Monday, October 1, 2018

The Rise and Fall of The Learning Company

Abigail Cain:

Both Reader Rabbit and Cluefinders were the work of The Learning Company (TLC), a dominant player in the realm of educational software during its peak in the late 1980s and ’90s. At a certain point, TLC owned pretty much every computer game that mattered to millennials: The Logical Journey of the Zoombinis, Where in the World Is Carmen Sandiego?, even Oregon Trail. But by 2000, the company was in financial shambles — and, in what was labeled one of the worst business deals of all time, almost took a Fortune 500 company down with it.


SoftKey renamed itself The Learning Company to take advantage of its strong reputation, continuing to gobble up industry powerhouses including MECC, in 1995, and Brøderbund, in 1998. All told, SoftKey bought more than 20 entities, becoming the world’s second largest consumer software company after Microsoft in the process.


According to Osterwiel, the industry never fully recovered. The problems that plagued it during its previous downswing persist today, albeit with more advanced technology. Apps are the new medium for educational games — but they sell for $1 apiece, an amount that would have been “the price of postage” to mail a game on CD-ROM, Buckleitner noted wryly. Quality research and development is practically impossible with that sort of profit margin.

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