Key Takeaways from the Textbook Affordability Conference

May 6, 2016

Recently, NBC attended the NACS Textbook Affordability Conference (TAC) at UC Davis. Started in 2015, the TAC gathers various industry stakeholders to discuss textbooks, students, affordability and how industry leaders can make our work more student-centric.

Facilitated by Tony Ellis and Ashley Gordon from NACS, the TAC had all parts of the channel represented including bookstores, school administration, librarians, publishers, lobbyists, distributors, faculty, and probably the most valuable segments, students.

The wide variety of perspectives is not the only aspect that makes TAC different than other industry events. The format fostered interaction among the represented groups by assigning attendees teams that consisted of people from each area of the business.

After hearing presentations and ideas from the speakers, teams gathered to discuss and complete assignments. They then spoke to the rest of the room, sharing the insights discovered during their team time.

The main topics were:

    Affordability of course materials for the student: If students are priced out, their achievement and completion levels plummet.
    Accessibility of course materials: Not only do materials need to be compliant, they need to be easily accessed. Does content require a computer? Internet connection?
    Effectiveness of course materials: The materials have to have quality and offer value in order to be effective. Just because something is free doesn’t mean it has value, which is found by comparing the impact of the material on the student’s success compared to the cost. Does the material meet these needs?

To recap the data on usage of course materials by students:

  • 1/3 of all students do not acquire all needed materials
  • 20% of students have skipped a class because they did not have their course materials
  • Students value course materials but don’t acquire them:
    • 55% very useful or extremely useful
    • 72% when the professor incorporated into coursework

One of the discussion topics given to teams was Open Educational Resources (OER), with contributions from David Harris, Editor in Chief, OpenStax, and Anita Walz, Open Education, Copyright & Scholarly Communications Librarian, Virginia Tech.

There was an emphasis on the idea that OER is not necessarily free and on the importance of balancing cost with relative value to the student. OER is a popular discussion item industry-wide, and the challenge is quality content and delivery.

Another discussion topic was options of delivery, including used books, rentals and digital as cost saving options.

Our own (NBC) industry research shows that:

  • After at least 5 years of steady growth, the use of rental textbooks appears to have leveled. Currently, about half (47%) of students rent at least one textbook, which is similar to last year.
  • Textbooks tend to be obtained during the first week of classes. In the spring, about a third of students said they obtained their books more than a week, but less than a month, before classes started, so they seem to be making purchases while at home over winter break.
  • When students get books early they tend to do so to be prepared and to ensure they can get good prices. Those that get books late tend to say they were shopping for a good price or trying to determine if the books would actually be required for their course.
  • Overall, 38% of students report their parents supply the funds for their textbooks.
  • Students continue to think that printed books are a better value than digital books, and a key reason they aren’t using digital books is they prefer the printed versions. Many students say that the digital book titles they need aren’t available.
  • The college bookstore website is visited by 74% of students who are shopping for textbooks.
  • Students say the main reasons they buy online is the convenience, better prices, and availability of the books they want.

NBC went to TAC to better understand how we can continue to be a leading resource in textbook affordability for students. We do this by listening to key stakeholders, understanding their needs, and using that feedback to continue to develop products in our rapidly changing industry.

One of our core strengths is providing a wide variety of affordable textbook options, including rental, digital and used. We include Market Based Pricing in our sourcing tools to lower the stores’ book-acquisition costs, and that savings can be passed along to students. We offer a wide breadth of solutions, in formats students are most comfortable with, using the method that makes the most sense for individual stores’ business needs.

NBC Textbook Solutions currently offered:

  • Optimized Ordering
  • Online Textbook Requisitions
  • Used Textbook Supply & Distribution
  • Digital Textbooks
  • Rental programs from partially to fully managed
  • Dynamic Sourcing (Beta starting week of 5/16)

When another vendor has a better solution, we partner with it and integrate its software with ours, so our customers are truly able to enjoy best in class solutions. Examples include our recent partnerships with Redshelf and Sidewalk.

TAC provided a great forum for our industry to focus on making sure that the learning materials available to students hold value for them and are accessible.

Check out http://nacas.tv/bookstore-trends-3-things-to-consider to learn more about our offerings from the customers’ perspective.

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