An Interview with Jonathan Simkin, Co-founder and CEO of SwoopThat.com.
Michael F. Shaughnessy – SwoopThat is a website built by recent college grads and current students with one goal in mind: save current students both time and money when purchasing textbooks.
Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico
- First of all, what exactly is SWOOP THAT?
SwoopThat is a website built by recent college grads and current students with one goal in mind: save current students both time and money when purchasing textbooks. We’ve developed a solution that saves students up to 75% on textbooks in about 10 minutes. This solution is built around our proprietary course search technology. Students select their courses, and SwoopThat finds every book they need to buy as well as every online merchant that sells those books. Our algorithms help students find the cheapest places to buy all their books collectively, rather than one at a time.
2) Who thought this concept up?
I actually came up with the concept slightly after I graduated college (May 2010). One of my least favorite things when I was in school was buying books. The bookstore is often very expensive, and buying books online is time consuming. You have to wait until classes start to find out every book you need to buy, and then you have to research each book online, one at a time. This process can take a couple hours if you want to find the best possible price.
To solve this problem, I thought of integrating student course schedules with price comparison. That way, you don’t have to create your book list or research your books one at time online. You simply enter your courses, and then SwoopThat automates pretty much everything else. We’ve been able to reduce the book buying time to about 10 minutes, while saving students up to 75% on through extensive price comparison.
3) How exactly does it work?
SwoopThat is unique because it’s based around the concept of course search technology. Students come to SwoopThat.com, enter their school, and select the 4-6 courses they are enrolled in. Once they click “Find Books,” our system creates their complete book list and finds the best prices for each book simultaneously. The student can view book prices online from all the major textbook merchants, and can see important information such as seller ratings, shipping times, and comments on the book’s condition. SwoopThat then automates the process of buying those books through shopping cart integration with the major booksellers. Suppose a student decides they want to buy 5 of their books at Amazon – we take them to Amazon with their books in the Amazon shopping cart ready for purchase. The entire process takes about 10 minutes!
4) Now, a different question, in your opinion, why are textbook costs rising ?
That’s a very good question, and there are a couple reasons why. First, the textbook market is considered a broken market. In traditional markets, consumers have the choice whether or not to buy a product, and as such, they control demand and therefore prices. In the textbook market, the professors assign the books, and then students must buy those books. As such, students don’t have much a choice so prices can be driven up without affecting sales, and there isn’t much students can do about it.
Now about the market itself. It all starts with the publishers. They produce the books, have to pay the authors, and this process is expensive. Since they only make money when they create a new edition, they try to produce new editions very often. This limits the used market, and forces prices up as students have to buy new books.
As books leave the publishers, they arrive at the campus bookstores, who then sell the books to students. Just like any other brick and mortar store, bookstores have extremely high costs of operating. These high costs are translated to the student.
Online textbook merchants provide a great substitute to the bookstore because they don’t have the overhead that bookstores do, and they can offer much lower prices to students.
Here’s a great resource about the market that’s within the Affordability of College Textbooks from the California State Auditor:
5) Now really, just between you and me and a couple of million readers—why do they have to do these different editions? ( I have skimmed and scanned these different editions and I rarely see any appreciable significant different- the field just doesn’t change that much in a year or two?
Another great question. New editions are how the publisher makes money, so it’s in their best interest to release new editions as often as possible. In each new edition, they often make minor changes, such as moving around chapters and adding a couple new concepts. However, if a professor requires the newest edition, the student must purchase it.
6) What about e-books- suppose an instructor wants an e-book?
eBooks provide a phenomenal way for students to save money. We recently added eBooks into our price comparison, and we’re working with some of the largest eBook companies in the nation to make sure students have this option available. One really cool initiative is the concept of an open textbook, which is free for students to view online, and editable by professors. We connected with the largest open textbook company in the nation, Flat World Knowledge, and we’ll be adding free digital books into our platform as well!
7) Why do book companies put books in hard back, knowing full well they are going to cost more?
To be honest, I don’t know the answer to this one.
8) Now, some students like to write all over their texts. Anything wrong with that? What about sell-back value?
For the most part, there’s nothing wrong with taking notes or highlighting your books. Nearly all buyback websites accept books with writing in them. However, if there is a significant amount of writing in a book, it may not be accepted for buyback. Each vendor defines “significant” differently, but for the most part, I haven’t heard of too many issues with this.
9) Where can interested people get more information?
The easiest thing to do is go to SwoopThat.com and give it a try! We currently support course information from over 380 schools, but if your school is not supported, enter an ISBN and give it a try.
10) What have I neglected to ask ?
I can’t think of anything, but if you have more questions later on, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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