The Why Of Price Comparison

The last ten years in higher ed course materials have brought about a lot of change, particularly in student behavior. What's something college stores can do to stay relevant amid these ever-changing market trends? Appeal to increasingly price-conscious student consumers by embracing market transparency. If you aren’t yet offering price comparison at your store (or have chosen not to), here are five important benefits for you to consider:


1. Increase Customer Trust

There is an unfortunate misconception among students that the college store is the most expensive place to acquire textbooks. A price comparison engine that offers an objective lens for students to view their course material sourcing options overcomes that misunderstanding and signals to students that their college store isn’t the predatory enterprise it is too often made out to be. Utilizing such a tool is a grand gesture to students that the college store is in business to foster student success in any way they best can.


2. Gain New Sales

Many students are already utilizing price comparison engines online to research their course material sourcing options. However, none of these online engines currently include the local options of the college store -- meaning, a significant amount of students may acquire their materials elsewhere unaware of how competitive their college store actually is. By hosting a personalized price comparison engine, local store options can counter online retailers’ for the first time. This invites the most savvy and price conscious buyers on campus back to the college store, all while leveraging a powerful store differentiator: convenience. Market behavior has proven that a price difference of only a few dollars is negligible to students (and the convenience and accuracy of the college store will win out).


3. Monetize Lost Sales

Of course, when the price difference is more than a few dollars, there is the risk that sales will be lost to other online vendors. Although counterintuitive, it’s important to keep in mind that those most likely would have been lost sales for the store anyway. By hosting price comparison for campus, the college store gets to monetize those lost sales with referral commission. This is a revenue stream previously left on the table, available for other vendors to re-invest in the strategic practices that won them the sale in the first place.


4. Impress Campus Leadership

There is something to be said about an enterprise that is willing to offer students complete market transparency and freedom of choice, at the potential risk of a few lost sales. It drastically separates an independent store doing its best to objectively serve students affordable course materials, from a lease operator in pursuit of profit and power. These lease operators may or may not currently be talking to your campus leadership. Regardless, positioning your store up as an objective, early advocate of student affordability and accessibility is a powerful value-add opportunity that only solidifies your place on campus now (and forever).


5. Maximize Store Value

With Hero, the potential doesn’t end with price comparison. Utilizing Hero to power price comparison lays the fundamental infrastructure necessary for college stores to do so much more: productive faculty engagement, scalable inclusive access and digital negotiation, and effective OER campaigns (to name just a few). Unlike other price comparison tools currently available to college stores at a hefty price, Hero establishes a framework that allows college stores to truly stand out and make a difference -- at a fraction of the price.


Don’t wait any longer to harness the power of price comparison. Get started today and see what Hero can do for you!

8 Game Changers for Hero Users

8 Game Changers For Hero Users

Your Open Invitation To Publisher Meetings on Campus

Publisher representatives have a big presence on campus – too often at the exclusion of the college store. This can result in students being steered directly to publisher websites, faculty not being quoted the correct market price during adoption, new/custom/loose leaf editions being promoted over materials with long-term student savings, and secretive inclusive access deals with faculty. If college stores have ever thought, “I really want to be present every time a professor is deciding on their book with a publisher rep” or “I wish there was a way the university would require the bookstore to be present with Pub reps”, they’ve got a point. Publisher influence is contributing heavily to today’s affordability issues and is ripe for disruption.

Faculty need objectivity. College stores can offer this objectivity. But they need to do it at scale, in a way that doesn’t require immense resources and time. Hero comes with three built-in features designed to educate and empower faculty in the course materials adoption process right out of the box.

hero-empower.png1.     Transparency.

According to a US PIRG survey, 77% of faculty report that publishers “rarely or never report the price" of a text during adoption. And yet, in the Going Digital survey, faculty rated cost as one of the most important influences in their adoption decisions. Faculty want to make price-conscious decisions for students, but they don’t seem to have the appropriate information to do so.

With Hero, faculty cannot submit adoptions without being exposed to market pricing first. Full transparency is offered so faculty, faculty staff, and/or department leaders can have perfect insight into the cost of their adoption decisions (for the first time).

