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February 2020 Update: A Message from the President

Greetings! It’s time for another update from your OACS board!

Industry Updates

Several board members attended the ICBA annual conference earlier this month in sunny Tuscon, Arizona. It was much cooler than expected, but we enjoyed the blue skies, sunshine, and excellent education and networking opportunities!

The Course Materials Institute (CMI) occurred before the conference with just over 60 individuals in attendance. Jon Bibo, ICBA CEO, and his staff spent a brief time reflecting on course materials “as they were.” Do you remember when the biggest issues were getting faculty adoptions on time? Today, while we face the same struggles with faculty adoptions, but the greater challenges relate to the complexity of managing alternative sourcing, Inclusive Access programs, OER, declining buyback, LMS integration, publisher rentals, POS digital sales, and decreased responsiveness by major publishers.

The Institute presenters walked through all of these topics with valuable insights that culminated in, in my view, the highlight of the Institute. Participants were placed on teams and given group projects. The assignment was to prepare a five-minute presentation regarding the future of course materials. Several teams worked on the 1-2 year outlook while other teams worked on the 3-5 year outlook. A common theme was a shift from course materials as a revenue source to a service model. Sustaining current revenue in a landscape of decreasing margins will become increasingly difficult. Adding to the struggle are publisher

“direct to consumer” efforts which will further complicate our business. Campuses report seeing an increase of faculty working directly with the publisher and the LMS staff to integrate without the store’s knowledge or input. Do you know if this is happening on your campus?

A second theme was relationship management by telling your story. Your story is one that needs told with data, that is what the administrators expect. For instance, do you know your vendor performance numbers in course materials? How much of the campus market does the vendor have? What is the sell-through with that vendor? We usually know this data for general merchandise, but we need to know it for course materials too. When that vendor comes to your administration with a ‘deal’, can you provide numbers to show if what there offering is actually advantageous? As Heather Dean with Iowa State stated, “If you

can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Taking the driver's seat is key. Telling stories is something I often did with my kids. We would tell segment stories where somebody would start the story and each person took turns at 1-minute intervals adding to the story. The person who started the story had the advantage of setting the direction it would go. Everyone else was responding to the original teller. If you tell your story, you are entering a partnership as you talk with administrators, publishers, faculty, and students. You set the tone and direction going forward.

After CMI, we moved into the ICBA conference. Store, vendor, and industry experts shared encouraging information and wholly agreed across all presentations that retail is not dead! Statistics like - 5000 more stores opened than closed last year, the online sales return rate is 30% while in-store is 8.89%, and the fact that Amazon is opening physical stores - were great points to ponder. We were challenged by presentations on creative thinking (by the way, 80% of creativity is learned, not natural), looking at other industries for inspiration, challenging why we do things the way we do them, and the process of discovery. The challenges we face are either walls that stop us in our tracks or challenges for us to step back and create a better opportunity. Business is like a maze. We try to predict the way, occasionally we run into dead ends, but there is always a way if we are willing to do the work to find it.


The annual store Spring Meeting will take place at Ohio Wesleyan on Monday, April 6 from 10a-2p. There is no charge for this event, but we do need a head-count for food, so please register online at by March 20. The Fall conference and trade show will be at Ashland University on October 12-13. Watch e-mail for more details.

Final thoughts

As always, reach out to board members and industry colleagues if there is any way we can assist you. We stand strong together!


Tammy Slone

OACS President

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