Blackboard debuts virtual bookstores for college students to buy, rent textbooks

Blackboard is taking on the campus bookstore.

The District-based education technology company announced Wednesday plans to open a virtual bookstore where students can purchase or rent textbooks and other course materials.

The arrangement fits into a new corporate strategy at Blackboard designed to expand and integrate its product offerings so that students and universities become more dependent on its software and less likely to switch to competitors.

The move into textbook rental and sales pits Blackboard against new, more established competition. Heavyweights in the market include Amazon.com, Half.com, Chegg.com and Barnes and Noble, not to mention physical bookstores located on college campuses.

Blackboard may be able to separate itself from the competition, however, because its software already serves as a place where students access syllabi, grades, discussion topics and other course materials. In other words, it already has a captive audience.


Screen grab of Blackboard's new site.

“We simply thought there was room for something different: a convenient, student-focused option designed specifically to support the educational experience,” chief executive Jay Bhatt, who joined Blackboard a year ago, said via e-mail.

“Students already use their learning platform to find out which materials they will need for their courses. . .it just makes sense that they should be able to buy or rent the materials in the same environment without having to go somewhere else or having to worry about whether they’re getting the right items,” Bhatt continued.

The virtual bookstores will debut this spring at about a dozen colleges nationwide, with plans to further expand this summer. The virtual bookstores will be built in partnership with Columbia, Mo.-based MBS Direct, a distributer of course content that works with 950 higher education and K-12 institutions to date.

Follow Steven Overly on Twitter: @StevenOverly

Steven Overly covers the business of technology, biotechnology and venture capital in the Washington region for The Washington Post and its weekly Capital Business publication. In that capacity, he has written about start-up struggles, investment trends and major drug discoveries.
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