Amazon's Rising Edtech Play

By Frank Catalano     Mar 25, 2014

Amazon's Rising Edtech Play

If you want to see the future of Amazon ineducation, don't look to Seattle. Look to Sao Paulo.

For months, I’ve wondered what Amazon’s strategyfor the Kindle in education might be. The Seattle-based company’s presence inK-12 has been notable largely by its absence. No grand, sweeping announcements.No blow-out presentations at education technology conferences. No dramaticBezos schoolyard laughs.

Yet, in the past year or so, Amazon has:

  • Hired a Microsoft executive, Raghu Murthi, to lead Amazon’s efforts in the education and enterprise markets;
  • AcquiredTenMarks, the math materials edtech company that appeals to teachers with its freemium model;
  • Rolled out Whispercast, to let educators centrally distribute and manage eBooks for reading and other programs en masse; and,
  • Introduced new models of the Kindle Fire HD and HDX with Fire OS 3.1, an Android variant that sports advanced features such as corporate-level security (e.g., native VPN support) and encryption.

These improvements have gone a long way toreverse Amazon’s early perceived disinterest in K-12 education, including theone-time barrier of a five unit-per-order limit on Kindles which made it hellfor any school library or classroom to fully outfit itself. Amazon now has adedicated Educationand Enterprise Sales page, too, in addition to mass device management.

Individuals vs. Institutions

Amazon has always been interested in educationat the individual student level, and aggressively pursues that segment of themarket in higher education by offering Kindle eTextbook sales and eTextbookrentals. College students are like the mass-market consumers Amazon dearlyloves, except they often get to spend other family members’ money. Schools, onthe other hand, are more like government, just pickier.

Despite this activity, Amazon seems oddlypassive. It has yet to make a dedicated, decisive Kindle push into K-12schools. Its Fire is a rounding error in K-12 tablet and laptop sales statswhere Apple’s iPads rule supreme (at 43%, according to recentFuturesource Consulting estimates) and only appears to be challenged by therapid rise of Google’s Chromebooks. Amazon’s Kindle looks like it falls in theforlorn four percent that Futuresource labels “Other.”

Hello, Sao Paulo

The newsthis month from Brazil could signal that a change may be underway.

Amazon’s education focus may not be sellingKindle tablet hardware after all. It may be the Kindle app.

Working with an agency of the Brazilian Ministryof Education, Amazon has been converting and wirelessly distributing more thantwo hundred textbook titles to hundreds of thousands of public high schoolteachers, using Whispercast. These are teachers’ editions, and they are beingdelivered to be used inside the free Kindle Reading App on roughly 600,000government-issued tablets

Read that again: content is getting deliverednot necessarily to Kindles, or Kindle Fires. To the Kindle Reading App on othermanufacturers’ Android tablets. The freeKindle Reading App, that runs on iOS, Macs, Windows and Android. As Amazon’snews release describes it, “Amazon’s expertise in compression technologyensured teachers have a fast download and great reading experience on theirtablets.”

“To date,” Amazon claims, “More than 40MeTextbooks have been delivered.”

Amazon, in its news release, goes out of its wayto emphasize a word that’s become almost an obsession to many in K-12: free.The Kindle Reading App is free, and allows teachers to “read, highlight, makenotes and reference the dictionary directly in the textbooks, even when thetablets are not connected to the Internet.” That, too, is true of some of thecontent, with “more than 2,500 free books in Portuguese.”

All About the App

Salesof the Kindle hardware, and Fire tablet market penetration, is not the solemeasure of success for Amazon in education. Pundits have estimated the price ofFire tablets are close to Amazon’s cost. That’s because from Amazon’sperspective, Kindle devices are needed to reach the ultimate goal of deliveringpaid digital content sold by Amazon.

But the free Kindle Reading App runs on nearlyany manufacturer’s tablet, basically turning every tablet into a Kindle: thatis, an Amazon content delivery device. Whispercast management software is a “freeself-service tool.” So what if, as Amazon’s educationpages state, it has “millions of free, out-of-copyright titles like Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist?” Odds are once you’re into Amazon’s ecosystem,that’s where increasingly you’ll find your school’s paid content, too.

Speculating a step further, what better place torun with this strategy than in countries where there is no fragmented,fractious procurement process, but rather where education ministries make thechoices for all public schools from the top down?

It may be that Amazon isn’t disinterested in theoverall K-12 education game. It may simply prefer to redefine the game’s rulesand playing field. By focusing on global opportunities and the Kindle ReadingApp – irrespective of the underlying hardware – it can do what Amazon doesbest: sell content that, in this case, just happens to be eTextbooks. Orperhaps even more interactive instructional materials that play nicely insidethe Kindle Reading App or a similar new free education market app that has yetto be unveiled.

It makes a peculiar kind of sense. The riverthat is the company’s namesake makes its own path. And doesn’t start anywherenear the U.S.

For Amazon and schools, there may indeed be anapp for that.

Frank Catalano is Vice President of Marketing Strategy for SchoolMessenger. He was a consultant, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies. He is a former columnist for EdSurge and continues to write for GeekWire. He tweets @FrankCatalano. He owns the Kindle Fire HDX, reviewed its business features, and finds it a wonderful movie delivery device for long airplane rides.

