Thursday, October 27, 2011

Ten Things Stores Can Do To Drive the Course Materials Future

Ten Things Stores Can Do To Drive the Course Materials Future

Campus stores are entitled with a unique opportunity to maximize the strength of the collegiate retail channel, especially as it relates to the course materials marketplace.

Those without the experience of working outside the institution can easily overlook the established advantages we can capitalize upon, campus services that can be enhanced, and value-added strengths that can be built upon. The basics include offering convenience and customer service, facilitating communication with faculty and students, collaborating with strategic partners, managing consolidated transactions, and controlling costs.

While offering valued services to faculty, students, administrators, and other course material stakeholders proves competency, capability, and credibility, this is not enough. To ensure a position of strength for the course materials future, collegiate retailers must consider forward thinking strategies and be open to new ways of thinking. The list that follows represents contemporary actions that can be taken to drive the future of course materials.

1. Think & Read Strategically. It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day routine, especially when trying to achieve more with increasingly scarce resources. Although it requires extra effort, the importance of taking time out to think strategically is absolutely critical to future success. Devote time to surveying the competitive landscape by knowing what is going on in the business, taking stock of where you stand today, and plotting a strategic course for the future. Avoid the "tyranny of the tactical".

2. Pursue Digital Options. The transition from print to digital is affected by many factors, including how it is priced, the quality of the product, the resulting perceived value by the student, and the delivery technology. This makes a precise transition schedule difficult to predict, and while student adoption of the medium to date has been limited, the shift IS inevitable. Only those stores who are fully engaged in digital opportunities today will be adequately prepared for the opportunity of tomorrow.

3. Pursue Textbook Affordability Initiatives. While the vast majority of college stores are expected to pursue a profit-based mission, the students of today value organizations that also balance a socially responsible agenda, including sustainability initiatives, promoting student scholarship, and most importantly, helping students to save money on the high cost of textbooks. Genuine efforts in this area will improve customer perceptions of transparency and be rewarded by increased customer trust and loyalty. This translates directly to market share and besides - it's the right thing to do.

4. Engage Actively with Higher Ed. The higher education landscape college stores work in continues to evolve as do the students with each incoming class. Campus stores must engage with technology trends and the customer of tomorrow in multiple ways. This can include traditional industry sources, paying attention to industry thought leaders, engaging with campus and governmental stakeholders, following results of research among future college students, and monitoring important trend sources outside higher education.

5. Seek Collaborative Opportunities. These can be from within and from outside of the campus walls. Consider potential partners who may have been perceived a threat in the past as well as those who may not have been a consideration at all. Creating networks of strategic partners is a characteristic of companies that survive radical change to their industry when compared to those organizations who do not survive. Many non-traditional resources could be well positioned to replace services traditionally provided by college stores and those that overlook this fact will risk being marginalized.

6. Consider Alternative Success Measures. One of my favorites is "New Text Equivalent" or "NTE" Sales - for measuring comparable growth despite selling course materials at lower price points, i.e. used textbooks, rentals, etc. This measure can be used in parallel with "FTE" or Full Time Enrollment to assess sales performance as it may be impacted by fluctuations with enrollment. Both equivalencies have the effect of "flattening" out variances between full & part time enrollment and selling more textbooks but at a lower price.

7. Seek Customer Satisfaction & Loyalty. This may seem obvious, but market share will be retained and grown by listening attentively to your current (and future) customer, offering a variety of options to meet their needs. It's a mistake to focus exclusively on promoting top line revenue, protecting a traditional gross profit margin standard, or clinging to outdated ways of thinking. Tangible benefits can also be earned from customer loyalty programs, customer relationship management (CRM), and communicating in their medium of choice - social media.

8. Track Market Share Not Just Top Line Revenue. As pricing models change and online affiliate partnerships proliferate, unit sales variance can be used as an approximate measure of captured (or lost) market share. Including online sales through affiliate partnership is more realistic than assessing in-store sales alone. Unit sales per FTE is a comparative measure that can benchmark stores serving very different student enrollments.

9. Don't Be Afraid to Act Decisively. Managing calculated risk balances avoiding the "bleeding edge" on one hand and "paralysis by analysis" on the other. As long as decisions and actions are well-informed, innovation can actually reduce risk instead of increasing it. Doing nothing creates more risk than doing something and being unsuccessful and the cost of inaction is being marginalized as a service provider and contributing to the opportunity of alternate resources.

