Territory Manager Lori Van Gerpen meets with college stores and campus administrators across the nation. With more than 15 years in the course material industry — plus several years’ experience working in collegiate retail — Van Gerpen has a wealth of knowledge to share with those struggling to find course material solutions. We sat down with her to discuss the future of the industry — digital, Open Educational Resources (OER) and the need for all stakeholders in the course material process to be prepared for change.
What changes are you observing in the industry right now?
There are so many pieces of the puzzle moving at the same time. Everything has become a moving target. It’s created an overall sense of insecurity in the market. The fear of making the wrong decision has actually resulted in a reluctance to make change in many college stores. Caution: The train IS leaving the station.
What are some of the puzzle pieces?
There’s a lot of conversation about the future of the textbook industry as a whole. Digital, OER and the method used to deliver course materials appear to be the hot buttons right now. All can have an impact on store revenue. We live in a time where revenues are down in college stores and as a result may have had reductions in staffing. These staff reductions make it even more challenging to conduct the research on options available in the market.
Does reduced staff have an impact on customer service?
Potentially. I encourage stores to remember that customer service can bring added value to a shopping experience and may be the differentiator for customers shopping in their store vs the competition.
How do you think OER will affect the industry as a whole?
The challenge with OER is the vast amount of material written and the time required to vet the material. Is it really academic quality material? Thus, putting together scholarly material has the potential to become quite an undertaking. The interest in OER has really been propelled by an interest in lowering costs. However, are we assuming that scholarly material will continue to be produced at the current rate if there is nothing in it for the writer or publisher? As with most things, there are certain disciplines where OER materials may be a great fit. It has made its way into the product mix and will most certainly remain.
How can college stores ensure they have a voice in administrative efforts to lower course material costs?
By talking to their administrative supervisors, being involved with IT, and by having conversations with students now. Don’t wait. Initiate the conversation. If you want to be involved in decision-making, you need to play an active role in conversations from the beginning. I assure colleges stores I meet that discussions are currently taking place about the future of course materials and the future of the store by administrators on their campus. Be open to listening and telling your story. Know how you stack up against your competition. Show that you care and establish yourself as the course materials expert on campus, so that you become the logical repository through which those services flow.
There’s pressure to reduce costs while also maintaining a revenue stream they depend upon.
What makes that tough?
They appear — at least on the surface — to be in complete opposition. How do you lower your costs and maintain revenue? Do you cut staff? Do you reduce travel to lower costs? If you reduce staffing and reduce travel, how are those individuals going to understand what’s going on in the market?
What kind of course material solutions can help a store or school evolve in this climate?
There isn’t just one thing. You have to offer variety. You have provide options for course materials in any format that faculty or students might desire. Be open to change. You need to be prepared and have at least one foot on the train, or you’ll be shut out.
How can a college store positively affect a campus brand?
By establishing itself as the hub activity and information.
Have you found that more schools are looking at hybrid solutions?
Yes. I see far more interest in hybrid solutions where course materials are delivered via an online virtual store, through a campus LMS or combination of both while the campus maintains a spirit store. While often the push to consider this option comes from above the store, I have found more store directors willing to consider this option than in the past.
What else would you like our readers to know?
I like this quote from Georg C. Lichtenberg “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change, what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”
What do you enjoy most about working for MBS?
The people — clients and colleagues. I’ve have had the opportunity to meet customers who have now become great friends. In addition, every day is a new challenge. Those challenges push me and test my ability to change and adapt, providing me the opportunity to grow both personally and professionally.