An unlikely partnership to build the e-textbook business
A student reads a textbook in Blackwell bookshop in Oxford, England. Some of the most prestigious institutions in the country are taking efforts to create a new, permanent archive of scholarly work online.
David Brancaccio: When you think e-books, the iPad and the Kindle come to mind -- not Microsoft Windows. But Microsoft's been losing enough ground in tablets and e-readers that today it's decided to spend $300 million to invest in Barnes & Noble's Nook digital-book business.
Marketplace's New York bureau chief Heidi Moore joins us now. Hello, Heidi.
Heidi Moore: Hi David.
Brancaccio: Why Barnes & Noble? Why doesn't Microsoft just build the thing?
Moore: Microsoft has tried to build before and -- I will just ask you this: Do you own a Zune?
Brancaccio: I do not.
Moore: No, almost no one owns a Microsoft Zune; almost everyone owns an iPod. And what Microsoft learned from that sad little experiment is that the ecosystem of a product counts -- you can't just have the device to read things on or to listen to things, you need the ecosystem. Barnes & Noble has an ecosystem of books, so Microsoft doesn't have to make deals with publishers and incur all those headaches -- it can just ride the coattails of the Nook.
Brancaccio: Now what's this about textbooks? Is there any more money there than in regular old books?
Moore: Yeah, clearly you don't remember the vast expenditures of your college kids, but yes. I mainly just yell at them to get off my lawn... but when they're actually in school, what they're doing is buying books that are $100, $175 in some cases. And they're really expensive. It's a consistent revenue stream for a company like Microsoft.
Brancaccio: Nothing like a steady business. Marketplace's New York bureau chief Heidi Moore. Thank you very much for this.
Moore: Thank you David.