Peter Kafka

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Publisher Terry McGraw on Steve Jobs and Digital Textbooks: “This Was His Vision”

Photo by Asa Mathat

After Apple’s big education presentation yesterday, McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw chatted with a gaggle of reporters, and explained things like the logic behind $15 digital textbooks.

I also tried to get him to talk about other topics, like why it took McGraw-Hill and other publishers a couple of years to reach a deal with Apple. Or whether he planned on cutting similar deals with Apple competitors like Amazon or Google.

But McGraw, who used to own Businessweek, knows how to fend off questions he doesn’t want to answer.

Still, I thought his responses were interesting enough to merit a mini-transcript. I’m particularly struck by his homage to Steve Jobs, and about his insistence that traditional textbook publishers can move into the digital era without losing control of their industry.

Peter Kafka: Apple has been talking to publishers about textbooks on the iPads for a couple of years. Why are you doing this now?

Terry McGraw: Sitting and listening to all of this, I wish Steve Jobs was here. I was with him in June this past year, and we were talking about some of the benchmarks, and some of the things that we were trying to do together. He should be here. He probably is [gesturing up and around]. This was his vision, this was his idea, and it all had to do with the iPad.

Kafka: But why do this now, instead of when the iPad came out, back in 2010?

McGraw: We’ve explored every possible way to be in this space, and to make it more accessible, and make it more of a learning platform, rather than just a textbook. So with the textbook now, it’s growing up. Apple has really essentially turbocharged the process, and it’s just going to open up the world of learning to more people. Anything we can do to be a part of that, we’re going to do.

Kafka: Will you replicate this kind of program with Google and other platforms?

McGraw: We’ll do whatever we can to make this the most meaningful space. And the person, or, well, Steve Jobs and Apple, have done more, in terms of creating this personalized learning platform than anyone.

We are excited about it. I get questions that are more defensive. You know: “Are you concerned about the fact that you could be replaced?” No. You can’t replace content and curriculum and pedagogy and all of that. We’ve got a different platform now, than a textbook, to do all of that. Everybody wins.


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik