December 28, 2012, 12:25 PM

A book publisher invests $89.5 million in Nook Media

The agreement values the digital reading business at $1.79 billion.

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Pearson now has a 5% stake in Nook Media.

International publishing firm Pearson PLC has taken a 5% stake in Nook Media LLC, the digital reading and college business venture backed by Barnes & Noble Inc. and Microsoft Corp., Barnes & Noble says.

Pearson paid $89.5 million for its position, and could increase its stake another 5% if certain conditions are met, which Barnes & Noble declined to disclose.

Pearson says that the investment is focused on Nook Media’s college business. “[The investment] will allow our two companies to work closely together in order to create a more seamless and effective experience for students,” says Will Etheridge, CEO of Pearson North America. Pearson offered no specifics about its plans.

Barnes & Noble set up Nook Media in April as a way to operate its digital business separately, but in conjunction with its stores.

Barnes & Noble, No. 32 in the Internet Retailer Top 500 guide, now has a 78.2% ownership stake in Nook Media and Microsoft, No. 74, owns 16.8%.

Nook readers and tablets have been a bright spot for Barnes & Noble. It recorded Nook sales of $160.3 million in its fiscal second quarter ended Oct. 27, which was a 5.6% increase from the same quarter a year ago. Nook unit sales doubled over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend, compared to the same period last year.

Barnes & Noble this year expanded its Nook line with the release of two tablets, Nook HD and Nook HD+, which it sells along with its two Nook e-readers.

Pearson expects digital publishing revenue, along with revenue from services, to exceed its traditional publishing businesses in 2012, Pearson said in its mid-year report in July. For its Penguin publishing arm, Pearson says e-book sales increased 33% for the first six months of 2012 compared with the first half of 2011.

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