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Wiley Studies RFID Use to Manage Textbook Returns, Halt Piracy

The publisher's printers have tagged a half million textbooks shipped to colleges and universities worldwide.
By Mary Catherine O'Connor
Jan 14, 2010Wiley Higher Education, the educational textbook arm of book publishing house John Wiley & Sons, is currently testing radio frequency identification in an international pilot program. The division, which publishes approximately 150 titles each year, is conducting the test to determine whether the technology can help it gain better insight into three activities: managing returned (unsold) books, rooting out book piracy and improving the traceability of complimentary evaluation copies of textbooks (to ensure it does not pay out a refund if booksellers attempt to return them to Wiley).

The division has already tagged a half million textbooks and shipped them to retailers, according to Jeff Kurschner, CEO of RFID systems integrator MobileXe, which worked with Wiley to launch the RFID program.

Steven Simons, Wiley Higher Education's VP of financial operations
"Although this is a pilot, we're anticipating a quick confirmation of the [expected] cost/benefit ratio, immediately followed by a full rollout [of the program] to all Wiley textbooks—and, eventually, beyond textbooks," says Steven Simons, Wiley Higher Education's VP of financial operations.

The books, which were shipped to college and university bookstores in the United States and abroad in order to supply material for the fall and winter 2009-10 semesters, were tagged during the printing process. For softcovers, an Avery Dennison AD824 ultrahigh-frequency (UHF) passive tag (compliant with the ISO 18000-6C and EPC Gen 2 standards) was embedded in an adhesive label bearing a bar code and the title's international standard book number (ISBN), and was then placed on a page near the back of each book. For hardcovers, an Avery Dennison AD224 RFID tag was embedded into the endpaper pasted to the inside of each book's cover (and is, therefore, not visible). Wiley worked with MobileXe and a number of printing firms in order to install the required RFID interrogators, tag applicators and software required to make tagging a part of the inline printing process. The printing companies pass the costs they've invested in RFID onto Wiley, since they do not directly benefit from the technology, according to Lou Peragallo, Wiley's VP of operations.

The RFID hardware—including interrogators from Alien Technology and RFID printer-encoders provided by Zebra Technologies—has been rolled out at four sites at which Wiley textbooks are printed, along with MobileXe's Print, Apply, Verify & Exchange (PAVE) software, which links the RFID tag data with Wiley's warehouse-management software. (MobileXe developed the PAVE software specifically for the Wiley application.) Two of these sites are located in the United States, one is in the United Kingdom and the other is in Singapore.

The tags are made with RFID chips supplied by NXP Semiconductors. Before being added to a book, each RFID tag was encoded with a unique ID number—a serialized global trade identification number (SGTIN). As the books were being shipped to their destination, Alien RFID readers mounted at the loading dock collected two numbers from each tag: its SGTIN and the transponder ID (TID)—a unique identifier that NXP encoded to each chip at the point of manufacture. A TID can not be altered and is, therefore, a useful tool for ensuring that counterfeiters are unable to introduce fake RFID tags into a supply chain.

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