Interview | Tony Pfister Reads ClassBook

Tony Pfister of ClassbookWay back in the early ’90s, what began as a textbook retailer later moved online to become one of the first online book vendors. By 1997, ClassBook.com’s then-revolutionary “e-commerce” approach to the book distribution business acted to streamline the buying process for families and students, allowing for greater options and a customized approach. The same attention to customer needs has led the company forward into the present. “We had been supplying textbooks to students and schools on an as needed basis,” says Tony Pfister, CEO of ClassBook.com. “Our existing school clients felt we had done such a good job and relieved them of so much work, in terms of the book buying process, that they asked [us] to take over their entire book procurement.” Within a few short years the company had developed a suite of administrative tools and a book distribution/procurement process based in the cloud. Here, Tony talks about the merit of good old-fashioned values like quality, efficiency and effectiveness, his surprising thoughts on education these days — and what “going digital” really means for a school.

Victor: What does the name mean?

Classbook logoTony: The name is simple and to the point — you need books for class, all of your class books.

Victor: What is it? Who created it?

Tony: It was created by Steve Montano, current president of the board, and George Puccio, who is deceased.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Tony: ClassBook.com allows schools to streamline adoption, procurement and distribution of their curriculum on a school wide level. All information is maintained in our proprietary tools and process. Our clients are able to condense several months of work at a school to a week or less using our process.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Tony: There are plenty of competitors, but they are mainly focused on the higher education space. They have yet to realize all the nuances and demands within the private k-12 market.

Victor: When was it developed? What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Tony: It started in 1992 in a garage, like many e-businesses in that day. It then moved to an old apple warehouse where we now reside. We have the entire warehouse and offices.  The biggest challenge was our focus on being the best at what we do, not the biggest.  This focus has allowed us to add some of the highest profile schools in the country to our list of clients.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Tony: Originated in a basement in 1992. Currently institutions sign up online.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Tony: Cost varies by school. It depends for what purpose the school is using ClassBook.com.  In all cases it ends up turning a cash negative/neutral activity at a school into a revenue-generating one and leaving the school in a more positive financial state.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

CREDIT Classbook.comTony: The case studies found on our website are the best examples.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Tony: It is tailored for schools that want to improve the educational environment at the school and want all resources focused on the students rather than a process that takes up considerable time and is relevant for only a very short period.  Schools that may not qualify for this type of service are those that have yet to pursue digital. Also, ones who have not gone through their analysis on the revenue generated from the school bookstore taking into account all associated costs.  We have not had a client lose money or employees from making the switch.  It is looking at the same process differently, and through the experience we have gained over the years, we continue to make it efficient and effective.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Tony: I feel education is in transition between the changes of the guard. Government is trying to assist and teachers all want change, but the institutions ready to take the leap and change the education paradigm, are few and far between.  It is a historically made up of very liberal minds, but from what I have learned, a conservative mentality when it comes to change.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating ClassBook.com?

Tony: Client feedback and never assuming that we have it figured it all out.  I was an auditor in my previous life, and learned that because you understood financial statements for one company, it did not ensure the same reasoning held up for another company or from year to year.  You were only judged when the statements went final each year. We take the same approach at ClassBook.com.  Because an approach worked well one year, we do not stop until it is even better the following year. We work to improve each year.

Victor: How does ClassBook.com address some of your concerns about education?

Tony: Within the last two years, schools have been able to go almost 100 percent digital through our approach and we have been able to bring faculty aboard. We have an understanding of not only content, but students, teachers and publishers. By moving to digital education costs can decrease, but the speed to obtain information increases.  Also, just like it has been for years, teachers have been able to change their experience in the classroom through adopting books. Now they can adopt different platforms offering a multitude of ways to teach/present the content.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Tony: It is going to be more metric driven, more current and much more digital. The expectation of the student/parent will continue to exceed the infrastructure of a school and teachers are going to have be very creative as they start to create customized learning experiences in their classrooms.

Victor: Got any interesting stories?

Tony: When we were sitting down with our client, the headmaster, to review our performance, we had a two-minute review and he signed a three-year deal for the following years. He made one statement when we asked about his satisfaction. He said, “Give me a new contract.” This was because he had not heard one question or negative comment from his faculty or administration for the first time in years about the book process. The meeting was over.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of ClassBook.com?  

Tony: Check out our case studies. We add value. All may not always recognize it, but not everyone sees what goes into the process.

___

Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest. To enter the 2013 EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program, write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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One Response to Interview | Tony Pfister Reads ClassBook

  1. JNaylor says:

    Parents for instance, don’t get to see “what goes into the process.” I had to use Classbooks.com this year at my son’s new school. The prices are staggering: among the most egregious, $300 for an Algebra text book. Among the competition are sites like eBay’s Half.com and Powells.com which provide large inventories of used “class books” for a fraction of the price, and I mean, a fraction. More advice for Mr. Pfister: your the UX is extremely 1995. Invest in an upgrade. And start caring more about the parents because while the schools are your clients, their decision makers are not interested in alienating the population that pays the tuition.

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