Amazon's Rising Edtech Play

By Frank Catalano     Mar 25, 2014

Amazon's Rising Edtech Play

If you want to see the future of Amazon ineducation, don't look to Seattle. Look to Sao Paulo.

For months, I’ve wondered what Amazon’s strategyfor the Kindle in education might be. The Seattle-based company’s presence inK-12 has been notable largely by its absence. No grand, sweeping announcements.No blow-out presentations at education technology conferences. No dramaticBezos schoolyard laughs.

Yet, in the past year or so, Amazon has:

  • Hired a Microsoft executive, Raghu Murthi, to lead Amazon’s efforts in the education and enterprise markets;
  • AcquiredTenMarks, the math materials edtech company that appeals to teachers with its freemium model;
  • Rolled out Whispercast, to let educators centrally distribute and manage eBooks for reading and other programs en masse; and,
  • Introduced new models of the Kindle Fire HD and HDX with Fire OS 3.1, an Android variant that sports advanced features such as corporate-level security (e.g., native VPN support) and encryption.

These improvements have gone a long way toreverse Amazon’s early perceived disinterest in K-12 education, including theone-time barrier of a five unit-per-order limit on Kindles which made it hellfor any school library or classroom to fully outfit itself. Amazon now has adedicated Educationand Enterprise Sales page, too, in addition to mass device management.

Individuals vs. Institutions

Amazon has always been interested in educationat the individual student level, and aggressively pursues that segment of themarket in higher education by offering Kindle eTextbook sales and eTextbookrentals. College students are like the mass-market consumers Amazon dearlyloves, except they often get to spend other family members’ money. Schools, onthe other hand, are more like government, just pickier.

Despite this activity, Amazon seems oddlypassive. It has yet to make a dedicated, decisive Kindle push into K-12schools. Its Fire is a rounding error in K-12 tablet and laptop sales statswhere Apple’s iPads rule supreme (at 43%, according to recentFuturesource Consulting estimates) and only appears to be challenged by therapid rise of Google’s Chromebooks. Amazon’s Kindle looks like it falls in theforlorn four percent that Futuresource labels “Other.”

Hello, Sao Paulo

The newsthis month from Brazil could signal that a change may be underway.

Amazon’s education focus may not be sellingKindle tablet hardware after all. It may be the Kindle app.

Working with an agency of the Brazilian Ministryof Education, Amazon has been converting and wirelessly distributing more thantwo hundred textbook titles to hundreds of thousands of public high schoolteachers, using Whispercast. These are teachers’ editions, and they are beingdelivered to be used inside the free Kindle Reading App on roughly 600,000government-issued tablets

Read that again: content is getting deliverednot necessarily to Kindles, or Kindle Fires. To the Kindle Reading App on othermanufacturers’ Android tablets. The freeKindle Reading App, that runs on iOS, Macs, Windows and Android. As Amazon’snews release describes it, “Amazon’s expertise in compression technologyensured teachers have a fast download and great reading experience on theirtablets.”

“To date,” Amazon claims, “More than 40MeTextbooks have been delivered.”

Amazon, in its news release, goes out of its wayto emphasize a word that’s become almost an obsession to many in K-12: free.The Kindle Reading App is free, and allows teachers to “read, highlight, makenotes and reference the dictionary directly in the textbooks, even when thetablets are not connected to the Internet.” That, too, is true of some of thecontent, with “more than 2,500 free books in Portuguese.”

All About the App

Salesof the Kindle hardware, and Fire tablet market penetration, is not the solemeasure of success for Amazon in education. Pundits have estimated the price ofFire tablets are close to Amazon’s cost. That’s because from Amazon’sperspective, Kindle devices are needed to reach the ultimate goal of deliveringpaid digital content sold by Amazon.

But the free Kindle Reading App runs on nearlyany manufacturer’s tablet, basically turning every tablet into a Kindle: thatis, an Amazon content delivery device. Whispercast management software is a “freeself-service tool.” So what if, as Amazon’s educationpages state, it has “millions of free, out-of-copyright titles like Jane Eyre and Oliver Twist?” Odds are once you’re into Amazon’s ecosystem,that’s where increasingly you’ll find your school’s paid content, too.

Speculating a step further, what better place torun with this strategy than in countries where there is no fragmented,fractious procurement process, but rather where education ministries make thechoices for all public schools from the top down?

It may be that Amazon isn’t disinterested in theoverall K-12 education game. It may simply prefer to redefine the game’s rulesand playing field. By focusing on global opportunities and the Kindle ReadingApp – irrespective of the underlying hardware – it can do what Amazon doesbest: sell content that, in this case, just happens to be eTextbooks. Orperhaps even more interactive instructional materials that play nicely insidethe Kindle Reading App or a similar new free education market app that has yetto be unveiled.

It makes a peculiar kind of sense. The riverthat is the company’s namesake makes its own path. And doesn’t start anywherenear the U.S.

For Amazon and schools, there may indeed be anapp for that.

Frank Catalano is Vice President of Marketing Strategy for SchoolMessenger. He was a consultant, author and veteran analyst of digital education and consumer technologies. He is a former columnist for EdSurge and continues to write for GeekWire. He tweets @FrankCatalano. He owns the Kindle Fire HDX, reviewed its business features, and finds it a wonderful movie delivery device for long airplane rides.

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