Disruptive innovation is a topic which we’ve covered in the past. However, given the depths of the issue, along with the range of industries it applies to, it’s vital to be able to get the word out about services seeking to change the way we approach business, or even operate in daily routines.
In this case, book purchases are the subject in the spotlight. Occupy The Bookstore, an offshoot of Texts.com, has created a browser extension for Google Chrome which allows users to enter details regarding a specific publication, and find the cheapest price for it online, in both new and used form. Like with many disruptive creations though, there has been a pushback from more established industry players. Follett, a leading textbook publisher has threatened legal action against the newcomers, a case CEO Peter Frank believes does not stand.
We had the chance to speak to Peter both about taking on an industry giant, along with the process of creating a disruptive service. Here’s what he had to say.
– How did the idea for Occupy The Bookstore come about? You already had a student book exchange going with texts.com, what led you to starting this venture?
“We developed Texts.com as a free student textbook exchange and price-comparison engine. In creating the infrastructure for fetching prices, we developed an internal API that we were interested in utilizing in new and creative ways. We recognized that students were forced to head to their bookstore website to identify the books they’d need for the new semester, so we eventually realized that a Chrome Extension would give us the ability to show them market options right as they were ready to make their purchases”.
– It seems that the biggest challenge in creating a working service is the amount of price related data you need to source from around the internet. Was this the case?
“We already had API access to our set of affiliates; but yes, it’s always a challenge to organize the data in an efficient and scalable manner. Luckily, Ben is a talented developer who is very familiar with our infrastructure, so developing an API for our needs was a logical progression. In our case, we aren’t scraping any data from the bookstores, merely identifying ISBNs from the end-user’s browser, so there isn’t much “data sourcing” that has presented problems”.
– At the moment, we can see the extension is available on Chrome. Are there plans to expand to other browsers in the future?
“Definitely. We’ve seen great demand for a Firefox version, and we’ll probably tackle that as soon as we get some bandwidth. Of course, anyone can use Texts.com to search for books without the plugin”.
– What would you make of the user response so far? Is there a specific promotional method which allowed you to really get the word out about the product?
“The Reddit AMA really sparked everything for us. We went from 200 downloads to 20,0000 downloads in less than a week. Thus far, the user response has been overwhelmingly positive. We’re working hard to support more bookstores, which as been the biggest request and item of feedback”.
– The response hasn’t all been great though, as you’ve had to deal with threats from an industry giant. Were you expecting Follett to respond directly, or was it a surprise?
“In all candor, we were actually surprised that Follett had even found out about us. We weren’t surprised that they took exception, nor that they tried to strong-arm us. I suppose we have them to thank for helping us raise attention”.
– If anything else, industry leaders challenging you so early must mean you’re doing something right. Would you consider it a sort of validation of the service’s disruptive nature?
“Definitely validating. If you’re scaring the incumbents, you’re doing something right. I think that it’s pretty undeniable that students want a fair and transparent textbook ecosystem, and so those that profit by controlling information (IE Follett) are right to be scared”.
– Anything else our readers should know? Plans for the future?
“We’re a small team with big ambitions, fighting the fight for students. If you have ANY feedback, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org. We really take all messages to heart, and do our best to build something that people actually want”.