Amazon Battles Apple In The Classroom

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - It's only a matter of time before textbooks are a thing of the past. Electronic books are here to stay. And electronic books look to be big business.

That's why it's not surprising that big tech firms want to get their feet in the schoolroom door. Firms like Apple ( AAPL) and Amazon ( AMZN).

At the beginning of the year Apple came to New York to talk about (and lobby for) the next big thing in schools - electronic textbooks. Education's future. It was predicting a world where every student on the planet would be using a tablet to read textbooks from the time they started in kindergarten through their college years. Of course, students would surely be doing so on iPads.

A few months ago, during Apple's fiscal third-quarter conference call, CEO Tim Cook boasted:

"The iPad continues to be a great success in the U.S. education market, with sales setting a new quarterly record and nearly doubling year-over-year to just under 1 million iPads. While interest in the new iPad was high, sales of the reduced price iPad 2 in the K-12 market were particularly strong. And even though, as I mentioned earlier, we achieved all time record Mac sales to U.S. education institutions during the quarter. We sold more than twice as many iPads as Macs to U.S. education institutions. We are extremely pleased with these results."

Cook cited the example of the Mansfield Texas Independent School District, which purchased 11,000 iPads. This fall, every Mansfield High School student and teacher will receive an iPad under the district's Power Up initiative, he explained.

Reduced prices for older models helps school systems. But the latest iPads retail for a minimum of $500 each. And, even with bulk discounts, that could be a pricey proposition for school systems large and small. That starts getting expensive - especially considering that the specific software - actual e-text books - aren't that much cheaper than their printed cousins.

Amazon has a slightly different take. Yes, it sees the importance of e-text books in the present and the future, but it believes students will be reading them on physically smaller, less expensive, Amazon book readers and tablets.

How much cheaper? Even considering the probability of an iPad Mini starting at $250 - Amazon's $199 Kindle Fire and $119 Paperwhite book readers could be very attractive to school systems in these economic times. Amazon doesn't release actual sales figures for its products, but recently said that its Kindle Fire makes up 22% of the U.S. tablet market.

Amazon has just announced a big part of its masterplan to sway school systems towards the company's products. It's a free online tool that allows schools and businesses to centrally manage Kindle products and, more importantly, wirelessly distribute Kindle content, PDF files and even memos within their organizations. Basically, it allows educators to remotely control how their group's Kindles will be used. For instance, limiting Internet access and blocking other possible distractions such as Facebook ( FB) and Twitter.

Of course, none of this might be appealing to school systems if Amazon didn't also stock electronic versions of needed textbooks. At the moment, Amazon carries more than 200,000 educational titles. That fact could be helpful in selling combination hardware/textbook deals to education boards.

--Written by Gary Krakow in New York.

>To submit a news tip, send an email to: tips@thestreet.com.
Gary Krakow is TheStreet's senior technology correspondent.

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