Lynne Williams, CourseSmart’s Director of Business Development, has compiled her thoughts on how college bookstores can succeed in the digital revolution sweeping higher education:
Why are some stores so successful in selling digital textbooks and others not so much? What successful stores have done exemplifies implementation of the best digital practices, all of which any store can do.
1. The guiding force at all successful stores is the ability to offer students as many options as possible—new, used, rental, and digital. That includes adopting the digital version, if available, for every title, unless an instructor specifically requested that a digital title not be made available.
2. Management philosophy and staff buy-in are key elements in a successful digital program. The desire to offer all options is generally part of a store’s overall plan, and as such, staff recognizes the value of offering digital texts.
3. Digital titles are available both in the store and on the store’s e-commerce site.
4. The stores invest in marketing that they offer digital textbooks. On each store’s website, there is information about digital books, either as part of an FAQ or on a separate page, and digital titles are listed along with the other options for a student’s course needs. In the store, cards, often designed beyond a generic template or in bright colors, are on the shelf next to print options.
Successful stores tell students about the digital option often and in many ways: Facebook posts, banners, posters, emails, countertop signs, online school newspaper advertising, orientation packages, and new student presentations. One very successful store provides specific information to Orientation Leaders so they can go to a shelf card and speak intelligently about digital and the savings a student can recognize. To help students better understand digital, stores provided a technology resource. Stores have had an IT Bar in the store during rush; another store had a table at the school’s Tech Test Drive, an event held to showcase the use of technology in the classroom, and at a Student Services Fair with laptops so students could experiment. The best idea is an eTextbook demo station available in the store to show students what a digital book looks like and what they can do with them.
These stores also make sure that the entire institution, especially faculty, knows the store sells digital textbooks. They provide digital text information at department meetings, new faculty orientation, and coordinators events, in communications with the faculty, and on adoption forms.
Finally, good staff training is essential to the marketing plan. The textbook floor staff, especially student workers who understand the need for low-cost options and who have been trained in the digital textbook process, can be particularly effective in explaining digital textbooks and their advantages to their peers. One store provides “cheat sheets” for the staff and at another, student workers are thoroughly trained in small groups.
5. These stores find they are successful in “off the beaten path” programs, especially in situations where the students never come to the bookstore—or even to campus. One store’s top-selling digital title is for an online English course, and the store plans to work closely with the school’s New Media Extended Learning program to make sure they promote eTextbooks for the fall. Another has found success in business classes at a remote campus. There is great potential in programs such as these or in programs that enroll non-traditional students. Successful stores sell eTextbooks across the curriculum but business students seem to purchase the most.
As I was gathering this information, I was struck by the commonality of practices among these the stores which are successful in selling digital textbooks. What they do is interesting and effective, and no one practice seems out of reach for any store. Implementing these best practices will help you maximize the potential of eTextbook sales in your stores.