10. BE Your Future. The best way to predict the future is to take an active role in creating it. Actively engage your colleagues on campus and in the industry, including vendor partners, share your expertise, and adopt the advanced thinking of others. There is no silver bullet, no single solution to insure the future of the college store. Be persistent, stay positive, and don't give up.

Written by Jeff Nelson, BGSU Bookstore Director and ICBA President

Monday, September 26, 2011

ICBA 2012 iTech - Emerging Technology: Devices & Trends

The current and future state of consumer electronics retail, breakthrough technology innovation and social media trends are among the hot technology topics that will be presented at the iTech Program at the ICBA 2012 Retail Conference, February 6-10, 2012 at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott in Fort Myers, Florida.

Leading a session titled “Emerging Technology: Devices and Trends” will be Steve Koenig, Director of Industry Analysis at the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA). Koenig directs the CE MarketMetrics program, overseeing all strategic and operational aspects of the service. He also directs CEA’s semi-annual CE Industry Forecast. As part of the market research team at CEA, Koenig supports CEA’s consumer research initiatives, from study design to data analysis.

Koenig will be sharing his views on the path for consumer electronics as it relates to the retail and higher education markets, and exploring the short-and long-term potential outcomes for what has become a volatile industry. Based on years of experience, analysis and exhaustive market research, Koenig will provide insight and perspective to help guide our buyers toward a prosperous future.

Register today for iTech2012. We have a limited number of FREE registrations and airfare (up to $500) available for iTech 2012. Take advantage of this great ICBA benefit to hear one of the technology industry’s most knowledgeable speakers, as well as meet and network with the leading collegiate technology retailers and vendors.

For more information about the ICBA 2012 Retail Conference featuring iTech, please contact Marty Duncan, ICBA Program Manager at 866-841-ICBA (4222) or

Posted by Marty Duncan, ICBA Program Manager.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What’s New in School & Office Supplies

Back in the office after a grueling, yet productive, four days at the ECRM School & Office Supply meetings last week. Over the course of this event, I met with 107 different school & office supply vendors and reviewed the offerings they will have for 2012. There are some great opportunities for the ICBA member stores, which we will bring to you as part of the ICBA 2012 Buying Programs. Here is just a sampling.

We all know that you can recycle paper, and you know you can make it out of sugar cane and even elephant dung. Then I was surprised when I sat down with a vendor who makes paper out of stone. My initial thought was a Flintstone-like slab of stone, a hammer and chisel, and the “dink-dink-dink” as you chisel away your notes. But this paper was exceptionally smooth and bright and writing on it is a dream. Stone paper is recyclable, durable, water-resistant, tear and scuff resistant and never turns yellow. Who would have thought this was possible? Just an example of exciting new products to soon be heading our way!

Major manufacturers are now gearing more of their styles and colors of writing instruments towards women. Barrels will be available in more color and pattern options. Many of the companies bring both a fashion and professional look. Violet colored ink is now in the top 3, overtaking Red as a preferred choice.

And then there is Angry Birds, the top rated game/app for mobile devices. Angry Birds is now showing up in school & office supplies. Portfolios, notebooks, erasers, calendars, posters…you name it and the birds (and pigs) are on it. I’ll bet an overwhelming majority of your students have the Angry Birds on their iPad, iPhone or Droid. Stocking these products would be a “fun” look for your department.

How about a bag made entirely from a single zipper? Designed for function, fashion and fun, these bags are made of high-quality, reinforced, durable zippers. It is a long strip of unzipped zippers that becomes a beautiful handbag once zipped. Other styles include a laptop bag, tote or gadget pouch.

Finally, more and more fashion looks are available in wirebound notebooks, binders and portfolios. Contemporary colors and patterns, as well as sketched art looks, are available. Many companies are offering glitter products and several boasted 3D lenticular cover designs. The depth of image technology today is remarkable.

We will be working with these companies to develop product and pricing programs for ICBA members for 2012 and the BTS season. Look for these exciting new programs as we announce them at the end of the year. Fun new additions are coming your way!

Posted by Marty Duncan, ICBA Program Manager

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

ICBA: Your Retail Cooperative Savings

In June you received your 2010 ICBA Savings Report. This report helps you determine the value of the ICBA buying programs. We encourage you to review this report and to share this with your administrators, if you have not already done so.

