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Apple has certainly come a long way as the corporate insurgent (capturing the imagination of my kids and many of their peers) challenging and now outperforming “the man” Microsoft of the computer industry.  Of course, Apple has sought brand loyalty from the younger generation for years by marketing their computers to schools, to put them in front of all those young consumers cloistered in those educational venues.  The late Steve Job's company has also advanced their brand by playing the insurgent in the music business, challenging the traditional marketing practices of a moribund music industry with their iPod, iTunes, and now music industry topping iStore.

But now I read that Apple is moving big-time into the textbook business, and I would hope that they would similarly challenge that entrenched corporate establishment as well.  Certainly one can argue that big publishing companies like McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin, have encouraged what I would consider a damaging centralization, standardization and increasingly OSFA (one size fits all) approach to public education in order to expand and protect their markets for selling textbooks.

But in the intro to Jason Tomassini's piece "Apple Unveils E-Textbook Strategy for K-12" for Education Week, he calls out that Apple is now allying with rather than challenging the corporate educational “man”...

Apple Inc. announced aggressive new efforts last week to move into the K-12 electronic-textbook market, though educational publishers said the biggest news from the move is how the normally disruptive company is likely to help the publishing industry rather than challenge it.  Through a partnership with three major K-12 textbook publishers—McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—Apple is offering interactive textbooks through its iBooks store at $14.99 or less.

These new corporate partners are the who's who of the “educational-industrial complex”.  Of course Apple has been  a part of the education market for decades...

In its entirety, the announcement signals Apple’s intent to further deepen its market share in K-12 education. Sales of the iPad are outpacing Mac computers in the education sector, and Apple officials said there were 1.5 million iPads in use in education, more than 1,000 one-to-one iPad computing initiatives in K-12, and 20,000 education apps in the iTunes store.

Certainly public school systems have the potential to save money buying lots of virtual rather than hard-copy textbooks.  But the bigger underlying narrative involves these big corporate dinosaurs looking to maintain their control over public education and their many billion dollar market for textbooks and testing materials.

Big business moved to a position at the helm of the U.S. public education system back in the first decades of the 20th century, as chronicled in Raymond Callahan's book “Education and the Cult of Efficiency”.  Corporate “reformers” attacked the U.S. public school system for its alleged “inefficiencies”, and the vulnerable educational establishment (with its mostly low status female teachers) essentially surrendered control of that system to new business-trained bosses, the corporate interests that supported those bosses, and the agendas of those corporate interests, including according to Callahan...

That educational questions were subordinated to business considerations; that administrators were produced who were not, in any true sense, educators; that a scientific label was put on some very unscientific and dubious methods and practices; and that an anti-intellectual climate, already prevalent, was strengthened. As the business-industrial values and procedures spread into the thinking and acting of countless educational decisions were made on economic or on non-educational grounds. (Calahan, pg 246

So now in the 21st century Information Age we see the rise of the Internet as a brand new and potentially anarchic challenge to the entrenched interests, including corporate interests, of our previous Industrial Age.  To try and hold on to power and market share in this new age, the old industrial age corporations need to adapt to these challenges.  

For the big textbook publishers, that challenging new reality is that much of the knowledge of the world is now available to anyone and everyone for free on the Net.  Perhaps a profound potential challenge to their current monopoly is the whole “Open Educational Content” movement, which is very fledgling at this point.  Using these new Internet wiki-type tools, teachers have the capability to develop their own curricula and even “publish” their own hard-copy books, outside the purview of the big education publishers.  Not a big challenge yet, because most states and school districts are locked into their relationships with the big publishers (that's where the increasing standardization of curriculum plays into the big corporate textbook marketing).  But down the road, maybe sooner than later if public schools continue to be strapped for funding, will school systems continue to invest billions in publishers' products given they no longer have the monopoly as gatekeepers to the world's established wisdom?

So it is certainly wise for these big corporate educational-industrial complex players to enlist powerful Information Age players to help protect their markets.  Just as it continues to be in their interest to push for ever increasing educational centralization and standardization so they sell more “units” while having a smaller group of customers that they need to keep happy.

From Tomassini's piece...

The publishers will give Apple a cut of the revenue; 30 percent in the case of individual consumers, and an undetermined amount when selling on a state or district level. It’s a mutually beneficial model akin to iTunes, publishers said, not a run around the publishing industry, as had been speculated and hinted at by Apple founder Steve Jobs before his death last year.

But is it really in Apple's interest to surrender their role here as Information Age iconoclasts and perhaps sell their own corporate soul for the big bucks associated with  the Industrial Age dinosaurs of the big ed biz?  Is that really keeping faith with their youthful customer base and the new ideas branding that they try to represent?

