John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Microsoft Looks to Boost Surface With Big Discounts for Schools

Surface_EDU_discountIt turns out that Microsoft’s Windows in the Classroom Surface Experience Project, a giveaway of 10,000 Surface RT devices, targeted at educators, was just the beginning of the company’s efforts to push its new tablet into the education market. Microsoft is now offering significant discounts on Surface RT to schools around the world.

On Monday, Microsoft said it would cut the price of the 32 gigabyte Surface RT in half for any school that purchases the tablet between June 17 and Aug. 31, 2013. So, for the next few months, K-12 and higher-education institutions can purchase the $499 Surface RT for just $199, the $599 Surface RT with Touch Cover for $249, and the $629 Surface RT with Type Cover for $289. With no minimum order requirement, that’s a potentially compelling promotion for a tablet that ships with Office — particularly for schools dealing with a death-by-a-thousand-cuts budget crisis.

According to Microsoft, the rationale for the discount is its “long tradition of offering special pricing to education customers,” and a “mission in education … to help schools, students and educators realize their full potential.”

But more practically it’s an easy way to juice sales and whittle down inventory of a tablet that has been slow to gain traction in the consumer market. According to research firm IDC, Microsoft shipped about 900,000 Surface RT and Surface Pro tablets in the first quarter of this year.

That’s a piddling amount. And if Microsoft’s first Surface RT production runs were as large as rumors say — three million to five million in the fourth quarter — then the company may be sitting on some serious inventory. That alone may be enough to justify offering a fire-sale discount like this to the education market, particularly if there are some next-generation Surface tablets in the pipeline.

But there’s likely another rationale at work here, as well. To compete with a product like the iPad, Surface needs evangelists, people who will use it daily. People who will travel with it, take it to cafes and parks. People who will bring it out into the world. And the education market is potentially a wellspring of such users.

If Microsoft’s new education promotion works as intended, we’ll see more Surface units in the wild. And that’s important. Because it’s hard to accept Surface as an alternative to the iPad or Galaxy Tab if you don’t see other people using it. Microsoft’s new Surface ads poking fun at Siri and the iPad are great. But they’re sticks and rags in a world in which you board a flight from San Francisco to New York and there are dozens of passengers with their faces obscured by iPads and Kindles, and nary a Surface in site.

Marketing only goes so far. Microsoft desperately needs to put Surface in more hands. Maybe this new initiative will help it to do that.

Microsoft declined comment on its education market discounts for Surface.

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