Mcgraw-Hill Launches Innovative Language Textbooks

Article excerpt

When the Webster Publishing subsidiary of McGraw Hill Book Co. merged with The Economy Co. of Oklahoma City in 1986, it opened a major potential for school textbook innovations as well as Oklahoma City's economy with two striking ingredients:

- The decades of nationally-respected performance of The Economy Co. in publishing elementary school books on reading, a $500 million industry by itself.

- The financial and textbook strength of McGraw-Hill Book Co., which reached $563.9 million in operating revenues during 1987. That was more than one third of the $1.75 billion in revenues of its parent firm - New York-based McGraw-Hill Inc., now celebrating its 100 anniversary.

Now, that potential has produced an historic achievement with a $35 million pre-printing investment.

On April 1, the firm published a "unique'' program that blends reading with English and language arts for elementary schools, said Richard L. Smith, president of what is now the McGraw-Hill Publishing Co. of Oklahoma City and executive vice president of McGraw-Hill Book for acquisition and planning.

The investment included the editing, layout and design managed in the Oklahoma City offices at 1200 NW 63rd St., said Smith. It made up most of 800 new titles with 35,000 pages published this year.

As a result, the Oklahoma City office has more than doubled to 100 employees, including executives attracted from major cities. While this growth eventually could attract other firms in publishing-related fields, the immediate accomplishment is plenty of reason for celebration.

"This never happened before in history,'' said Smith. "For the first time, there are complete basal (or core) programs for reading and English that are integrated, lesson for lesson, from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

"A specific lesson in reading, for example, is matched with specific lessons in English and writing. That helps a teacher relate one to the other easily.

"To get all this done, more than 1,500 people worked on the project - many of them independent contractors. They included authors as well as editors, advisors and everyone else involved from around the country."

The response, said Smith, already has been overwhelming.

"We sent out galley proofs ahead of time," he said. "We are in the finals for adoption by several states. At least four school districts already are considering adoption of the whole program.''

The $35 million investment included the writing, editing, design, layout, typesetting and color separations, said Smith - everything before the actual printing and marketing.

"We contract for printing all over the country,'' he said, "and marketing alone costs about $20 million. That is a herculean task.

"With The Economy Co., we also acquired a national sales staff, and that is a major advantage. Reading is the most difficult kind of educational program to sell. The sales representatives must know reading to present it properly."

Most competitors are "wedded" to investments in revision after revision of previous books and could not tackle a giant task such as the new program, he said.

"This could only be done," he said, "with the kind of opportunity we had with the merger to start a new project from the beginning and also have the staff to market it."

McGraw-Hill already was one of the leading textbook publishers before the merger, having published educational materials since the 19th Century. It has produced secondary school textbooks on math, spelling, social studies, literature and foreign languages as well as college textbooks.

"What we did not have was the experience in publishing books on reading,'' said Smith. "The Economy Co. gave us that.''

The Economy Co., which was founded in 1929 by David D. Price in Oklahoma City, had become the largest privately-owned publisher of educational books in the country. …

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