Mr. Jobs had always taken an interest in education, and in Walter Isaacson’s 2011 biography of the technology innovator, he is quoted as speaking of a “corrupt” state textbook-approval process, the massive textbook industry, and his hope to transform it... For textbook publishers, though, business won’t be as disrupted as Mr. Jobs may have hoped... Ms. Shore of Pearson Education said creating content for Apple would be no different from creating any other kind of textbook content. Pearson creates the content first, then adapts it to multiple platforms, whether it’s Apple, Android, Amazon, or print.

Will Apple become (like Microsoft founder Bill Gates) just another entrenched corporate interest protecting business as usual in education by joining the rest of the education-industrial complex in promoting testing-obsessed standardization and the teacher union busting corporatism and labeling of “failed” schools that seems to go with it?

Some critics believe the cost of the devices could prevent the innovative textbooks from being used by the students who need them most. By the end of the year, for example, McGraw-Hill will produce five Apple-only textbooks. If the textbooks can be used on Apple devices only, it could require cash-strapped districts to decide on Apple or a lesser education.

Certainly there is the potential for Apple's Internet enabling technology to challenge rather than support the traditional book sellers...

Apple also unveiled a brand-new application called iBooks Author, which allows users to create and publish their own e-books. The tool can be used only on Macintosh computers, but books can immediately be published into the iBooks store... Lastly, Apple announced it is upgrading iTunes U, its directory for educational content for higher education, to allow teachers to create entire online courses.

This sounds more in line with what I mentioned above about the “Open Educational Content” movement, and would involve Apple more in their traditional insurgent role.

So the question is, will Apple continue to be a force for real change, perhaps giving poorer school districts (generally judged as “failing” in the No Child Left Behind standardization paradigm) the opportunity to develop their own curriculum online and redirect that big textbook budget line item to other needed improvements like attracting better teachers and improving their school infrastructures to keep pace with more well-to-do districts?

Its all TBD at this point!

Originally posted to leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 01:49 PM PST.

Also republished by Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (5+ / 0-)

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 01:49:48 PM PST

  •  this could undo the excess influence of Texas... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    1040SU, carolanne, FarWestGirl, lotlizard

    .... on textbook publishing.  It's well known that the Texas state board of ed's decisions on textbooks affect the entire industry and the materials that are used across the country.  For this reason, the extreme religious right has targeted the Texas board of ed and installed anti-evolution nuts and other types of nuts, and gained a pervasive national influence on curriculum materials.

    Electronic publishing of textbooks could undo all of that, by enabling states to customize their e-books according to their own standards.  No more having to put up with "evolution is 'just' a theory" and other BS.  

    States that wanted to impose extremist BS on their curricula could of course do so, but there would be no central nexus of power that could foist the BS on other states.

    And freed from the pressure of its accidental role as the determinant of textbook content nationally, the Texas board of ed would no longer be nearly as big a target for the extreme religious right.  This would enable progressives in Texas to have a fighting chance at taking back their board of ed and reforming education in Texas.  

    Looks like a win-win solution to me.  

    "Minus two votes for the Democrat" equals "plus one vote for the Republican." Arithmetic doesn't care about your feelings.

    by G2geek on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 02:27:34 PM PST

    •  You could be right there!... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      FarWestGirl, carolanne, G2geek

      I would welcome the right losing their influence over our standardized text books!

      But it is the standardization of textbooks and education in general that most concerns me, since it mitigates against establishing "many educational paths", which I feel is crucial to reinventing a more positive education system for the 21st century.  Apple could play the insurgent role, like they have done with iTunes in the music industry, or they could reinforce the corporate grip over education by blunting the generally egalitarian thrust of the Internet as it shows promise in things like the budding "open educational content" movement.

      So in my book, not completely win-win... but wait and see instead!

      Anyway... appreciate your comment and point taken!

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 03:08:34 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Let's let them know which way we think they (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        should go. If there were petitions circulating and getting attention, maybe it would support the right decision. Re-democratizing education and minimizing the influence of the ones who want to reinstitute the Dark Ages can only be good, right?

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:14:49 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

    •  Customization requires staff time to (0+ / 0-)

      write the alternate content, and then on the state side, staff to select the alternate content.

      Printing the books is not the publisher's largest cost - it's paying people to write them.

      Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

      by elfling on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 04:35:07 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  But do you agree it is a huge market... (0+ / 0-)

        that the big publishers will fight hard not to lose, wielding their political influence where possible?

        Cooper Zale Los Angeles

        by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:00:46 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Yes. (0+ / 0-)

          And they will sell their non-customized content, and they will sell it by the seat-year, and they will rake in even more money on the K-12 market.

          Oh, and we'll keep hearing about the education crisis, and how the only way out is to buy more curriculum and more curriculum-specific professional development for the teachers.

          Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

          by elfling on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 09:01:22 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  True, but there's been so much pressure to (0+ / 0-)

        standardize due to the sheer volume of books bought by Texas that I think that block would fragment pretty quickly into publishers wanting to undercut the established ones and respond to the demands of smaller school districts. Taking the overhead for paper and printing out of the equation would free up a ton of competitors, as well as states and school districts who've been overwhelmed by the lack of choice.

        Hope to hell that Apple does the right thing.

        Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

        by FarWestGirl on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:11:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Interesting that CA is bigger than TX... (0+ / 0-)

          but TX seems to have the clout I guess because they are more demandingly away from the more progressive "mainstream" in terms of book content.

          My point is really about the process and decision making model, not so much the book content.

          The whole textbook industry is fascinating!

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 07:03:49 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  CA's standards are higher (0+ / 0-)

            which is probably one aspect.

            Common Core is supposedly going to be the plan for at least 26 states. That will be a large block and should be relatively strong content-wise.

            Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

            by elfling on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 09:02:30 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Common core scares me!... (0+ / 0-)

              It makes the stakes even higher for big ed businesses to sell even more "units" to ever fewer customers that they have to invest their sales resources in.  IMO it is most in the interest of these big businesses to push for increasing centralization and standardization of public education.  It freezes out the smaller vendors and reinforces their monopoly position in the textbook and special program markets.  

              All that money torques educational decision making away from the learning needs of students and teachers!

              Cooper Zale Los Angeles

              by leftyparent on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 11:35:03 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I am at the moment more concerned about some (0+ / 0-)

                of the short term costs and disruptions as it is now the Panacea Of The Week, and thus there are some who would have us implement it in the next two years... even as our funding is being slashed again on top of it being slashed last year and the year before.

                Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

                by elfling on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 03:23:29 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

          •  A big factor is that they buy on different (0+ / 0-)

            schedules so there is overlap, but for systems that have budget to spend it can depend on where CA & TX are in their purchase cycles.

            Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

            by FarWestGirl on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 05:47:40 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

    •  Good points. It could be like reversing the (0+ / 0-)

      hydraulic effect that the Texas chokepoiint has on national textbooks at the moment. Depriving the Texas Board of their multiplier effect would be a huge benefit for so many of the smaller districts that want to go back to having a higher standard.

      Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

      by FarWestGirl on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:19:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I started wondering about (0+ / 0-)

      the "excess influence of Texas on textbook publishing" as soon as I read about Apple's entrance into the market. My husband used to work for an ed. pub. company and remembers (not at all fondly) the influence Texas had across the country. My shoulders slumped when I read of the companies Apple had teamed up with. Well, I thought, those companies will still cave to Texas, as they have for so many years.

      I just don't see how even Apple will stand up to Texas, not when at least one of the publishers they've aligned themselves with has said that creating the content for electronic books won't be any different from what they've been doing all along.

      Your suggestion that states could be able to customize their textbooks' content is interesting. I wonder how the decision would be made, who'd do the customizing, who'd "publish" it? I'm not arguing at all :) I just honestly don't know how it would work.  

  •  agree-long overdue for some company to step (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    up and break the ridiculous physicality of hauling around 15 pound textbooks that are outdated within a year or  two, along with the expenditure of resources required to produce and transport them. Once again, it will cost people jobs, but it is a long overdue development.

    His silence says everything we need to know.

    by livjack on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 02:42:08 PM PST

    •  Agreed, long overdue! But I would also... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      like to see the egalitarian cultural transformation potential of the Internet get to fully play out in hopefully removing some of the top-down control exerted by big corporations over our society in general and public education in particular.  Note the link above to my piece on "Education and the Cult of Efficiency".

      The communication revolution of our Info Age, when fully realized, can change both the stuff we haul around (hardcopy textbooks) but how we interact with each other (more as a circle of equals than a hierarchy of control).  Returning more control over curriculum to teachers and away from state educrats in league with textbook manufacturers would be in my mind a very positive development in transforming our public education system.

      Does that make sense?

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 03:14:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  My biggest worry (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Textbooks are a one time purchase, and then a school can use it as long as they want.

    Digital media is going to be licensed per seat, per year... and the publishers will have the right to say, "Hey, we're discontinuing that and changing to something totally new. You'll have to pay more and you'll have to buy our new PD courses...."

    The cost of actually printing the books is not a major driver of textbook costs. Digital initiatives give them more ways to extract profit. And good digital content requires more man-hours to build and develop, because you are enabling interactivity with the student.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 04:32:56 PM PST

    •  If you are right, even more reason... (0+ / 0-)

      to look for transformational alternatives to the few big ed book publishers garnering an even more lucrative monopoly and adding to their war chest to protect their market.

