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Terry McGraw CEOWhy was McGraw-Hill CEO Terry McGraw (pictured) all aflutter about Apple’s tablet on TV yesterday? My thinking goes like this: Apple’s tablet will only be a revolution if it’s affordable. AT&T will almost surely subsidize the price of the 3G models.

The publishing industry, which I’ve worked for since 1996, desperately needs a turnaround. It’s not enough that ad sales come back from their 2008 crash. The newspaper, magazine and book game needs to become a growth business again. Apple’s tablet will be a wasted effort if it doesn’t give publishers a shot at a digital rebirth.

For that to happen, lots of people need to buy tablets. Price will be the most important factor. Knocking a few hundred bucks off the top will do wonders for adoption rates.

Apple (many credit Jobs personally) already convinced record companies to let go of their pricing models and accept 99 cents per song for downloads. After that strongarm stunt, there’s no reason Apple couldn’t convince McGraw-Hill, Condé Nast and the more viable newspaper firms to invest in Apple’s 21st-century reading machine, on the premise they’ll make it up in the long run.

Just as important, if publishers invest in the tablet, they’ll be far more motivated to deliver knockout content for it. Rather than lazily publishing a digital copy of today’s paper, they’ll be under financial pressure to recoup their investment by making their tablet content amazing enough that readers are happy to pay a profitable price for it.

It’s fashionable on the Internet to declare all current publishers dead, and to predict a brilliant new world of content created for free and given away for free. I’ve been trying politely not to say this for 15 years: That’s not only a self-serving prediction, it’s a stupid one.

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