Answering the Bell

As we approach the Fall semester I am reminded of what it means to answer the school bell … for me it conjures up quite a bit. With the exception of a couple of years after grad school when I was doing the corporate thing I have spent every fall since five getting ready for the start of a new school year. As an aside, it reminds of about three weeks after I graduated from High School in good old Bloomsburg, PA. I was invited to one of my high school teacher’s wedding. As you can imagine most of the high school’s faculty were there enjoying themselves — most of them had been doing a little drinking to celebrate the occasion. I’ll never forget talking to Mr. Bierschmit, my 12th grade English Literature teacher, about his decision to retire that year. He was an amazing teacher — the kind that as you grow up you realize had a profound impact on your life. I can actually count my time in high school as B.B. (Before Bierschmit) and A.B. … as if I would annotate situations like, “that was during my Freshman Year (1991 B.B.).” At any rate he told me the thing he would miss the most during his retirement was “answering the bell in the Fall.” This time of year I really feel the excitement and anxiety of answering the bell. New challenges and lots of deliverables …

That may be a stretch of a lead in on an interesting story over at titled, “New idea to cut textbook costs — sell ads.” Buying textbooks have become a huge part of getting ready for Fall in higher education for our students. Not only are they paying an extraordinary amount of money for tuition to attend our classes, but are faced with huge costs in the $6 billion college textbook industry. The article discusses a company that is looking to apply the standard web model of selling ads to free up content into the textbook market. This seems like an interesting approach and will surely challenge both the industry’s thinking and higher education in general.

Sounds a lot like the music industry a few years ago … a tightly controlled industry facing major challenges being forced to radically rethink their business model. The price of a textbook versus its perceived value, hmm sounds a lot like buying an album for one song did a few years ago. This is heating up to be a a very interesting space. Something to think about as we head towards Fall. Is that an alarm clock bell going off in the background trying to wake up another sleeping industry?

2 thoughts on “Answering the Bell

  1. I was about to post this over on my blog…minds think alike (I left out the “great”…no need to get cocky).

    This got a lot more interesting after hearing about a university policy that prohibits the use of online services that display ads. I gotta wonder how the policy people will deal with textbooks that contain ads. Companies like Freeload Press seem to distribute their content as PDF files (an “eBook” for those who think it’s still cool to stick “e” and “i” in front of perfectly good words) so these texts seem to fall under the category of “electronic communications”. Or maybe not. Time will tell if the distribution model flies and how schools and universities deal with the changes.

    Comparing this to the music industry is a good thing. Students often pay big $ for texts and only read a couple of chapters. Be slick if Freeload (or some other publisher) could allow students to purchase chapters for some reasonable price. Even slicker if instructors could pick and choose from a library of books, customize their readings in a play reading list, one click on the student side gets the whole package. Gotta be easy to implement since a lot of us do something similar with a certain music store everyday.

    And the adverts may be more interesting than the content…

  2. Yeah, being able to create a playlist of reading materials would be killer … I know you’ve used Edison Services in the past and that was always the idea there — we did with our own content, but giving faculty (and ultimately students) the ability to easily customize their course content delivery is a good goal. If music could be disaggregated, then why can’t it be done in the textbook space? Apple did it again with TV shows … before a little while ago you had to buy a DVD with an entire season’s worth of “Friends,” but now you can get single episodes on the iTMS … we’ll get there. This is going to heat up nicely.

    While we are on the subject of play lists, I read and wrote about a great report some time back about how social music sharing would become on of the top ways people decide what to buy. The iMix in the iTMS store gives you the ability to quickly share out a playlist that others can rate and ultimately purchase … I know I look for like-minded people to get music recommendations from … why not course reading lists in the same way?

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