      I'm all about transforming our society from elite control of a hierarchy toward more of a circle of equals.  I see our public school system as one of the strongest areas of that elite control rather than egalitarianism.  If the Internet can play as transformational a role on society as the printing press did 500 years ago, broadening the voices that present us with content, I would like to see that happen.

      To me the whole idea of printed books representing cultural authority is such an archaic concept!  Informational content in our electronic age can come from 1000s of sources instead of the official (mostly elite controlled) authoritative ones.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:07:39 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Oh, and this digital content is meaningless until (0+ / 0-)

    we invest substantially in the infrastructure of schools.

    This means:

    - Broadband internet to every school
    - enough power and outlets to either plug in computers or charge laptops/iPads
    - Wireless or wired networking for every classroom.

    It also means:

    - Full time IT staff for every school site.
    - Budget to replace iPads when they break or are broken/dropped... in the end this is not going to be a financial savings over buying physical textbooks.
    - Budget to replace power cords that are inevitably mangled (see above)
    - Budget to replace a lot of batteries, if you're relying on portables to handle the fact that classrooms don't have 30 convenient outlets. This could easily be $100 per year per student.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 04:39:40 PM PST

    •  Point taken, but many of us have already... (0+ / 0-)

      invested in that technology, including most schools in well to do communities.  So I would not characterize it as meaningless.  If anything it may be meaningful in a negative divisive sense, a "digital divide" between have's and have nots.

      My take is the transformation to electronic media is happening... not stopping that.  The question is what kind of transformative opportunities does it present and are we going to take advantage of them.


      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 05:13:04 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  My frustration is (0+ / 0-)

        that people assume that because they can buy broadband internet that everyone can and that everyone has access. It's a long way from that.

        People talk about saving money on digital content. It's not a money saving proposition. I've worked in online learning and I'm intimately familiar with the market issues - which is that all the spiffy technology you can spin won't get you anywhere if there's not someone paid to write the text and the questions and build all the alternate scenarios you want to present. (You can see this via Khan Academy, which is neat, but where they have word problem units that recycle the same text over and over and over.)

        Digital will cost more, not less. The promise is in delivering a more custom and more interesting and more thorough education, with advantages like not having to pack 50 lbs of books. The advantage is being able to offer Mandarin or Japanese or German to one interested student.

        There's a 9-figure RTTT contract out now to replace standardized bubble tests with online interactive testing. Hundreds of millions of dollars. There is no money in it for putting computers in schools, or running broadband or power... or even for writing a plan to do so.

        And it is eye-opening to have the experience of working with 30 or 50 year old buildings and trying to wire them for both data and power to run 30 computers per classroom .... all while using those classrooms 9 months out of the year. The logistics are a surprising challenge. The money needed is significant.

        If anyone needs this technology, it is rural schools, not well to do urban schools. I look forward to someone noticing.

        Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

        by elfling on Thu Feb 02, 2012 at 09:13:53 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Elfling, you're right if curriculum is purchased.. (0+ / 0-)

          online rather than hard-copy.  What I'm talking about is something more transformational where teachers and students use the latest online free tools and info to build curriculum that is free and not purchased.

          That said, I think all the things you are calling out are significant in terms of costs are right on!

          But really our young people today are living in and will be adults in a "global village" of electronic communication, like it or not.  They seem mostly comfortable inhabiting that world, while many of their teachers and the educrats that pull their strings are not so comfortable.

          Cooper Zale Los Angeles

          by leftyparent on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 11:30:19 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  A related story from Education Week... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Glad to see stories like this calling out that public education is a huge business market that is now in some flux due to a long anticipated transition from print to electronic info access. Because there is so much money to be made, my concern is that the big "education-industrial complex" corporations are inappropriately shaping the U.S. public education system towards increasing centralization and standardization to increase the size of their market and also make it easier to exploit by pushing it to fewer but bigger customers.

    Does anyone else see this as a potential problem? Case in point is Apple contemplating alliance with the traditional big ed publishers rather than their more typical insurgent role.

    Cooper Zale Los Angeles

    by leftyparent on Fri Feb 03, 2012 at 11:22:33 AM PST

  •  Apple and Big Business (0+ / 0-)

    Apple is a major corporation in its own right, and some of its practices are reminiscent of big business practices of the late 19th and early 20th Century industrial giants.  While Apple's written policies condemn unfair and unsafe working conditions, in China, its contractors practice unsafe and even deadly labor practices and Apple only gives lip service to its policies.  Read more at  and sign the petition demanding that Apple improve working conditions for workers producing its products.

    •  Thanks for that link, signed & posted on FB... (0+ / 0-)

      Hopefully Apple does not join the "club" of the "industrial giants" and mimic all their practices.  There is a new way of doing business in the Information Age which one would hope they would continue to champion.

      Cooper Zale Los Angeles

      by leftyparent on Sat Feb 04, 2012 at 08:40:23 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

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