Best Back To School Campaigns, Part III: Bookstore Alternatives

Part III of our Best of Back to School marketing campaigns of 2010 dives into the changing world of college textbooks.  In recent years, numerous companies have sprung up offering alternatives to the notoriously expensive college bookstore.  This year, I was particularly impressive by two such companies – Coursesmart and Chegg.

Through its sleek, easy-to-use website, Coursesmart offers an ever-growing selection of “e-textbooks” – electronic versions of the traditional print texts that can be read on desktops, laptops, iPads and even iPhones.  Coursesmart’s e-textbooks give the reader the ability to highlight sections, take notes in the margins, print selected pages and cut and paste selections.  Now there is no need to carry around tons of heavy books – you can keep them all on our laptop, read for easy access with just one click.

I was particularly impressed by Coursesmart’s synergy with Apple products.  Being able to access textbooks from an iPhone is the ultimate in transportable texts.  Furthermore, the iPad opens the door to more interactive and impactful textbooks.  (See image above for an example of a Coursesmart text viewed on a iPad.)  The Wall Street Journal discussed the iPad and Coursesmart’s innovative e-texts in a recent article, stating that the new device makes book publishers “eager to exploit its color, video, and touch-screen capabilities.”  I, for one, would love to test drive this exciting new technology.

Of course, this new technology comes with a big price tag.  Coursesmart’s e-textbooks, while less expensive than print versions, can still run in the $100 range.  And then there’s the iPad, priced at $499 – a very pricey item to pile on top of an already expensive back to school season.  Another textbook innovator, Chegg, combines new and old technology to offer a more affordable alternative.

Chegg is the Netflix of the textbook world: users can rent paper textbooks, and then return them for free via UPS when the semester ends.   (The name is a play on the classic “chicken and the egg” dilemma.)  Chegg touts its used book rental services as both economical and eco-friendly.  Rental prices are often more than 50% off the purchase price – a welcome treat for students and their parents.  On the green side, Chegg promises to plant a tree for every book rented.

I love Chegg’s merger of the low tech (sharing books) and the high tech (fast, searchable, easy-to-use website).  This year, Chegg has launched two more ways to take advantage of its service – a new iPhone app that allows users to rent books via their phone, and a pilot program of rental stands in college bookstores that brings the “rental experience” onto campus.

Finally, Chegg is running a fun promotion this season called Golden Chegg.  Rent books now thorough September 13th, and you are entered to win one of thousands of prizes.  The winners are tracked on Chegg’s Facebook page.  Saving money and winning prizes?  Sign me up!

I hope you have enjoyed this survey of the best of Back to School.  Do you have any innovative, fun and important campaigns to add to the list?  Share them here or on Weber Media’s Facebook page.  Happy shopping, and to all fellow students, I wish you good luck this school year!

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