Dispatch From the Trenches: January 2012 Rush Report As It Happens – Part 1

My phone has been busy lately as merchants contact me to see how rush is going and if I see any trends or issues that are exciting or alarming. As I’ve been answering these calls, I’ve realized that sharing this information would make a great post. So while I normally wait to do this after rush, I thought I would share a few observations a little earlier and as rush comes to a close. I will try to publish one or two thoughts a day for the next few days.

 

On-Campus Bookstores Becoming More Competitive
Over the past three years, Internet booksellers saw massive growth as they were able to offer services that local campus bookstores didn’t offer and to align themselves with the marketplace concept in addition to having their own stock. But now many bricks-and-mortar stores not only have strong online presences where students can order books, the stores also offer digital and rental options and their prices are much more competitive with those of online sellers.

 

The Custom Publications Factor
Another reason that campus bookstores are increasingly competitive is their hold on custom editions. As I speak with colleagues, I often ask them how much of the market is comprised of custom publications. From what I can gather from the array of responses (there is not hard data on the subject), almost everyone is comfortable saying that it represents around 30% of the market. With regard to individual campuses, I have been told it can be as high as 75%. Keep in mind that only official campus bookstores carry custom publications, thus ruling out other local bookstores and all online venues.

 

It seems that academic publishers were smart with the Higher Education Opportunity Act and they put a lot of resources into custom pubs and selling the benefits, namely that in some cases custom pubs can be beneficial to the student and the school as they remove unnecessary content from the book and reduce the upfront costs to the student. But they don’t put much emphasis (or sometimes they “forget” to mention) that there is no buyback value and the book has a one-time use. My guess is that the sales pitch has gotten pretty good and professors are choosing custom for this reason. It seems like a good deal at the time. But did the publishing rep take time to explain that the custom book has it’s own ISBN and is only available on that campus? That outside of that campus, the ISBN and the book don’t exist? That even if that same course is offered again, the custom pub won’t be of any use for students taking another professor’s section? Did the rep say that the custom edition is competing with the unmodified standard core edition, one that may cost more upfront but that the costs could be recouped at the end of the term, actually making the standard edition cheaper than the custom?