As a college student, Mike Shannon realized that some textbooks are rarely opened by students because they are only used a few times in class, but students still need to buy the book. To save money, most students try to purchase used textbooks if at all possible, but this creates something of a vicious cycle as textbook manufacturers raise prices to compensate for the fact that while they only make a profit once, the book may be resold 4 or 5 times. Shannon realized this was an inefficient business model where all parties lost out to a certain extent. In addition to the costs, his research revealed that 78% of students open their textbooks less than once a week.
His creation: Packback, currently in its beta period, puts a twist on conventional electronic textbook rental models by allowing students to rent the book for just 1 day at a fee of $5 per day. This allows students to save money on textbooks that are only used a few times during the semester, and if a student finds they are referring to a certain book more than a few times all the daily fees will be credited towards the semester long rental price. So, there is really no risk to students if they decide to rent a book for a single day.
Shannon believes Packback can boost revenue for textbook companies, reduce costs for students, and accelerate the adoption of digital textbooks, which he says has been stalled by the used book market, in effect playing a role similar to iTunes in its infancy as a platform to ensure content creators receive compensation for the use of their content while packaging it in a lower cost form.
I am impressed by Shannon’s creativity in developing a way to promote the adoption of digital books while benefiting both textbook publishers and students, only time will tell, but I think Packback has a great future and could become an integral part of how we acquire textbooks.