As a regional sales manager working with K–12 schools on the East Coast, Bill Love has a unique perspective on the changes and disruptors in the education industry. He helps all kinds of institutions — from the most established to the up-and-comers — find course materials solutions that serve their families, support student success and lower costs. We sat down to discuss the challenges private schools are facing right now and how the official school bookstore affects student outcomes and an institution’s financial viability.
What are the biggest challenges you see private K–12 schools facing right now?
The No. 1 challenge is the cost of the materials. Private school can be expensive. Retaining students can be hard. The cost of tuition is increasing, so schools want to keep the textbook costs down. The No. 2 challenge is textbook management. Schools want service to be as dependable and cost effective as possible.
I have two different kinds of conversations when I meet with schools. The people in charge of academics are concerned about the impact of course materials on education. The CFOs worry about the financial stability of the school.
Do you see schools struggling with declining enrollment?
Yes, declining enrollment is certainly something that schools are really worried about. Part of that decline has to do with the cost of coming to school. That’s where the bookstore and course materials costs play an important role.
What bookstore issues are K–12 schools you visit often having?
If they have a traditional campus bookstore, they are experiencing a decrease in revenue from what was once a good revenue source. That’s been declining year by year in most of the schools who have an on-campus store. They’re experiencing losses there instead of gains. The textbook management and the time it takes to collect the data from faculty and then handle the books, stock the books, sell the books and then return the books is not as profitable as it once was—it may not be profitable at all. The revenue doesn’t make up for the loss to the school in terms of the time and effort required to run a bookstore.
What kind of cost-saving benefits does an online bookstore transition bring?
When I speak to schools, the cost savings an online bookstore provides become apparent. For instance, schools like to have a marketplace feature, and they like to have it in a dependable forum. They feel more confident about our Marketplace, because it’s vetted. It’s different from a kid taking an ISBN number and going out into the wide internet.
They’re also attracted to our Guaranteed Buyback program. They like that the parent can see the savings they’ll get up front.
Schools also like the Student Savings Initiative. Some have given up their entire commission for the sake of returning savings to the students.
Do most of your schools have 1:1 programs?
In my experience, the northeast has more schools that resist going 1:1. The older schools aren’t interested in moving towards an all-digital setup. As I go farther south, I find they are a more interested in digital. Many have a 1:1 program. However, there are some with 1:1 programs, who still use 90% print.
It doesn’t sound like you’re witnessing a digital revolution.
That’s not what I’m witnessing at all. At first there was little bit of a knee-jerk reaction to digital. When it first came around, people believed we wouldn’t have print books anymore.
But I think now a lot of schools have come to believe that reading print is more effective. Some of the schools in the northeast that have been around for a couple of hundred years don’t use any digital at all. They tell me that all the studies they’ve seen have pointed to the fact that the students aren’t learning as well when they’re looking at a computer as they are when they get into a solitary deep-reading, concentrated environment.
Most K–12 schools actually use a combination of digital and print. At first, people thought that digital was going to be next best thing since sliced, white bread. Then the pendulum swung back in the opposite direction. Like most things, it ended up somewhere in the middle.