What to expect from Apple’s announcement

January 19, 2012

Apple is planning a press announcement in New York City Thursday, which is expected to unveil the company’s foray into digital publishing for the education market.

As The Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang reported, the company is expected to announce partnerships that will make digital textbooks more available to students, possibly hoping for a repeat of the success it saw getting Macs into school 30 years ago.

Little has been leaked in terms of the scope of the announcement. There are currently two main camps of speculation about how Apple will jump into the textbook market.

One theory is that Apple is planning to completely upend the textbook space by making it easy for educators to create their own textbooks and bypass publishers completely.

Apple’s late co-founder Steve Jobs, in comments to biographer Walter Isaacson, said that he was frustrated by the current textbook market.

Kang reports that Jobs told Isaacson, “The process by which states certify textbooks is corrupt. . . . But if we can make the textbooks free, and they come with the iPad, then they don’t have to be certified. The crappy economy at the state level will last for a decade, and we can give them an opportunity to circumvent the whole process and save money.”

Textbooks are a big industry, and — if this is what Apple is planning — it would taking on publishing giants such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

The less revolutionary theory is that the company will simply become a distribution platform — as it has with music — and work with the existing industry to make e-books more common in schools. In an article in Fortune, Philip Elmer-Dewitt promotes this as the more likely outcome of the day’s events, pointing to comments from digital textbook chief executive Matt MacInnis. MacInnis told Fortune that it’s unlikely that Apple will want to get into the content publishing business.

“Like the music and movie industries, Apple has instead built a distribution platform as well as hardware to consume it—but Apple isn’t a record label or production studio,” he said.

Regardless of the scope of the announcement, it is set to be an influential one for the textbook industry.

It’s unlikely, however, to catch too much interest from the average Apple consumer. This is far from the grand product announcements that Apple arranges in Silicon Valley auditoriums, which should pour cold water on any speculation that the company is planning a surprise announcement about the next iPad or iPhone.

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Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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