Who Will Cry for the Campus Bookstore?

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Over at the New Republic, Mark Athitakis plays a very small violin for a threatened institution: the college bookstore

According to the National Association of College Stores, which represents approximately 3,000 campus retailers, course materials account for a smaller and smaller proportion of total bookstore sales, ticking down from 57 percent in 2009 to 56 percent in 2010, to 54 percent last year... “The traditional main source of revenue has leveled out, and we realize that in the future it will decline,” says NACS spokesperson Charlie Schmidt.

So where are students getting their course materials? As it happens, the multi-billion dollar textbook market has been one of the lowest hanging fruits that Silicon Valley's burgeoning ed-tech sector has set its eyes on; it's less fraught with regulations and bureaucracy than the rest of higher ed. Currently, the model that's eaten most into traditional textbook sales is a Netflix-like, rent-textbooks-through-the-mail setup, best exemplified by a company called Chegg. (Proof that this is a hot business: Amazon just jumped into it.) Meanwhile, electronic textbooks are on the horizon. Here's one contender for that space, a company called Kno, which promises a range of bells and whistles along with your 101 text, including the capacity to share course notes (a service a few companies are already offering by itself; universities don't like it):

Ever wish your textbook could create flashcards automatically for you? Wish you could get the "A" students' notes directly in your textbook? Wish you could search for answers in your book instantly? Or watch videos and bring external content directly into your book? Now you will wish no more. With over 70 features, Kno goes to work for you.

Athitakis reports that campus bookstores are responding by becoming campus everything stores. "The college store of 2015 is one part Target, one part ESPNU, one ever-shrinking part course materials," he writes. But even that space isn't exactly safe. A few weeks ago, I was browsing a WalMart in northern Louisiana and was surprised to see a whole shop set aside at the front of the store -- along with the hair salon, the Subway sandwich shop, and the extremely busy, very interesting WalMart Money Center -- that appeared to be dedicated to university branded merch, I believe mainly for the University of Louisiana at Monroe.

(h/t: everything I know about ed tech, I learned from Kevin Carey.)