Alibaba’s Tmall Global now features goods from 14,500 overseas brands, 80% of them selling in China for the first time.
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“Our student customers have told me overwhelmingly they like the convenience of the Internet, but are not willing to risk not having their books the first week of class,” says Ken Bowers, the bookstore’s director. “We have dorms with a lot of students. Where is your book going to get delivered to? Maybe you miss the delivery. Maybe you got the wrong edition in the mail. Now what?”
Virtual booksellers are not having an impact on sales, he says. “Our texbook sales are up.”
But there may be a bigger threat to online and bricks-and-mortar booksellers. Wizeup.com lets students download textbooks. Once downloaded, the textbook can be searched, annotated and printed out. “By this fall we’ll have 100 top-selling college textbooks in electronic form, at close to half the price of a new textbook,” says David Grey, CEO of Numina Corp., which licenses books for this use.
Such competition is good for the textbook industry, but the market has its limits, says Jupiter’s Cassar. “Unlike other markets, increased competition is never going to encourage students to buy more textbooks.” •
Seth Kaplan is a New York-based freelance business writer.