Microsoft takes aim at college textbooks

With Microsoft's $300 million investment, the two companies are teaming up to create a subsidiary for Barnes & Noble's eBook and college textbook businesses.

Books and bits united April 30 as Microsoft provided an infusion of money to help Barnes & Noble compete with top electronic bookseller Amazon. In exchange, Microsoft gets a long-desired foothold in the business of eBooks and college textbooks.

With Microsoft Corp.’s $300 million investment, the two companies are teaming up to create a subsidiary for Barnes & Noble’s eBook and college textbook businesses. Microsoft is taking a 17.6 percent stake in the venture.

The agreement underscores the importance of electronic bookstores as traditional booksellers and technology companies jockey for position in the increasingly competitive market. While no definitive numbers exist, eBooks are believed to account for some 20 percent of book sales in the U.S.

For Microsoft, the investment is a way to get back into the eBook business. It has dabbled in the field since at least 2000, but never developed much traction. It was Amazon that blew the market open with the 2007 launch of the Kindle, creating a potent challenge to Barnes & Noble’s brick-and-mortar bookstores.

Major Microsoft competitors Apple and Google now have their own eBook stores. All three companies are building businesses that encompass hardware, software, and content in an “ecosystem,” and eBooks and readers are part of the puzzle.

With that perspective, the deal is very important, said Walter Pritchard, an analyst with Citigroup. But he doesn’t expect any near-term financial impact from the deal, noting that even if the Microsoft-Barnes & Noble venture is successful, it leaves the Nook a distant second in the eReader market, behind the Kindle.

For more news about digital textbooks, see:

University looks to remove barriers to open textbooks

Professor starts eText company to electrify textbook field

College students: Tablets will replace textbooks by 2017

The deal gives Barnes & Noble ammunition to fend off shareholders who have agitated for a sale of the Nook eBook business or the whole company, but the companies said they are exploring separating the subsidiary, provisionally dubbed “Newco,” entirely from Barnes & Noble. That could mean a stock offering, sale, or other deal.

The deal also puts to rest concerns that Barnes & Noble doesn’t have the capital to compete in the eBook business with market leader Inc. and its Kindle, said analyst David Strasser at Janney Capital.

Barnes & Noble Inc.’s stock zoomed up $7.07, or 52 percent, to close trading at $20.75. The opening price of $26 was a three-year high. Microsoft’s stock rose 4 cents to $32.

The investment also means that Microsoft will own part of a company that sells tablet computers based on Google Inc.’s Android, one of the main competitors of Windows Phone 7, Microsoft’s smart phone software.

Microsoft also said the deal means that there will be a Nook application for Windows 8 tablets, set to be released this fall. The app is likely to get a favored position on Windows 8 screens.


U.S. to fall short of 2025 college grads goal–by 24 million degrees

Despite persistent appeals from policymakers and politicians to increase the number of college graduates in the United States, a new report projects a shortfall of nearly 24 million degree-holders by 2025, according to the Hechinger Report. The cost to the U.S. economy in lost wages and income taxes? About $600 billion a year. They’re the most dramatic figures yet in the ongoing debate about the need to improve the rates at which Americans successfully complete a higher education. In order to reach the goal of having 60 percent of adults with college degrees by the year 2025, the United States would have to confer an additional 24 million degrees beyond what it is already producing–but it is projected to award only 278,500 more degrees, the Center for Law and Social Policy and the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems reported Thursday…

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At Virginia Tech, computers help solve a math class problem

There are no professors in Virginia Tech’s largest classroom, only a sea of computers and red plastic cups, the Washington Post reports. In the Math Emporium, the computer is king, and instructors are reduced to roving guides. Lessons are self-paced, and help is delivered “on demand” in a vast, windowless lab that is open 24 hours a day because computers never tire. A student in need of human aid plants a red cup atop a monitor. The Emporium is the Wal-Mart of higher education, a triumph in economy of scale and a glimpse at a possible future of computer-led learning. Eight thousand students a year take introductory math in a space that once housed a discount department store. Four math instructors, none of them professors, lead seven courses with enrollments of 200 to 2,000. Students walk to class through a shopping mall, past a health club and a tanning salon, as ambient Muzak plays…

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Watch: Sanjay Gupta’s great speech at U Michigan commencement

University of Michigan alumnus Sanjay Gupta returned to Ann Arbor this past weekend at the start of the 2012 commencement season and delivered an uncommonly entertaining speech to more than 45,000 people in the Big House, the Washington Post reports. Too many commencement speeches are, well, boring — too long, too conventional, utterly humorless. Not Gupta’s. A neurosurgeon and CNN medical correspondent, Gupta told great stories — including about how his parents remarkably met and about his own stellar career path as he dispensed the requisite advice to more than 10,000 graduating students and their friends and family.

“Simply being here,” he said at the beginning, “is incredibly personal for me. You see, not only was the foundation for most of my life conceived in this town. I myself was likely conceived in this town. Best bet is the 17th floor of the University Towers though no one is talking still even after 43 years.”

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The cost of technology downtime in the classroom is more than you think

Unproductive meeting time accounts for around $37 billion in yearly waste.

Talk of the weather, for many in higher education, is the clearest sign that time and money are being wasted while faculty members and students wait for IT staff to hustle to their lecture hall and fix a projector, or computer, or microphone.

David Siedell, senior IT director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, said that like the private sector, colleges can lose hundreds of hours of scheduled work time thanks at least in part to technical difficulties.

And now, college and university officials can see just how much money is going to waste caused by technology shortcomings with a free online calculator – made by audio-visual company Cenero — that takes into account the number of campus employees in the room, those employees’ salaries, and the length of the delay.

