PA: digital crucial to campus retail future

PA: digital crucial to campus retail future

As the start of the student year approaches, academic booksellers have been warned that shunning digital retail may bar them from being part of the future of the campus bookselling market.

Retailers are polishing their Back to School promotions for the beginning of the autumn term, with Waterstones running a “Buy One Get One Half Price” offer on study guides for the first time, and W H Smith offering up to 75% off books and stationery, including products like dictionaries.

Meanwhile John Smith & Son is letting its shops decide what student promotions to run, but will include discounts on specific price and range. Blackwell’s is advertising “up to 50% off” savings on “key textbooks”, with students’ course reading lists uploaded on its website, encouraging students to “get ahead of the class”.

However Graham Taylor, director of education, academic and professional at the Publishers Association, has warned there will be a definite “shift” towards digital in academic bookselling this year. “If bookshops want to be part of the future, academic bookshops have to have to be in the digital market,” he said. “Research says students might prefer physical books, especially for extended reading, but students are also wanting to use e-books, and more single chapters are becoming available. I would expect a shift this year to digital, but the question is how rapidly this will come about. There is no question it is a time of opportunity for innovation.”

Blackwell’s recently announced it was partnering with CourseSmart to provide digital textbook rental to students this year, and John Smith owner Peter Gray told The Bookseller that he is in talks with institutions about a digital offering. Meanwhile CourseSmart is offering a partnerships scheme for indies and Anobii, Kobo and Hive have also offered independents the facility to sell e-books. In terms of e-readers for the academic market, Gray said: “It is difficult to say what device is the right device  for academic, as different customers have different needs.”