By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 17, 2012

The goal is to sell more iPads to schools, not to destroy the textbook industry

“This whole event is being blown out of proportion.”

That’s a former Apple (AAPL) executive talking about the media drumroll for the education announcement the company is scheduled to make Thursday at New York’s Guggenheim Museum.

Case in point: The 20 headlines that topped Techmeme’s news aggregator Tuesday morning, most of them lifting details from Chris Foresman’s article in Monday’s Ars Technica: Apple to announce tools, platform to “digitally destroy” textbook publishing.

According to Foresman, Apple is set to unveil “a GarageBand for e-books,” which he describes as “a simple app that makes the process [of creating interactive textbooks] as easy as creating a song in GarageBand.”

Foresman’s main source, quoted half a dozen times in his piece, is Matt MacInnis, CEO of a digital textbook company called Inkling that has developed more than 100 titles for the iPad.

We interviewed MacInnis over the weekend, and as near as we can tell, Foresman — and the 18 other reporters who followed his lead — got it wrong.

“Apple is not trying to kill the incumbents,” MacInnis told us. “They’ve learned their lesson from upending the music industry.”

He told Foresman the same thing, although it doesn’t seem to have registered: (quoting from Ars Technica)

“Practically speaking, Apple does not want to get into the content publishing business,” MacInnis said. 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.

MacInnis also mentioned GarageBand in our interview. But what he was describing was a sample iPad textbook, produced in-house and packed with pedagogical bells and whistles, that would serve as a reference design for textbook publishers, much in the way GarageBand for the iPad showed iOS developers what the new platform could do.

MacInnis does expect Apple to unveil new tools for creating iPad textbooks, along with a new content repository to make e-textbooks easily available to teachers. But the tools are not a “GarageBand for e-books.” And according to MacInnis, they’re designed to support the textbook industry, not to do an end-run around it.

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