The Direct Network

Lessons Learned from the MBS Direct Database (From a 20-year Veteran)

Posted by Joe Clarkin on Apr 7, 2016 4:00:00 AM
Topics: digital content, course director, database

Perhaps the core foundation of our business, the MBS Direct database contains 1.5 million titles (60,000 of which are specifically digital) – one of the largest in the industry. The depth and variety of this database opens up all kinds of things for our partner schools. It gives faculty members a huge selection of great titles from which they can make the adoption choices, and as a result, their students are getting better, more high-quality books. Plus, if a school wants to adopt a title that’s not currently in our database, our numerous publisher partnerships make it easy to get that title added in most cases.

We sat down with Director of Retail Database Mindy Stephenson to find out how MBS Direct consistently maintains such a large database, while simultaneously fulfilling all of our customers’ requests for additional titles.


How the database works

How long have you been working in the Retail Database department?

I’ve been at MBS for 20 years. I first worked in the database department for our Wholesale division, where I worked for about three years. And then I’ve been in Direct since 2002.

What does the MBS Direct Retail Database team do?

The retail database department has quite a few different areas that we handle. The first, probably largest, portion of what we do is adding new titles to the database. So if the school makes a request for a title that they have an adoption for and it’s not already in our database, we go out and research it and add it to the database. Then, part of the department handles pricing, so they handle any price updates to make sure we pay the right amount for a book, to make sure we’re billed the right amount and to check that we’re charging the student the right amount. We also have another division of the department that handles the online presentation for everything – so getting cover images, summaries, table of contents – and basically making it look pretty online.

Adding new titles & handling customer requests

If I’m a customer, what do I need to know about the database? How can I best take advantage of everything MBS Direct offers?

I would say Course Director is a tool that a lot of our competitors don’t really have. There’s a lot more to search through in Course Director compared to other programs we’ve looked at. In Course Director, I think it’s easier for customers to submit new requests and our turnaround time is a lot better, too. A straightforward request – excluding rush or times when we’re really busy – most of the time we can turn those around within 24 hours.

If a school wants to adopt a title not in our database, how can they submit that request?

Utilize Course Director. That’s where most of our submissions come from. Some schools will go directly to their account manager and make the request, which will then be passed on to us. But I’d say probably at least 75 percent of requests come from Course Director. Schools basically just fill out a form and submit it, which goes straight to an inbox that we monitor.

After a school submits a request, how do you get it added to the database?

For print products, we typically go online if it’s a publisher that has a good website that gives us all the necessary information. Digital requests are a little more involved because we have to find out what the process is, and how the product is sold. eBooks are pretty straightforward but access codes sometimes take a little more time to find all the necessary information. A typical turnaround time for a print title is between 24 and 48 hours. For digital it’s a little longer because it’s a more involved process.

What are customers’ most common questions related to the database? How do you answer those questions?

Probably the most common questions have to do with pricing, because that’s everybody’s concern. They’ll ask, “Why is this book priced this way?” or that kind of thing. So to answer those questions we’ll call the publisher and get the information for them.

Is digital the future?

How has the job, and the database, changed over the years?

A lot. Just with the types of products that are now available – all the digital options that we have, everything is much more detail-oriented. Our team has to acquire so much more information, so there are a lot of things that have changed. A lot of these changes have required us to become a lot more knowledgeable about the various types of products, how they can be delivered, all that kind of stuff. And then packages that the publishers offer – there’s a lot more of that than there used to be. It used to be just a book or a book with a CD. Now there’s books with all kinds of different options available. We also have new requirements to make all of that visible to the student, so we have to document every single little component of the package. It’s just become more detail-drive and it’s gotten a lot more complicated to add a book than it used to be.

How do you see the database evolving going forward?

I would say definitely more and more digital options. That’s obviously somewhere that a lot of our schools are looking to go so I think us expanding our digital offerings, which we’ve already done quite a bit, and then just trying to stay ahead of the curve and making sure we’re trying to deliver all the various types of products that publishers come out with.

How do you think adding all of these digital materials helps schools?

I think it helps them be more flexible and gives students new ways to learn. I think that’s the reason a lot of these schools are going that direction – especially the high schools, it seems like. High schools are really pushing a lot of digital stuff.

About Joe Clarkin

Joe Clarkin is a former copywriter at MBS. When he’s not working or studying, you’re most likely to find him reading a book or watching a game.

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