2.     Cost Increase Alerts.

We’ve always said, “It’s ok if faculty wants to adopt a $300 textbook. It’s not ok if they don’t know it’s a $300 textbook.”

Cost increase alerts act as a double check of sorts in the adoption process. If faculty are adopting new materials, Hero lets them know, immediately, exactly how much more expensive the new content is relative to their last adoption. It’s an opportunity again, for faculty to know the cost their decision has on students. It also anchors a price in the mind of faculty that encourages the discovery of other, less expensive materials.

3.     Digital Price Negotiation. (In partnership with RedShelf) 


When given the choice of two equivalent texts, 94% of faculty surveyed testified that they would choose the less expensive option. Faculty are sensitive to price but they aren’t always aware that they have options.

When adopting content in Hero, faculty will see a clean badge and message for any piece of content that is available for digital negotiation. With a single click of a button, faculty of all class shapes and sizes can initiate a price negotiation with publishers through the college store. If successful, these negotiations will result in discounts on digital content as high as 70% (below the physical used or rental book market).


Hero helps college stores disrupt the publisher-dominated adoptions process. With enhanced faculty engagement, faculty and college stores can work together to eliminate the most pressing inefficiencies plaguing the market and alter the cost trajectory of course materials, forever.

The adoptions process is an important opportunity for college stores. Sign up here to learn more about what Hero can do for your campus today.


5 Things Stores Should Be Doing To Increase The Bottom Line (But Most Likely Aren’t)

The bottom line is the lifeblood of all business and enterprise. It is the most general indicator of business success and health. Improving the bottom line is an age-old pursuit, which under current market conditions is getting more confusing and frustrating for college stores to achieve than ever. If stores are doing their best to keep overhead expenses low, they are left with only one other avenue for bottom line growth: increased revenue. Fortunately, these next five items make that possible.

1. Increase Reach.

One way to increase revenue is to increase market share. By broadening campus exposure, stores can sell to more people. But, this can’t happen if students don’t walk into the store or visit the website. Current tactics of campus promotions, events, and advertising require a lot of time, effort, and investment from stores but are met with varied results. Hero provides a new opportunity.

College stores can easily increase their exposure and win customers by utilizing Hero’s dynamic booklist on campus. An interactive syllabus of sorts, Hero collects campus adoptions and delivers comprehensive and personalized booklists to all students and faculty. These booklists include information like current bookstore and market pricing. When students go to view their required course materials, they are automatically shown the bookstore options and pricing for each item adopted and required for purchase.


In an early pilot program, over 95% of our partner school’s enrollment viewed this Hero booklist over the course of a single semester. When was the last time you had the attention of 95% of enrollment?

2.     Improve Faculty Relations.

As displayed in the 2015/16 Student Watch survey, students listen to the recommendations of faculty. Sometimes (perhaps more often than we would like to know), that recommendation is not favorable to the college store. By putting effort into improving the store’s relationship with faculty and providing helpful tools that contribute to student success, communication and understanding will begin to improve.

Hero provides a variety of tools that aid faculty in the analysis and discovery of course materials. These tools simplify the adoption process and align faculty with stores as a team working toward student success. As faculty begin to view the store as an information source, they will be more likely to promote the college store as the destination for all course material sales moving forward.

3.     Champion New Content.

Buzzwords like OER and digital have been the source of a lot of recent industry chatter due to their affordability potential. And yet, they have been able to make little traction with faculty.

faculty oer experience2.png

The college store is perfectly positioned to embrace these initiatives in a significant way with Hero and become the content hub on campus. When alternative content like OER is fearlessly included alongside traditional content, stores demonstrate that they are the clearinghouse for all course material needs. By doing so, they build unparalleled trust with students and carve out a unique and specialized place in the course materials ecosystem that only they can serve.

4.     Offer Transparency.

According to outside research, 69% of students purchase textbooks from multiple sources, and many students report purchasing from five or more sources. Students spend a lot of time each semester completing a puzzle of multi-website research, seeking course materials at the cheapest price. This frequently results in lost time, late arrivals, purchasing errors, lost sales, and general student frustration.

