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USO and CourseSmart

Mark Nelson over at THECITE.com blogs about the recent decision by the University System of Ohio to work with CourseSmart to offer digital materials to students. Apparently this is a statewide adoption - for both public and private universities. Nelson discusses the impact on the college bookstore:

While the motive of reducing costs of textbooks to students is laudable, digital is not necessarily the solution at this time. It is important to offer choice, and convenience. And stores should be offering students digital options. If we do not, someone else will and on terms where we may have little input or control relative to the vendor or margins. At the same time, institutions will need to understand that providing students with lower cost textbook options may result in lower revenues from the college store. That in turn means fewer resources coming in to support student activities or other campus functions to which college store revenue contributes.

Apparently CourseSmart is making it possible, however, for college bookstores to participate in offering digital textbooks - something many brick and mortar stores have been quite concerned about. If books are available for download, where does that leave the bookstore? For so long, bookstores looked at record stores with a "there but for the grace of God" eye - but now that it's time for books to be distributed over the wires, how can a bookstore play?

Right now, college bookstores are buying packaged bits of paper with key codes on them. A student buys this package, goes to the URL that's printed on the paper, and types in a code that gives the student access to the digital textbook. But this will eventually go away as well - students will be buying their digital textbooks online and receiving an email that contains the same information as the packaged bit of paper.

Digital textbooks, therefore, are only viable to the college bookstore as an "also" purchase - while I'm here in the store buying my humanities textbooks, let me pick up this ebook for my science requirement - but not as the main focus of a bookstore trip.
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