Did you Know?

  • ICBA stores realized a cumulative savings of 11.4%. However, when considering the vendors who do not report your purchases to us, ICBA stores’ savings are definitely greater than this amount.
  • The average ICBA store saved over $42,900 utilizing the “standard” ICBA Programs.
  • ICBA stores who committed to the CBS Apparel Programs on average saved an additional $26,407 on tees, fleece and hats.
  • For the 28 ICBA members also utilizing the ICBA-PartnerShip Freight Program, they averaged an additional $83,700 in savings.
  • The average ICBA member experienced a 1,946% return on their dues investment.
  • One ICBA member realized a 16,400% return on their dues for 2010. If that was Wall Street, we could all retire.

Is your store achieving the maximum value possible? It is always smart business to gain the greatest benefit from your investment. And in the current economy it’s time to re-evaluate your commitment to ICBA programs. It’s up to you. The more you use the ICBA Buying Programs, the more value you will receive from your ICBA membership.

Membership Level
2010 Savings
Top Performers
(w/o Freight)
Return on
Under $1 Million
$1 to $3.9 Million
$4 to $6.9 Million
$7 to $9.9 Million
$10 to $19.9 Million
$20 to $29.9 Million
Over $30 million

CBS Apparel Program – Average store savings $26,407
ICBA was the first group in our industry to bring you a successful committed buying model for basic collegiate apparel—the ICBA Commit-Buy-Sell Program (CBS). In 2010, 73 ICBA stores saved over $1.9 million using the CBS Apparel Programs. Total savings from CBS programs since 2006 is over $7.7 million. Are you maximizing your use of the CBS Apparel Program? Commitment forms for the 2012-2013 CBS Apparel Programs were emailed to your store on August 25 and are due back to ICBA on Friday, September 23.

ICBA Partnership Freight Programs – Average store savings $83,700
The ICBA Freight Program, managed through PartnerShip, is a different program from the NACS PartnerShip program that you may already be using.  The ICBA PartnerShip  program is designed to save time and money, and make a measurable impact on your bottom line. The ICBA Freight Program offers a full suite of individualized logistics management services that are available to all ICBA members, regardless of your current shipping volume. PartnerShip will act as your "Freight Headquarters," working with nationally-known carriers to provide you with unparalleled customer service and significant discounts off LTL carrier published rates.

ICBA Retail Conference, Business Encounter & PRIMEtime – Average store savings $1,650
ICBA saved member stores over $90,000 in education and travel expenses attending the ICBA 2011 Retail Conference in Las Vegas and ICBA members have already taken advantage of the available “freebie” registrations for ICBA 2012, February 6-10, in Fort Myers, Florida! With the continued success of PRIMEtime, ICBA was able to reduce the travel expenses for 104 apparel, supply and technology buyers from 58 different ICBA member stores to attend ICBA 2011 Retail Conference. Look for an announcement later this fall about the location of ICBA 2013 and plan to register during the late summer of 2012 for ICBA 2013 Retail Conference and take advantage of this great member benefit.

Thank you for choosing to be an ICBA owner, and congratulations on successfully utilizing ICBA programs and services to benefit your store, your school and your students.

Posted by Marty Duncan, ICBA Program Manager.

Friday, September 9, 2011

It’s the (Digital) Content, Stupid! (Or is it…)

“Up to 80% off with Kindle Textbook Rental” (
“Deciding on a Book, and How to Read It” (New York Times)
“The Secondary Cost of Digital” (Inside Higher Ed)
“eBook report: Nook is up, iPad still catching up” (eCampus News)
“Amazon expected to sell 3 to 5 million tablets in Q4 2011” (ZDNet)
“Inkling Launches Version 2.0, Brings the Collective Wisdom of Every Student to the Textbook” (
“Kno’s Textbooks Is Top Back-To-School iPad App With One Download Every 8 Seconds” (
“Amazon Will Be Tablet Product Strategists’ New Frenemy” (Forbes)
“Hood College: Freshman orientation and an iPad” (eCampus News)
“Amazon Cloud Player – A New Way to Enjoy Your Music” (
“Analysis: With HP tablet dead, who can challenge Apple?” (Reuters)
One thing is certain.  There is as much interest and intrigue as there is diversity of opinion and predictions for the future when it comes to digital content and devices that can read that content.  The title of this blog is obviously adapted from the phrase made popular by political strategist James Carville during Bill Clinton’s successful 1992 run for President, but this topic has little to do with politics and everything to do with success.

