Microsoft Surface: The Trojan Tablet For Digital Textbooks?

Microsoft Surface: The Trojan Tablet For Digital Textbooks?

Just about two months ago, Barnes and Noble and Microsoft announced that B&N would spin off their NOOK and college bookstore businesses into “Newco”, to be jointly owned by both companies. Obviously this has been good news for B&N’s finances, but aside from the press release both sides have been very quiet. There were rumors that B&N would be part of Microsoft’s Surface tablet event, but that was proved wrong.

However, I think Surface tablets are a big part of why Newco was formed. When the joint venture was announced, I pointed out this benefit on the Microsoft end:

As much as this looks like an amazing deal for B&N, it is just as good, if not better, for Microsoft. For a relatively small amount of money, Microsoft has a strong foothold with the #2 ebook company plus a beefed up presence in college bookstores. Apple made a big splash with iBooks 2, but Microsoft and their Windows 8 tablets can be front and center in 630 college bookstores. And with the tie-in to NOOKStudy and the NOOK library, Microsoft could theoretically bundle textbooks, tablets, and software into one affordable, school-store stop. It is going to be hard to break the iPad’s momentum, but this gives Microsoft a big leg up in content, and the ready-made leverage and retail presence from both regular bookstores and college ones.

Now Microsoft has all that PLUS their own hardware to hold it all together. It’s too late for this academic year, but if Surface arrives reasonably quickly, we could see bundles in college bookstores for the 2013-2014 school year. Imagine buying a Surface tablet, and it has all your academic software preinstalled, plus it can be purchased with all your textbooks for the semester already loaded in electronic form and ready to go. Throw in a tech support desk in the bookstore, and you truly have everything you need to get rolling with one purchase. And since Microsoft is a part-owner of the bookstore providing the digital textbooks, there is far less of a licensing and coordination headache.

It remains to be seen if my speculation is even close to accurate, but it does fill in the mysteries of why Microsoft wanted to get involved in ebook stores, AND why they are pumping out their own hardware. You can take this to the corporate world too; companies could bundle Surface tablets with training materials easily, and Microsoft and B&N could insure the reading experience is satisfactory.

I wasn’t super excited about the Surface tablet when it was first announced. However, it came up a few times this weekend, as several people asked me in the course of conversations if I had heard of the new Microsoft tablet. The more I talked about it, the more the dots seemed to connect. What’s your take on the Surface? Is it a trojan horse to get a combined Microsoft/B&N foot in the door of business and digital textbooks, or is it just another tablet? Let us know in the comments!

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About the Author

Zek has been a gadget fiend for a long time, going back to their first PDA (a Palm M100). They quickly went from researching what PDA to buy to following tech news closely and keeping up with the latest and greatest stuff. They love writing about ebooks because they combine their two favorite activities; reading anything and everything, and talking about fun new tech toys. What could be better?

4 Comments on "Microsoft Surface: The Trojan Tablet For Digital Textbooks?"

  1. Interesting idea; you may very well be right, Carly. I have been astonished at how much money Apple has “left on the table” by not pushing a textbook solution for the iPad; maybe Microsoft recognized a marketing window. Whatever I think of their products, Microsoft has always been good at grabbing those kinds of chances. Or trying to, rather.

    On the other hand, I’m like you, and basically in a “wait and see” mode. It *looks* interesting, but so have *lots* of other tablets until you get your hands on them. I mean, the first two Sony eReaders *looked* awesome, too, until I actually tried them. And developers seem to be less than eager to jump from iOS. We’ll see, I guess.

  2. I actually look at the Surface as the tablet for those that don’t want to give up their computer. The look and feel when its propped open with the keyboard cover totally looks like an all-in-one desktop.

    Now if Microsoft were smart and offered a reasonably priced usb 3.0 dock to attach a large monitor/full keyboard/mouse/printer/etc. then you’ve reached desktop replacement for the masses. Since most people use their computers for simple tasks (web, pictures, email) Microsoft can transition their experience at home and on the move.

    The idea of a bundled service is a good one. We already have Seton Hall University handing out Nokia phones to incoming Freshmen with Windows apps to integrate with the school. Who’s to say its not a surface in 2013…

  3. Interesting speculation, but I doubt the volumes are large by themselves enough to justify a move into hardware production. I think it’s more about setting a reference platform and spurring overall interest in Windows 8 as a tablet (and phone) solution. that said, it wouldn’t surprise me that this is part of that overall strategy, but I doubt it is the driver.

    • Right, I don’t think this is the sole reason for the Surface tablet. I think the Surface tablet is part of the driver for Newco/B&N partnership.

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