Hero incorporates a dynamic market price comparison for students, with college store offerings as the first listing. Deploying it not only reduces students’ need to shop around, but it ensures stores are a valid competitor in the new (and unfortunately here-to-stay) age of comparison shopping. This ultimately increases stores’ chances for success and creates a new revenue stream of commission sales for transactions that probably would have been lost anyway.

5.     Address Rising Content Costs.

Last and perhaps most important, all the above points are only effective if college stores can successfully address the rising cost of content. With Hero’s three built-in, cost-cutting features, college stores can attack the rising cost of content at the root of the problem and become the entity that makes course materials a fair market for students long-term.


These five suggestions add value on their own, but optimize bottom line potential when used together, under one scalable tool – Hero. Sign up here to learn more about what Hero can do for your campus today.


Intro To Hero

Have you wanted to learn more about Hero? Now's your chance!

For the third (and final) installment of our Emergency Webinar series, Sidewalk CEO Alan Martin sat down to discuss the tool that is changing the way content works in higher education, forever. Watch the video below to learn more!

Emergency Webinar: Staying Independent! (Part 3)

Unsustainable Course Materials

If there’s a weird market in economics, it’s textbooks.

Most markets follow a set of basic principles -- things like supply and demand, response to incentives, and a roughly equal push-and-pull between providers and consumers to determine prices. The consumers are the ultimate decision-makers; they determine a product’s value, whether it should be consumed and its rate of consumption. They don’t do anything they don’t want to do, and suppliers compete against one another in response. You can read more about markets in Harvard economist Greg Mankiw’s outstanding Principles of Microeconomics, the 7th edition of which will cost you about $230 (or you can rent it for about $30) – but generally, it’s a pretty efficient and balanced system.

The economics of college course materials is different. The buyer -- the student -- has no say in what’s adopted for each class. He or she can only decide whether to buy, and they’re at a disadvantage in the classroom if they don’t make the purchase.


The real decision-makers are faculty who make textbook adoption decisions for their course curriculum. The faculty’s business is teaching. No matter how student-centered their selection process, professors have limited information to assess the value of potential content options. Instead they depend on publishers, just five of whom control 80% of the market. In a US PIRG survey, 77% of faculty respondents reported that publishers “rarely or never report the price” of a text during sales transactions. Faculty are largely unaware of the financial burden their content decisions are placing on students. It’s ok if a professor wants to adopt a $300 textbook. It’s not ok if they don’t know it’s a $300 textbook. (The student, of course, will eventually find out the hard way). These market forces culminate in an epidemic in Higher Ed: far too many students choosing to forego texts because of price.

Textbooks 3x Inflation


Source: NBC News

The cost of textbooks has risen 3x the rate of inflation since 1984. The College Board recommends a budget of $1,200 per year for course materials, amounting to $4,800 over a 4-year span -- assuming students will procure all required materials. The National Center for Education Statistics’ most recent data shows a 6-year graduation rate of 59% for a 4-year degree resulting from (but not limited to) failed classes, rejected transfer credits, switched majors, and doubled majors/minors. This potentially raises that budget upwards of $7,200. It's also prudent to factor in 2016’s “Cover The Cost” report that found nearly 1 in 3 students use financial aid to purchase textbooks. (For community college students, that statistic is closer to 50%.) A borrower paying back $4,800+ in student loans processed at the current federal rate of 4.29% for undergraduates will, after a 10-year repayment period, equate to an additional $1,090 in interest payments.

The rise of textbook costs is a pervasive problem that needs to be resolved and can only seemingly be resolved by working with faculty. In the US PIRG survey, 94% of faculty surveyed testified that they’d choose the less expensive of two equivalent texts; which has been confirmed in our own market research. Faculty are sensitive to price and they desire value for their students. They just need adequate information to do so – a big value-add opportunity for the college store.

With transparency at the point of adoption, faculty can factor both quality and cost of a text, encouraging negotiation with publishers and/or higher-value alternatives. Students win by paying less for high-quality materials and faculty win by ensuring their students actually buy the course materials they assign to succeed in class, increasing their chances of success.

The independent college store should be at the center of this process as a hub of content and conduit for information faculty desperately need. Course content will continue to change – its price, its formats, its distribution – but the role of the college store should not.

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



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

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