The Point of No Returns
“The success of WileyPlus has made a difference by selling students something they need and use each semester,” Spilka says. “CourseSmart is helping to reduce … copies going into the used book market, which ultimately affects returns.”
This is important in the textbook trade, as the unpredictability of the used book market skews what would otherwise be a fairly straightforward ordering process based on class enrollment.
“If more used books are available, the bookstores sell fewer new editions, and then they return them,” Spilka explains.
Returns are no longer a core concern for Wiley, though Spilka says this was a “welcome consequence” of increased digital adoption. “Wiley-Blackwell’s migration to online for STMS products is driven more by our anticipation that customers are increasingly turning exclusively to the Web as their primary resource for information,” she says.
For much of the industry, however, such heavy focus on digital content is not an option, with print sales still comprising the vast majority of revenue—though the inefficient and costly returns model adds to the incentive for publishers to give their digital efforts a greater push.
The only certainty is that the status quo can no longer be maintained. “[The returns system] is wildly inefficient [and] ecologically unsound,” Shanley says. “Publishers and retailers are increasingly aware of the costs. We need to find a middle ground.”