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
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
"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
"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. …