The battle of the study guides—John Wiley's classic Cliffs Notes guides versus Barnes & Noble's SparkNotes series—opened a new front with the launch of a redesigned Cliffs Notes Web site offering its study guides both for sale and for free.
The new site (www.cliffsnotes.com) offers free online access to the full-text content of 180 literature guides. Students can download the guides or print them out for the same price as the print editions, $5.99. The site offers other features, such as the interactive Ask Cliffs, which provides answers to specific study questions; Web polls on literary topics; and a variety of free how-to resources. The site also sells the print study guides along with Wiley's Cliffs Notes course and test prep guides.
B&N has ceased selling Cliffs Notes titles in its stores in favor of its own study guides, which are also offered online. The new Cliffs Notes site appears to be an effort by Wiley to enhance the classic study brand for a new generation of students. But Wiley told PW that was not the case.
Kathy Nebenhaus, v-p and executive editor at Wiley Publishing, said the site "is not a reaction to SparkNotes. It has come out of market research into the buying habits of students." Nebenhaus said the study shows there are two student markets: for print and for online. "Offering Cliff Notes online for free gives the guides and the rest of Cliffs Notes material greater awareness and brand exposure," she said.
The CliffsNotes site does not offer message boards (SparkNotes does), but Wiley senior editor Greg Tubach said the Ask Cliffs feature will serve students better. "Message boards end up being chatrooms rather than academic forums," said Tubach. "Ask Cliffs will provide specific answers that will help any student."
Tubach said that the online editions will reflect the editorial overhaul of the Cliffs Notes study guides that began in 2000. "Cliffs Notes are an icon," he said. "But you can't rest on the past. You've got to change with the times."