Amid some of the rapid changes occurring in the world of textbook distribution, we took the opportunity to spend five minutes with Jeff Miller, Vice President of Sales and Marketing at MBS Textbook Exchange. A new addition to the Barnes & Noble Education family, Miller shares his point of view on some of the challenges and opportunities facing the industry, the changes in education at large — and what it takes for him to reveal his inner Dumbledore.
What was your first job?
I’ve played football, and have always loved sports, so as a college student, I think I had aspirations of working in the front office for a baseball or football team. I obviously didn’t calculate well enough that there are only so many of those kinds of positions, and I was fortunate enough to land at a retail software company right out of college — and I’ve been involved with retail and retail technology ever since.
How would you describe MBS and the kinds of programs you work on with clients?
MBS allows schools to simplify the whole business of student access to course materials. We do that in a number of ways, but as the world of course materials becomes ever more complicated, we’re able to help make that process a lot easier through the flexibility of the various programs we provide.
What are you working on right now in your partnership with Barnes & Noble College?
So many things! The acquisition of MBS by Barnes & Noble Education is still relatively new, so that’s a lot of my focus right now. What’s interesting is how quickly and efficiently we’re working together, and the scale of our combined organizations — now a $2.3 billion-dollar company — puts us in a very different position compared to other players in the education market. Together, we’re able to offer first-rate solutions that a lot of other companies just can’t provide.
In your view, what’s the biggest challenge facing higher education today?
Well, and I don’t think this is any kind of revelation, but what we’re seeing is the confluence of the on-campus and online student coming together. There’s an opportunity there too, of course, because although there is no such thing as a”‘traditional” student model anymore, the schools who are doing it best are learning just how you teach to those different kinds of learning experiences — and building a campus learning model alongside an online presence.
How important is the issue of cost in the current textbook market?
It can certainly be a barrier to entry and I think we’ve seen a lot of research that supports that, but again, I think it comes down to the ability to be able to offer students options – rental, new, used or online formats — and make them as easy as possible to obtain.
Where do you see the future of the book publishing industry?
It’s hard to predict, but if you look at the way other major industries have been transformed — the music business or retail itself for example — this industry has experienced change as well. Technology is a major piece in how students access, buy and interact with learning materials, and we’ll continue to come out with new solutions to cater to that.
What would you be doing if you weren’t doing this?
If all things were equal, and the if the paychecks were the same, I’d love to be doing something in sports, particularly football for sure.
Books and learning are definitely in the DNA of MBS, do you have a favorite book, or a book you’re currently reading?
I’m the father of two soon-to-be nine-year-old daughters, and we’re a year into the Harry Potter series. We started with the books, but now we’re watching the movies, which requires being dressed up as our favorite character. A lot of times, I get to be Dumbledore.
Most valuable thing you’ve learned working in your industry?
The thing I’ve learned from a sales and marketing career is that you never count your chickens….
Best day at MBS (so far?)
The heritage of both Barnes & Noble College and MBS started with Len Riggio, which means we both have annual sales meetings, and the opportunity to recognize the contributions our people make to our companies. It’s always gratifying to hand out awards to people who have been here for such a long time, and you can tell, feel good about their careers.