Tuition-Free College, 99¢ TV Shows, and Digital Cameras That Are as Cheap as They’ll Ever Be

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Here’s a mini round-up of stories of interest to consumers of the value-conscious persuasion.
USA Today discusses the movement to create a “University of the People,” which can be virtually attended by anyone with an Internet connection, anywhere in the world, and which only charges small admission fees—and no tuition. The university, which is helped along by academics who volunteer their time, sounds neat, but has a long way to go:

There is, however, an elephant in the room: University of the People is not currently authorized to award degrees.

The process of gaining license to give out degrees is a complex one — made even more complex since California, where University of the People is based, recentlyrestructuredits bureaucracy for approving postsecondary programs. Reshef says the university is currently studying what it needs to do to get approval to grant degrees in California, but that might not be the end of it; online programs have for years struggledwith state laws requiring them to gain approval from every state where they are educating students — a potentially lengthy, expensive process.

And that’s just in the United States; foreign countries vary widely in their processes for approving institutions that wish to award degrees inside their borders.

In other words, there is no guarantee that the students currently enrolled in courses at University of the People will qualify for a degree upon completing the four-year course of study; and if they do, that degree might not be seen as legitimate by their home country.

Another USA Today story explains how one of the assumptions of the modern-day marketplace—that technology will continually get cheaper and cheaper—might not be true. At least in terms of digital cameras anyway:

Camera sales peaked in 2008, and with 81% market penetration, fewer new customers are out there to buy a new camera, says Chris Chute, an analyst at market researcher IDC.

“It’s a very mature market, with three or four cameras per household,” Chute says.

Photo retailers converged Sunday for the annual Photo Marketing Association International trade show to see a new wave of economy cameras from Sony, Canon, Olympus, Nikon and others, and to figure out how to get consumers excited again about buying point-and-shoots. IDC projects sales of 35 million cameras in 2010, worth $6.6 billion, down from 2008’s 40.4 million cameras, worth $7.9 billion.

What consumers won’t see in stores are dramatically lower camera prices. The average selling price of a camera this year will be $154, IDC predicts, down just slightly from 2009’s $157.

“It really can’t go much lower,” Chute says. “If it did, it would mean that companies like Canon and Nikon couldn’t afford to be in the business. They can’t make money at those prices.”

Meanwhile, an experiment is taking place at iTunes, as the NY Times reports. TV shows, which have experienced meager sales at $1.99 apiece, are going to be sold for 99¢, the idea being that by halving the price, they might be able to more than double the number of shows sold:

What would make the iTunes sales more significant? That is where pricing science comes in. In conversations with networks, Apple representatives have cited 99 cents as the magic price point that brought digital music sales into the mainstream. The company says the same price could propel TV sales, according to the network executives. But the networks have little data about what effect 99-cent sales would have, making them more apprehensive about a change.

Also, of interest to anyone sick of paying $50 or $90 or whatever for their bundled cable TV package:

Separately, Apple has proposed to some networks that the store sell a subscription package of popular TV shows. At a price some reports have set at $30 a month, the subscription service would be a direct threat to entrenched cable and satellite providers. Apple has encountered trepidation from some networks, but the proposal is not off the table, according to executives at two of the networks.