CAMEX RECAP – Rental, Digital, and Bankruptcy!

Last week was the annual Campus Market Expo. The 2011 event was held in Houston, Texas, and while this show is for anything and everything college bookstores, the textbook industry favors the expo as a launching pad for new programs, training, and announcements, as well as a chance to set the stage for the August back-to-school season. So what’s the scoop on CAMEX 2011?  What was the buzz? What were the trends? And what were the expectations? Keep reading to find out.
Like general e-commerce, textbook rental was again center stage. In addition to the traditional CAMEX vendors, several online rental companies, including, (through Bookstore Solutions), and Chegg, were present at the show. 

Surrounding the event were several important press releases regarding rental and the rental players:

  • announced its partnership with NACS in order to position the move as uniting online rentals and bricks-and-mortar college stores as the ultimate source for affordable textbooks.
  • BookRenter also had a nice timely release on the company’s stability and immediate intentions as they announced raising a Series-C round of funding in the amount of  $40 million.
  • Chegg announced its partnership with the Independent College Bookstore Association in a new commitment to deliver affordable textbook rentals to campuses nationwide.
  • Follett announced a new online-rental solution for independent bookstores.


While new players have entered the space in the past three years, it is clear that the big wholesalers, including Follett, Nebraska, and MBS are not just going to roll over and give up their market-shares within the physical bookstore. They are looking for partnerships and other ways to leverage their established status and claim their place in the rentals market.


While digital learning materials didn’t capture the headlines in terms of press releases, it was clearly the emphasis and theme of the show. In an open letter in the CAMEX program, NACS Executive Director Brian Cartier issued the following imperative: “Collegiate retailing is at a watershed moment.Twenty-five to 30% of textbook sales being digital within five years is most likely at the low end of estimates . . . It is imperative to push yourself out of your comfort zone, and focus on what you need to succeed.”


Mark Nelson, CIO of NACS, delivered a digital update at the show, saying, “In the past, the challenge was what stores ought to be doing. The question is no longer about print versus digital. Digital has arrived.” To emphasize his point, Nelson noted that in October 2010, 8% of college students had a dedicated eReader or an iPad. That number is expected to double, and could possibly rise to 20%, by fall 2011. Given that over half of textbook units sold or rented were purchased online in 2010, Nelson projected that three-quarters of sales could be online by 2014. Publishers Weekly covered this story in depth in an article entitled “CAMEX Puts the Emphasis on Digital.


The recent Borders bankruptcy announcement was a big and fresh in the minds of all at the show. While Borders was not directly in the busines

s of serving college students, the company’s trajectory, especially with regard to online presence, does illustrate larger trends facing all bookstores, including those serving colleges and universities.  

Shortly after the show closed, another bankruptcy announcement was released. Nebraska explained that it was considering a reorganization of company debt. Since the show had already closed when this news hit the press, it was hard to gage the reaction.

It’s heartening to see college bookstores putting up a fight to maintain their space as online retailers, including textbook-rental sites, try to crowd them out. As we see Chegg, BookRenter, and CampusBookRentals integrate with college bookstores, it becomes clear that the growth of the textbook-rental space has a clear fit within college-bookstore operations. College-bookstore managers tend to like the tried-and-true way of doing business, and I believe they will really appreciate online and rental services that are offered from their traditional vendors such as Follett. The rental market has hit campuses in a new way and it should get very interesting as we get closer to August rush. In a future post, I will examine the different options that on-campus bookstores have. 

Digital is moving fast, but all involved still seem unclear about where it is going and how fast it will become mainstream. When I started working on the first Universal Digital Textbook Projectmore than seven  years ago, we thought that digital would pick up significant market-share in five years. Now the experts are saying it will be the next 5-10 years. The market has changed from what it was when I first became involved in digital learning materials seven years ago.  Now we have the Kindle (link to blog) , iPad (link to blog), and new learning systems such as the Kno founded by former Chegg CEO Osman Rashid, all of which will help move the digital adoption rate at a quicker pace. As publishers make content more interactive and less like “flat” PDFs, professors will find new ways to teach and a new creative media will emerge. These are exciting times for innovation.

Comments (4)

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