On Jan. 29th, Blackboard Inc. announced plans to enter the online bookstore market, garnering support from students and textbook providers alike, with an aim to integrate course materials into the digital content the platform already provides.
The online bookstore, which will sell new and used textbooks, as well as rental books, e-books and digital content, aims to make the process easier for instructors, who will be able to read peer reviews of selections and view prices before determining which textbooks they will use for their courses. The service will debut at around a dozen schools across the country this spring, before becoming available on a wider scale in the fall.
“We simply thought there was room for something different: A convenient, student-focused option designed specifically to support the educational experience,” Chief Blackboard executive Jay Bhatt said to the Washington Post. “The traditional process for students to buy course materials is not an easy one. We are excited to provide a new content distribution concept that offers a simple, easy and highly personalized experience to the student.”
Entering an already congested market, Blackboard aims to make buying textbooks more convenient by integrating textbook lists with each student’s registered courses. In an attempt to distinguish itself from other online book services, such as Amazon and Chegg, the Blackboard service will automatically create shopping lists for student users based on their current textbook needs.
Although Georgetown currently uses the Blackboard Learn service for the management of courses, the Georgetown University bookstore currently has no relationship with Blackboard, but rather with Follett.
“While we have a relationship with Blackboard for other purposes, like the GOCard, we don’t use Blackboard for the bookstore operations piece. The bookstores here at GU are managed by Follett. Follett provides the current system we use, that Blackboard is competing against.” Vice President of Auxiliary Services Joelle Wiese said.
Janet Uzzell, director of the Georgetown University Bookstore,acknowledged that the store has faced increased competition as students turn to online markets such as Amazon.com.
“Competition is heavier – that’s across all campus stores. Today students are shopping from more than one single source- and that’s a key factor in our efforts to drive affordability and access locally. Programs like Rent-A-Text and the continued growth of digital are key growth areas directly tied to this increased competition,” Uzzell wrote in an email to the Hoya.
MBS Direct, a leading provider of online bookstores, will be partnering with Blackboard to facilitate the service. MBS currently works with over 950 schools across the country to provide online book sales.
Textbook companies touted the move as a good one.
“At Wiley, we are focused on helping students perform better by integrating our content, media and assessments directly into the teaching and learning process,” Senior Vice President of Global Education at John Wiley & Sons Joe Heider said in a press release. “This exciting new development by Blackboard will certainly support our efforts. It is helping create a stronger connection between content accessibility and personalized education, which, in turn, will help improve student outcomes.”
According to the National Association of College Stores, total sales in college stores reached approximately $10.45 billion for the 2011-2012 school year.
In a report titled “Defining the College Store of 2015,” the NACS discussed how, “If frequency is not aggressively addressed, store traffic will taper off by 2015 as student campus visits and ‘book-buying’ trips fall off while online and offline competition ramps up.”
Already, many Georgetown students prefer to purchase their textbooks online rather than at the campus bookstore.
“I would consider using the service for its convenience, but only if it was cheaper than purchasing elsewhere,” John Whitmore (NHS ’16) said. “I often don’t even purchase online, because I usually don’t even need the book. If I do need a book, other students will always sell cheaper than stores.”
One student admitted to going so far as to illegally download his textbooks to avoid the bookstore’s prices.
“I get a lot of my books by downloading them illegally. I use torrent sites such as The Pirate Bay to get most textbooks and a large number of novels and paperbacks. Overall, I probably get at least half of my textbooks from those sites,” the student, who requested anonymity due to the illegal nature of his activities, said.
To retain its student market moving forward, the Georgetown bookstore plans to both expand its digital content while maintaining its commitment to making textbooks accessible to all Georgetown students.
“Through expansion of digital and Rent-a-Text, the campus store continues to add value that other providers don’t provide. Our ability to deliver a curated experience.. affordable loyal service that accepts financial aid and scholarship money that has returns and exchange deadlines that are driven by our campus calendar all right on campus is a huge value,” Uzzell wrote.