But then I came across a post by Rob Reynolds, the Director of MBS Direct Digital. Rob is an old friend, and he pointed out that NookStudy, B&N's hot textbook app, was actually developed by B&N College in a completely separate effort from the Nook platform. I followed up on this elsewhere and I got confirmation that NookStudy was a separate project.
NookStudy launched in mid-2010, so the development happened in 2009. B&N had bought B&N College by that point, and it was also building the Nook platform. But apparently B&N College was allowed to do its own thing and that included all the market research, testing, and development work needed to launch a textbook app. In fact, their website mentions that they're still doing original development work (although the ebook stuff is now concentrated in the Nook division.)
This detail is new to me but it explains a lot. NookStudy isn't terribly compatible with the Nook platform. It offers a lot of annotation options but very little of it will also show up in the Nook apps. I've always wondered about that.
In case it's not clear by now, the new spinoff is most likely to be some kind of entry into the academic digital content market.
Note that I'm not saying digital textbooks, B&N already has that in NookStudy. B&N College is likely doing something new that warrants inclusion in the spinoff. (And no, that wasn't clear right away; at first glance it looked like a poorly conceived reorganization.)
While B&N College isn't doing ebook software development, they could have something else in the works. I don't know what it is but it's bound to be something interesting and it's a near certainty that B&N College was included for reasons other than it was a college bookstore retailer.
My guess would be collaboration of some kind, but in any case I look forward to finding out.