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Textbooks at CES highlight the changing education industry

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McGraw-Hill is introducing a new "adaptive textbook" called the Smartbook for computers and tablets.

McGraw-Hill Smartbook
McGraw-Hill Smartbook

What is textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education doing at the Consumer Electronics Show? Demoing the company's new "Smartbook" — a digital textbook for computers and tablets, not a janky smartphone-netbook hybrid. Smartbooks were developed with technology partner Area9 and are scheduled for availability in 90 course areas by spring 2013 on Mac, PC, iOS, and Android for a price of $19 and up per text. In 36 months, McGraw-Hill Higher Education President Brian Kibby told The Wall Street Journal, "what we will see is that we won’t be offering print textbooks” but “dynamic, adaptive, personalized learning environments.” McGraw-Hill touts these virtues in the Smartbook's video demo.

In this sense, the Smartbook reflects three big trends in education publishing over the last two years: interactive multimedia on a variety of form factors; an emphasis on iterative, personalized learning that adjusts to individual students based on need or preference; and major publishers retooling themselves as proprietary, software-heavy, end-to-end service providers. Just last year, McGraw-Hill competitor Pearson was at CES, also presenting on its own efforts at "adaptive learning technology"; two years ago, it was Cengage at CES talking up new teaching methods and publishing economies for digital texts. Education remains big business, but grows fiercely competitive as schools and districts try to cut costs. The market for digital education remains as wide open as the shift to digital is inevitable. In short, like almost everything else, the education industry is now at least in part an electronics industry.