Not too long ago, the focus was almost entirely upon the device.  The enTourage eDGe, the iPad, the Kindle, you name it.  By one count, literally hundreds of device manufacturers gearing up to serve your digital book needs.  Some predictions I read for this fall projected 40% of U.S. college students would return to campus with some type of a tablet.

Some companies, like Kno, didn’t even get to first base with the reader before doing a ‘corporate strategy 180’ and concentrating on software of content delivery instead.  Others either never made it to market, or like HP, showed up with a long awaited tablet only to announce that the prices would be slashed and they wouldn’t pursue this market after all.  Either corporate ADD is alive and well or the pace of change in the marketplace is increasing so fast that fulfillment can’t keep up with strategic planning.

The growth of the iPad in the context of higher education – in terms of device sales, but also when considering apps, new app development, and specifically educational uses – is irrefutable.  I get a kick out of one middle management executive who took pride in the fact just two years ago that he was still not yet tethered to a smart phone.  Today he carries an iPad 2 and brags about his business productivity apps.

“…Web queries for 'Kindle textbooks' are up 60 percent from this time last year. Same goes for 'Nook textbooks.' Searches for 'iPad textbooks' are up 40 percent. Whether or not students are buying e-textbooks this year, they seem to be shopping for them.” - Google
Enter the 800 pound gorilla (Amazon).   Although Amazon is as tight lipped as my Apple Rep around a rumored new product release, industry analysts are making huge predictions about the potential sales of an Amazon tablet, especially if it is sold as a loss leader at or below cost.  (Screech!)  That’s the sound of me slamming on the brakes.  Say what?  How can Amazon be successful if they don’t earn profits on the sale of a new device?  Refer back to my title.  It’s not all about the device.
If any corporate technology giant has a chance to challenge Apple for the tablet/digital content market, Amazon is the one.  Although the companies have very different corporate strategies, both have been successful with these approaches.  And yet, the back-to-school results for Kno and their software are astounding.  One download every 8 seconds?  Are you kidding me?  The #1 iPad education app and #2 grossing iPad app overall?  That’s impressive.  The open question is: “will the content sales follow?”
Although there are only a handful of titles right now, Inkling is a content model to watch carefully.  This involves an enriched, enhanced, and interactive digital version of textbook content.  In the study “Journey to Textbook Affordability: students use experiences of e-textbooks in five California State University campuses” (February, 2011), just 34% of the students reported overall satisfaction with an e-textbook. 
Could that be because the majority of e-textbooks are still dull PDF versions of the printed books that can’t be sold back, probably expire, and may not be value-priced when compared to their printed cousins?
“The Secondary Cost of Digital” is an example of how the marketplace and misperceptions of the average reader is evolving from “all e-books are created equal” to the truer perception that digital (textbook) content still has some growing up to do before it can replace the dead tree technology. 
People are catching on to the fact that you are not always “buying” an e-textbook.  You are typically paying to temporarily use the content license, or as calls it: a “Kindle Textbook Rental” (Kindle device-agnostic reader software + limited e-textbook license).  As Nicole Allen from Student PIRG puts it “add another layer to the publishers’ ability to rip students off”.
The value of renting traditional printed textbooks is being realized on almost every campus today in some fashion, while on a year ago there were only a few hundred schools that rented textbooks.  This is partly because of the value proposition is now being recognized by students, but also because the industry has found ways to make this new-ish model work.
So where is this all going to end up and when will the “tipping point” be reached where e-textbooks take over?  And will we all end up in the “the cloud” any time soon?  The answer depends upon who you talk to and at this point, it may still be too early to tell.  One crystal ball I looked into a few years ago told me that both the technology (reader, software, devices) and the content (digital or e-textbook) need to evolve before this happens. 
Although some progress has been made in both arenas, more still needs to happen before we will see anything like a perfect storm sweeping across our campuses.  All we can do is stay tuned and watch for the next big development.  With the pace of change we have seen recently, we may not have to wait long.
Written By Jeff Nelson, ICBA President