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Apple tablet: A textbook slamdunk?

January 26, 2010 |  6:06 pm

Apple and schools have gotten along very well over the years, with Apple supplying a future generation of computer users with generously discounted hardware.

Now, it appears Apple wants to take that relationship a step further. McGraw-Hill's chief executive, Terry McGraw, today referenced the potential for textbooks sold on Apple's to-be-announced tablet. You can read a transcript of the remarks here.

To decode McGraw's off-the-cuff statement, we called Frank Lyman, head of CourseSmart, a digital textbook company jointly owned by McGraw-Hill, Pearson, Cengage Learning, John Wiley & Sons Inc., and Bedford, Freeman, Worth Publishing Group.

Lyman's bottom line: If the Apple tablet's operating system is the same as the iPhone's, the new device will be able to display at least 8,700 college textbooks "right out of the box." That's because the company built an application last summer to let students view textbooks on their iPhones. Displaying the same pages on a tablet would be no sweat, technically.

To get an idea of what a textbook would look like on a tablet, click on the demo video above.

Could Apple's tablet help "revolutionize" the $6-billion U.S. college textbook market, to use a word often deployed by the technology company's CEO, Steve Jobs?

Maybe. But companies such as CourseSmart have already paved the way for digital textbooks by consolidating textbooks from 15 publishers and working with professors from more than 6,000 colleges in North America to assign the books to hundreds of thousands of students who are now reading them on their laptops and iPhones.

As much as 10% of the market's sales come from e-books, which are popular with students because they don't have to lug around so many tomes and because digital textbooks are priced at 50%, on average, of their paper counterparts, Lyman said.

Publishers like them because digital textbooks can't be resold in the used books section of the bookstore, and because they cost less to produce.

"Students want choice. And publishers want a business model that allows them to reinvest in their business," Lyman said. "It's a win-win."

CourseSmart wins, too. Its 2009 revenue was up 400% from 2008.

-- Alex Pham

Follow me: @AlexPham

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