Cox News Service
DAYTON, Ohio _ If publisher McGrawll Inc. has its way, the college textbook will never be the same again.
Marrying digital printing and computer technologies, the New Yorksed publishing giant is reinventing the textbook with its Primis electronic publishing system.
Primis enables instructors to tailor a textbook to their own teaching needs by selecting materials from an electronic database of McGrawll texts, journals and case studies, and combining them with the instructors' own supplemental writings.
In less than three years, McGrawll has added 350 university and college campuses to its Primis roster, illustrating the payoffs that come when companies are willing to take technological risks.
Now, other major publishers such as Simon Schuster are lining up their own custom textbook ventures. "We think other publishers will do the same thing," said Mark Delavan Harrop, McGraw Hill's director of publicity. "Hopefully through Primis rather than starting from scratch."
Some universities are so enamored by Primis that they have gone one step ahead and invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in computer equipment and printers so that professors can simply order books from their terminals and have them printed within hours right on campus itself.
The University of California, San Diego, was the first to do so, followed by University of Southern California and four other universities.
"It is a hit," vouched analyst Doug Arthur, who believes other publishers now have little choice but to "get into the game."
To be sure, not all teachers are giving Primis anything more than a passing grade. Doubts range from questioning the staying power of the new technology and a lack of understanding of how it works, to a strong reluctance to put their writings into an electronic pool.
"Good textbooks will have a common theme, an integration of various topics," suggested Sam Gould, dean of the University of Dayton's School of Business Administration. "You may miss that by picking and choosing sections."
But electronic publishing systems such as Primis could well be the publishing industry's answer to used textbooks and customized photocopied reading packages that have made deep inroads into the over $3 billion college textbook market in the last decade.
Last year, publishers tried to fight back, suing Kinko's Service Corp., the largest national copy shop for customized textbooks, for copyright violations.
But their attempts to beat the burgeoning usedok market with new revised editions of texts only pushed up their costs per book, further eroding profits.
"Whether we like it or not, a market has developed for alternatives to traditional textbooks," admitted McGraw Hill's chief executive Joseph L. …