Better Content To Campus

College stores manage the logistics of knowledge. Just as Napoleon and Frederick the Great said that “an army marches on its stomach,” a college’s ability to successfully educate its students hinges on the availability and quality of course materials. On a college campus, the college store can be the quartermaster who makes it all happen.

It’s 2016 – 8 years after the reauthorization of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, designed in part to enhance transparency and encourage affordability for faculty during content selection. And yet, the cost of textbooks only seems to be rising.

Independent college stores know the textbook game as well as anyone – how publishers court professors, why professors select texts, how students go about procuring them, and what it takes to meet everyone’s needs. They are caught between publishers and students, squarely in the center of the ‘principal-agent problem,’ — and as the adjoining entity, it falls to the college store to prevent market failure and become the campus’ hub of knowledge distribution. In order to do so, college stores must understand why better, more affordable course materials aren’t making it to campus in the first place.

You Can’t Sell What Faculty Don’t See

The textbook marketplace might be changing quickly, but the textbook discovery process has not. Faculty and academic departments, the true buyer of content (the entity deciding which content to use and purchase), largely discover content when publishers knock on their door to pitch texts. Teachers and department heads deliberate on the proposed materials and select them as their final adoption unaware of the final cost to the student. Those books then make their way into syllabi and students buy them (or choose not to).

Faculty Experience with OER

Data Source: Campus Computing

With the litany of responsibilities that come with teaching in 2016, from administrative work to meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse student body, faculty don’t have the time or resources to single-handedly research the incalculable number of available options from other publishers and creators. Adjuncts, whose numbers continue to grow, are especially strained by heavy teaching loads and limited input. The 2016 Campus Computing Faculty Survey for ICBA revealed that 39% of faculty surveyed had never heard of OER with another 36% indicating they knew a little, but had never used or reviewed OER materials. Further, a 2014 US PIRG survey showed that just 23% of professors rated publisher websites as “informative and easy to use.” As the true buyer of content, faculty bear a huge responsibility. They want to select the best and most affordable course materials available for their students, but they don’t have the tools to help them in the content discovery process.

Students Take What They Can Get

At the end of this chain of publishing, sales, and distribution, stands the student — stuck with a textbook and subsequent cost they have little control over. Rather than being able to focus solely  on their studies, they are distracted with the procurement and stress of unaffordable materials. They resort to an assortment of online retailers, inconsistent formats, sharing arrangements, pirated copies, or refusing to purchase the material all together. Victim to a tightly controlled distribution process, they become frustrated that their champions – faculty and the college store – appear indifferent to their financial burden.

Remember The Quartermaster

Affordable Curricula

There is an entity perfectly positioned to realign the market and bring value to the surface: the independent college store. By becoming a hub of content knowledge that connects professors with the content they want at a price point students need, the college store is able to fulfill an important campus function. The college store can save the entire process – providing a channel for the efficient distribution of course materials by facilitating the discovery and selection of high-quality, affordable curricula.

There are tools available to help college stores adapt to the changing course materials marketplace in a way that provides better service to students through better service to faculty. With a combination of content discovery tools that benefit professors and sales/communication tools that benefit students, independent college stores are able to solve a problem they are perfectly positioned to solve.

For more info on our Hero tool, please contact your Sidewalk representative or email

Sales 101 Lessons For College Stores

Independent college stores are expert at selling course materials and merchandise to students, but they aren't always as good at selling their own value proposition to campus leadership. As a result of this communication failure, numerous college stores across the US are finding themselves at risk of being traded for lease operators. By employing the following sales techniques, independent college stores can more effectively communicate their value proposition to campus leadership and thwart the efforts of lease operators.

Listen, Then Listen More


Listening is the foundation of sales, because it unlocks critical prospect insights. Listening closely can reveal campus leadership's highest priorities and expectations for the store.

Unfortunately, listening is the most underutilized skill in sales – limiting powerful opportunities for personalization. In conversations with campus leadership, stores should try to employ the "80/20" rule. This rule requires active listening for 80% of conversation, and limits contextual responses to the other 20%. Stores should also employ this principle in conversations campus-wide. What is the student newspaper saying? What is the president saying publicly or in interviews about the cost of content? What program is your campus considering to get content into the hands of more students? Lease operators know how to uncover these cues and utilize them to their advantage.

The pain points felt by leadership at every campus vary widely – and the only way to uncover them is through active listening. By doing so, college stores can customize their efforts to what is most important to campus leadership, making lease proposals irrelevant and/or unnecessary.

Quantify Value With Data

"Actions speak louder than words."

Data is designed to expose the truth, good or bad. It measures actual impact and encourages insightful decisions. Independent college stores provide many unique services to campus. Some of those services are easy to quantify (like sales). Others are far less easy to quantify (like timely delivery of content into students' hands and impact on student outcomes). By identifying areas of "soft data" and developing a process for collection, independent stores can create a more complete and competitive profile of the value they add to campus and the academic mission.

The Power Of “Why”

Simon Sinek Quote

In the TED talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action, Simon Sinek highlights the importance of selling the WHY before the HOW and the HOW before the WHAT. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” Value campaigns that start with “why” offer a powerful framework that focuses on unique business values that are hard to imitate, instead of features that are easy to replicate. Similar features with different underlying values can create vastly different results long term.

At the end of the day, independent college stores are tied to the Academic Mission and the betterment of education. Lease operators, as part of a for-profit corporation, are tied to their bottom line. Inherently, independent college stores have a “why” that speaks much more powerfully to campus leadership. It provides context to their altruistic purpose and long-term campus value: acting in the best interest of their students, even at the expense of profit.

Always Be Closing The Sale

Lease operators are actively courting college leadership for a place on campus. With large sales forces and budgets 2,000x larger than the average independent store, they are able to gain considerable traction -- often unknowingly -- which puts the independent college store at risk.  Independent college stores have to similarly vie for the ears and attention of campus leadership, utilizing a very important and exclusive home court advantage: constant proximity.

In order for independent college stores to remain competitive, they need to always be advocating their value. They can do this by keeping key campus personnel up-to-date on store initiatives and data. If a store has a quarterly report, it’s important to make sure campus leadership is reading it. If campus leadership has office hours, it’s crucial for stores to drop by to discuss how they are working towards their needs. If stores are pursuing new initiatives, they should be informing campus leadership of feedback and progress real-time. With frequent, positive communication, college stores can build a connection with campus leadership that will make them less likely to consider the far less personal lease proposals that reach their desk.

Over-Communicate For Clarity

When squared against large for-profit corporations, independent college stores need a voice loud enough to dominate the conversation. In Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage, it is suggested that people are skeptical about messages unless they hear it consistently over time, in a variety of different situations, and preferably from different people.

Stores need to embed the need for and value of their independence in every conversation they have – from students to employees to faculty to parents to campus leadership. By doing so, the store’s value is reinforced from all campus angles, allowing campus leadership to more readily embrace the store and its value proposition with conviction.

Independent college stores that leverage simple sales skills with campus leadership are more readily able to secure a strong, stable place on campus.


Can't Stop The Feeling

We "Can't Stop The Feeling" that 2016 is the year of the Independent College Store!

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