Thursday, March 06, 2014

Why Was CourseSmart Offloaded?

This week’s news that the publishing educational joint venture CourseSmart has been acquired by Ingram’s Content Group should be not a surprise, but raises some interesting questions about publisher's joint ventures.

Some six years ago whilst speaking at the National Association of College Stores (NACS)  conference in Minneapolis, I was drawn to a cluster of delegates who were busy taking notes and sat apart from the delegates. I spoke to them afterwards and discovered that they were all from CourseSmart and they were obviously sent to press the delegates’ flesh. On being asked what the CourseSmart service was and what it wanted to be when it grew up I found I got different answers. Maybe that is where their problems lay. Later there were several rumours that some members of the joint venture want to go their own way. I also remember presenting to an industry group in the UK who were looking for an alternative to CourseSmart, but many were being reined in to supporting it by their larger brothers and sisters in the US. It is interesting that some members of the venture spread their bets and also backed competitive services as well as their own offers.

The big question is why publisher digital joint ventures either wither or get passed on? Maybe they feel that they are not core business, or that they don’t have the skill base, or maybe they bleed cash? Recently we have seen ventures such as Bookish and Anobii fail. Unlike others CourseSmart had the perfect parentage, access to the content, potential direct to market sales channel, yet it moves on.

CourseSmart was formed in 2007 by Pearson, Macmillan, Cengage Learning, John Wiley & Sons, McGraw-Hill Education and Pearson. It started off as a digital inspection service then quickly morphed into a providing digital textbooks in the higher education market and lately has offered its content and platform to a wider audience. It’s technology was driven be Pearson and some say that was probably the start of many of its internal challenges. Others will say that the base technology was restrictive and did not meet many of the market’s demands.  

In Ingram Content Group's Vital Source Technologies, Inc., it has probably found a good home and it clearly offers Ingram extended reach under the Vital Source platform as well as potential increased access to and opportunities with publisher digital distribution.

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