Business & Tech

BOLD TYPES

College textbook company aims to be the Netflix of higher education

Michael Hanson wants to take Boston-based Cengage to new heights.
Chris Morris for The Boston Globe
Michael Hanson wants to take Boston-based Cengage to new heights.

Michael Hansen wants to turn his company into the Netflix of higher education.

The Boston business he runs, Cengage, is the number two college textbook publisher, behind Pearson. Hansen is gunning for the top spot. And he’s taking a risk to do it by unveiling a subscription service, Cengage Unlimited, in time for next fall’s classes. Instead of watching “Orange is the New Black” or “Stranger Things,” students can binge on “Essentials of Criminal Justice” or “Digital Moviemaking.”

Cengage subscriptions will essentially be $120 a semester, or $180 for the full year. Not as cheap as Netflix. But that still beats the $500-plus that most college students easily spend annually on their texts.

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“I don’t think this industry has had a business model change of this significance in 100 years,” Hansen says.

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The private equity-owned publisher will continue to sell print versions of its books. But that line of business could easily be cannibalized by Cengage Unlimited. Hansen hopes to make up for any losses in sales of individual titles by gaining more market share. Higher-ed titles represent about $950 million of Cengage’s $1.6 billion in annual revenue.

Students who subscribe to Cengage Unlimited get full access to all the digital titles in Cengage’s catalog. The company wants to persuade more professors to use its materials, in part because they can now be offered as a new, more affordable option for students.

“Traditionally, faculty just go by the content, and [what they’ve] taught for many years,” Hansen says. “Now we’re offering you something that is so much better in terms of affordability.” — JON CHESTO

Reluctant honoree focuses on diversity

Eastern Bank’schief executive, Bob Rivers, generally doesn’t like to get much attention for the work he does to improve workforce diversity in Boston.

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But he won’t have much choice on Tuesday night, when he is honored by the Partnership Inc., a nonprofit that helps foster the careers of minority professionals. The group will honor Rivers with the Bennie Wiley CEO Diversity Award, which recognizes chief executives who take a leadership role in advancing diversity and inclusion in the state.

Among other things under Rivers’s leadership at Eastern, the bank’s foundation has set aside $10 million to promote diversity in the city’s business community.

Bennie Wiley, the Partnership’s former CEO, is scheduled to present the award to Rivers at the organization’s annual meeting at the Seaport World Trade Center. Ralph Martin, general counsel at Northeastern University, will interview Rivers at the event.

There’s a passing of the torch, as well. Martin, after four years as the Partnership’s board chair, is stepping down. Marcy Reed,National Grid’s Massachusetts president, will take over. — JON CHESTO

Hurricane relief is on tap at NU

Some fund-raising events take weeks to plan. Others take months. A few are even in the works for years.

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But days? That was the unusual task put before Sandra King when she heard from her friends, David Hall and Marilyn Braithwaite-Hall, in late November, asking for help.

Hall and King know each other from their days working at Northeastern University more than a decade ago. Hall was dean of the law school, then provost of the university, while King was a vice president in charge of marketing.

Now, Hall is president of the University of the Virgin Islands, which suffered some $60 million in damage from the two hurricanes that hit the islands this year. He will return to Northeastern on Saturday afternoon to talk about recovery efforts and raise funds to help students, faculty, and staff deal with day-to-day expenses. (Hall was already coming to Boston for another event, but decided to try to raise money for his school at the same time.)

Hall and King, who runs her own marketing consultancy, have deep contacts. They also roped in General Electric vice president Mo Cowan and Keith Motley, the former head of UMass Boston. Hall reached out to NU president Joseph Aoun for a venue, and he promptly offered space in the school’s Alumni Center, on Columbus Avenue.

The Red Sox offered a few signed items of memorabilia, such as an autographed David Price jersey, to be auctioned off.

The goal is to raise at least $20,000 in the short term, with a longer-term goal of $50,000.

“We’re hopeful we’ll be able to meet and exceed those goals,” King says. “We’re just very pleased that the community has stepped up to be so supportive, at very short notice.” — JON CHESTO

Executives to FCC: Keep Net neutrality

Many tech executives in Boston aren’t happy that Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is moving ahead with plans to dismantle Obama-era Net neutrality regulations.

Pai wants the FCC to vote on Thursday to abandon those rules, which essentially prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic, or allowing faster speeds to certain clients who pay more.

A few notable executives gathered at the cybersecurity firm Rapid7’s downtown headquarters on Monday with Senator Ed Markey to warn about the potential impact. The group included Carbonite CEO Mohamad Ali; Rapid7 CEO Corey Thomas; New England Venture Capital Association executive director Jody Rose; and venture capitalist Michael Skok, partner at Underscore VC.

Ali said ending Net neutrality “threatens American jobs and American innovation,” while Rose said the Obama rules help level the playing field for startups.

Markey, meanwhile, described the existing rules as an engine for economic growth. “Net neutrality serves as the foundation of our tech economy,” he said. — JON CHESTO

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E-mail Bold Types at boldtypes@globe.com.