with 10 initial sponsors (mainly coming from the publishing world). You can read a good follow-up on the program from Mark Nelson, a fellow blogger.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, I view custom as a perfect way for the publishers to increase profits while fighting competition in the form of the used book. In some cases, custom is a win for the student, bookstore, and publisher, but all too often it only benefits the last in that group of three. So what would it look like to do custom the right way, the way that would make these publications of value to more than just publishers?
If custom is an extension of the class or the core textbook, it is a benefit to the student. If it is a replacement for the textbook, it’s very possible that the student will pay more in the long run. While the initial cost of the custom book will be lower than that of a used book, the tailored edition will have a small, if any, resale value and will only be available from a limited number of sellers and for a limited number of students within one school and maybe even one section of one course.
The press release mentions “smart custom” and “examining the content” instead of just “creating another ISBN.” Sure, that sounds good, but who defines the difference and holds publishers accountable? To me, the jury is still out as publishers have proven in the past that they are more interested in bottom-line profits. Remember, the rental and the used book are threats to the publishers’ business model where new print is king. Publishers desperately need to reinvent how they sell their products directly to the student and remove the third-party players eating away at their profits. Keep this in mind when considering custom pubs.