Barrel’s no stranger to start-ups and web-apps. This morning we got to hear a pitch from Cosiety, a new website designed to help cut down the cost of buying textbooks as well as facilitate note sharing. It is being developed by CUNY Baruch students and is currently targeting the CUNY school system. Since we are all students, we thought we’d share some of our opinions.
Students are spending too much money on textbooks every semester; over half their academic expenses outside of tuition is spent on books.
Enter Cosiety. Cosiety promises to be a solution: providing convenient and affordable options for students within each campus to exchange and buy used textbooks from each other.
We think their premise is entirely valid. We’ve all emptied our pockets over textbooks before, spending more money at the campus bookstore rather than searching for cheaper ones online, or among friends. But, each campus often has their own solution for this. Discount bookstores, platforms such as Columbia’s Dormslist and Books on Campus are some of the many alternatives. Cosiety promises to differentiate from these with the addition of notes buying and courseboard forums.
While these are great ideas, they lack accountability. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get good notes or good answers on the forums without achieving a critical mass of students on the site. For example at Cornell, many classes use Piazza as a discussion platform, where TAs and professors can both validate student answers as well as answer questions themselves. Cosiety founders want to exclude administration because they feel professors would frown upon the sharing of notes. They acknowledge that they’re going to have their fair share of backlash from the academic community most likely with claims of cheating, plagiarism, and possibly even intellectual copyright violations of professors’ lectures because of the intent to sell.
One step in the right direction is Cosiety’s refund policy, for notes that are simply not up to standard. They are also instituting a ratings system, where buyers can rate notes that they have purchased. However, a possible problem that might arise is the buying and subsequent sharing of documents without further purchasing. Furthermore, a ratings system requires a large body of users in order to generate useful information.
Their Business Model:
Cosiety’s revenue projection is very optimistic, and capitalizes solely on the notes buying portion of the application. The math was… interesting, and pretty difficult to follow. They estimate 20,000 people — 4% CUNY market share — to be downloading 12 sets of notes each (we may be blatantly making this stuff up from memory). At an average of $1/set, that is $240,000 per semester. But their total sales prediction amounts to a whopping $600,000. We might have gotten lost in the numbers, but that figure is surprisingly high.
They are also expecting to profit from both ad revenue and partnerships with companies such as Amazon and Apple. This is not likely to happen until they are firmly established, which will probably not be in the near future.
Cosiety didn’t seem to have a strong marketing campaign, relying mostly on word of mouth and hard sells. We think that this strategy will be relatively effective in a student population, because we tend to trust and explore information from peers and users. Word of mouth is a powerful tool amongst our generation, but we question whether the word will spread fast enough or whether they will generate enough early adopters to start a useful community on Cosiety.
But the primary reason that Cosiety stepped into Barrel office this morning was to get UI, UX, and design feedback from us. There were two primary layouts in their presentation: it was pretty unanimous that we liked the second, however it is the first that is being launched. We thought the organization in the second was easier to understand; the first lacked a clear hierarchical structure. There was also a distracting, long, neon green sidebar navigation.
User experience could in Cosiety could be enhanced by social media integration, but currently the site exists outside of Facebook and Twitter. A profile with ratings from past transactions would also help users buy notes and make products more trustworthy. Great experience leads to further use!
As students that have been exposed to many similar applications, we have some reservations about Cosiety’s structure and business model. Especially since many of these systems are university-endorsed and not for-profit, we foresee many barriers for Cosiety to become a universally accepted platform. Nevertheless we wish them all the best, and think that campuses without any similar websites will adopt the app readily.