Many professors and instructors have vamped while IT staffers scrambled to fix problems with wires and web connections, Siedell said, but it’s when the conversation turns to the wind, rain, and sun that educators know their class time is circling the drain.

“If you get to the weather conversation, you know you’re running out of small talk and wasting a lot of time,” Siedell said with a chuckle. “Calculating just how much these delays cost can be an eye-opening experience for a lot of people. It gives you a numerical argument for what is really a human problem.”

The annual costs of meeting and lecture downtime can be stunning. “Unproductive meeting time” accounts for around $37 billion in yearly waste, according to A/V industry estimates.

Rob Gilfillan, president of Pennsylvania-based Cenero, said the “meeting cost calculator” – launched last month – would give campus IT decision makers hard numbers showing how much money the institution is spending on technological downtime

“What people will hopefully realize is that there are analytics involved that can help you improve your classes every day,” he said. “Because other than a gut feeling, they really don’t know how much is being wasted.”


InfoComm 2012 exhibitors prepare for record-setting show

Conference organizers expect a record-setting crowd.

InfoComm International, the trade association representing the commercial audiovisual industry, will hold InfoComm 2012, its annual commercial audiovisual show, in Las Vegas from June 13-15. InfoComm 2012 will showcase more than 925 exhibitors with integrated display, projection, audio, conferencing, lighting and staging, digital signage, and communications system solutions.

Corporations, government agencies, and educational, healthcare, and religious institutions from more than 90 countries are expected to crowd the 500,000 net square feet of show floor exhibits, special events and product demo rooms, attend education sessions, manufacturers’ training, networking events, and more.

“Support of InfoComm 2012 has been very encouraging,” said Jason McGraw, CAE, InfoComm senior vice president for expositions. “Trade show attendance is on the rise overall, and InfoComm 2012 is no exception. We are tracking well ahead of last year’s registrations to date, and our attendees will be exploring a Show floor that has never been larger.”

Limited space on the Show floor is still available. Contact or call +1.703.273.7200 to secure a booth. Attendees can register for InfoComm 2012 at


eCampus News March 2012

• Obama takes on rising tuition fees

• eCN Special Feature: Campus libraries 2.0

• Apple dives into digital textbooks

• Computerized tutor helps students pass math

• eBook pilot could save students money

• Online college rankings meet scrutiny


Obama targets diploma mills that market to vets

The Senate report found that almost 2 million students withdrew from large for-profit colleges over a three-year period.

The Obama administration wants to trademark the term “GI Bill” in an effort to shield veterans and military families being swindled or misled by schools that target their federal education benefits.

President Barack Obama is signing a wide-ranging order on Friday that partially addresses growing complaints about fraudulent marketing and recruiting practices aimed at military families eligible for federal education loans under the GI Bill.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama were expected to talk to troops at the Fort Stewart Army post in Georgia, where Obama will sign an executive order mandating several new education protections for military service members.

There is little the federal government can do to shut down diploma mills, but the new protections would make it harder for post-secondary and technical schools to misrepresent themselves to military students.

The main target of the White House action is for-profit colleges and universities that market heavily to military families because of the easy availability of federal loan money under the GI Bill.

Some post-secondary schools target current and former military service members using deceptive military-themed websites that appear to be government-run or connected to the GI Bill benefit system, administration officials said.

The financial regulation overhaul that Obama signed in 2010 included the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau with specific authority to protect members of the military from predatory financial practices.

The law set up an Office of Service Member Affairs to help members of the military and their families “make better informed decisions regarding consumer financial products and services.”

Bills pending in Congress, largely backed by Democrats and unlikely to become law soon, would do many of the same things Obama was ordering Friday.

Obama’s order will also set a new gauge that potential students can use to calculate how much a school will really cost in tuition and fees. Schools are asked to voluntarily participate in the “Know Before You Owe” system this school year and would be required to do so next year.

Federal money, most of it through the financial aid students receive, accounts for up to 90 percent of for-profit colleges’ revenue — even more if veterans attend the school on the GI Bill.

Some schools spend a quarter or more of their revenue on recruiting, far more than traditional colleges. In some cases, recruiting expenses approach what these institutions spend on instruction.

A recent Senate report on 15 large, publicly traded for-profit education companies said they got 86 percent of their revenue from taxpayers and have spent a combined $3.7 billion annually on marketing and recruiting.

Military veterans are particularly attractive recruiting targets because they come with generous federal tuition support and also don’t count toward a limit called the “90/10” rule, which requires colleges to get at least 10 percent of their revenue from non-federal sources.


Do colleges court those least in need of education?

Several colleges recently announced triumphantly that their acceptance rates had set a new record – as low as, in some cases, 6 or 7 percent. I’m still waiting for someone to explain why that is a good thing, says Mark Gordon, president of Defiance College, for the Washington Post. Why is it a victory that a college succeeds in seeking out applications from thousands of students, and then doesn’t accept almost 95 percent of those applicants? Whom exactly is that helping? As president of Defiance College, I’m not naïve about how the admissions process works. And, if you spoke to many presidents, they would tell you that the admissions process at many colleges has been profoundly impacted by the national rankings issued by publications such as U.S. News & World Report, to name the best-known. A few months after I started as president at Defiance in 2009, the new rankings came out, and Defiance had done very well. I was urged to issue a press release touting our success. Instead, I wrote a column entitled, “Defiance College Just Shot Up in the Rankings: Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Care.”

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Watch: How one college is fighting to keep its students

Getting to college is only the beginning, the Huffington Post reports. As Washington debates what to do about crippling student loan debt, simply staying in school is a problem many college students face every day. Financial, academic and emotional stress is causing increasing numbers of students to dropout of college, especially low-income and minority students, according to WSJ. But through a special program, Anne Arundel College Community College in Maryland may have found a way to make sure their students get what they came for: A degree…

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