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Educating Amazon: Brazil Gov’t Seeks Suitors for School Ebooks

Contrary to many recent press reports Amazon does not have an exclusive deal to distribute digital books to the lucrative Brazilian education market.

By Carlo Carrenho

Amazon 2Amazon.com made headlines throughout the world earlier this month after sending a press release with the following information: “Amazon today announced that the Brazilian Ministry of Education (MEC), via its National Fund for Educational Development (FNDE), has been working with Amazon to convert and wirelessly distribute more than 200 textbooks to hundreds of thousands of public high school teachers via Whispercast…To date, more than 40M eTextbooks have been delivered. FNDE is using Whispercast’s technology to securely manage its catalog of eTextbooks, open and organize the teachers’ accounts into coherent groups and distribute the digitized textbooks seamlessly and rapidly…”

Following this press release, several news outlet ran the story, assuming that Amazon had just nailed down an important deal with the Brazilian government to supply books to the all-important Brazilian education market. But this was in no way accurate.

brazil flagYes, the Brazilian government has decided to use the Kindle platform to distribute the PDFs they had received from publishers selected for the 2012 edition of the National Program for the High School Book [Programa Nacional do Livro Didático para o Ensino Médio — PNLEM]. This decision drew Amazon into a closer relationship to the government in a joint effort to make the digital distribution work. The 200 textbooks were mainly distributed to teachers who received the 600,000 tablets the government had acquired in 2012. But the figure of “40 million copies” announced by Amazon has been viewed by many in the publishing industry as suspiciously high.

But the perception that Amazon is now likely to take over or dominate digital distribution of books to the Brazilian education sector is incorrect. Amazon is, perhaps in an advantageous position, but it is in no way in an exclusive contract with the government. It got to this point by participating in a public bidding process (Edital de Convocação 03/2012) that the Ministry of Education launched in October 2012 in search of companies to “structure and operate a virtual service to make digital books and other digital educational content available to teachers, students and other users of the Brazilian public school network.” The platforms should be provided free of charge. According to the official document,“partnerships can be established with different institutions simultaneously or not,” so, in practical terms, this means that there is no guaranteed exclusivity and the government might choose to never use an approved platform.

Also, any so called “approval” granted is valid only until 2015 and may be extended or not.

The end result is that the Kindle app platform has been approved to be used by the government to distribute educational content to teachers and students. That is all. This is the closest Amazon got to a “contract deal” with the government.

But it’s also worth noting that Amazon is not alone in having their platform “approved.” Brazilian competitor Saraiva also had its platform approved in the same bidding process. And one would expect that the government isn’t yet finished vetting potential platforms.

Making a long story short, Amazon scored a goal with the government, but it is far from winning the championship or even the match.

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