Barnes & Noble quietly launched the beta version of a new digital textbook app earlier this month. It's called Yuzu, and it is currently available for the iPad and .
Yuzu is a digital education platform that Barnes & Noble says is going to "make the everyday learning experience remarkably gratifying". Few details are available at this time, but B&N says that the new platform will support "the collaborative, free flow of information between learners and educators".
When it officially launches this summer Yuzu is going to be B&N's replacement for NookStudy, which according to the website has already been retired. At this point it looks like Yuzu is an entirely new platform, and it would appear that Yuzu does not share the same accounts as the Nook Store or NookStudy. In fact, one of the FAQs I found says that Yuzu is not compatible with NookStudy textbooks.
The app is currently only available for Internet Explorer and Safari 6.1/7 (but not Firefox), and for iPads running iOS7, and it is far from complete. While the app does run in IE, all I can do is play around with the set up process. I can create terms and add courses to a term, but I cannot actually read any content. There's no option for uploading my own files, and Yuzu's bookstore has not yet been enabled.
At this point we have little more to go on than B&N's own description, and it makes Yuzu sound more like a digital textbook app like iBooks or Nook Study than an educational and academic app like iTunes U. Like its predecessor NookStudy, Yuzu offers students a next-generation reading and note-taking experience in a simple app, but it also improves on NookStudy by making it easier for educators to provide course materials.
In addition to launching the Yuzu platform, B&N is also tying in FacultyEnlight. This is a website where educators can assemble academic materials into course packs, and from what I can tell B&N (if not earlier). Educators can search for the textbooks and other academic material they need, and then build a required and recommended textbook list for a class.
FacultyEnlight is very much focused on the college market, so I would bet that it is also tied in to the 600 plus college bookstore websites run by B&N College. On a related note, the site also prompts educators to sell their original course materials via Nook Press, where they will end up in the Nook Store - and probably Yuzu as well.
Yuzu is only available for IE, Safari, and the iPad, but I have been told that B&N plans to have a Yuzu Android app and support for more web browsers by the time the platform launches this summer.
The Digital Reader was the first to report earlier this year that Barnes & Noble was turning their attention to the digital education market (I scooped the official announcement by about 3 weeks). At the time I was hopeful that this pivot could save B&N's digital division, but now I am not so sure that it will.
Everything I have read today suggests that Barnes & Noble is pursuing a retail strategy where they will sell (or rent) digital textbooks to students. Given the general failure of the digital textbook market, this does not bode well for B&N.
Over the past six months we have seen several digital textbook providers go bankrupt, sell out to their competition, or pivot to serve a new market. Kno was acquired out of bankruptcy by Intel, Coursesmart was sold off to its competitor, and Inkling pivoted to a new business model based on licensing its tech to publishers.
I predicted about a month ago that the future of digital textbooks is in publishers selling to schools, not retail. If B&N is going to ignore that trend then I expect that Yuzu is even more doomed than the Nook platform.
On the other hand, B&N does have an advantage that none of the startups could claim; B&N runs over 600 college bookstores. This gives them a market presence that few other than Follett (which also runs college bookstores) can match.
And in any case, it is too early to say for sure how B&N will generate revenue; they might be planning to use a different model than selling digital textbooks to cash-strapped students. We shall have to wait and see.