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McGraw-Hill Technique Will Allow Schools To 'Customize' Textbooks

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The McGraw-Hill Publishing Company has unveiled what its officials are calling a "revolutionary" procedure for producing textbooks that eventually could allow teachers and administrators to "custom-design" their own classroom materials.

The procedure--which allows educators to select a book's contents from an array of materials contained on a computerized database--is being tested with a supplement to a college-level accounting textbook.

In the future, company officials say, they hope to expand the system to include precollegiate textbooks as well.

"This is like going from a prix-fixe dinner to a whole menu of options," said Donald S. Rubin, McGraw-Hill's vice president for public affairs. "We think it has great applications. We're starting at the college level. Will it go into other levels? Yes."

Donald A. Eklund, vice president of the school division of the Association of American Publishers, agreed that such customized textbooks could be used in "open territory"--the 28 states that do not adopt textbooks statewide--or as supplements to regular texts.

But, he noted, the books would most likely fail to meet the specifications required by the 22 "adoption" states, which exert a strong influence on publishers seeking a national market. These states, he said, mandate a particular type of binding, quality of paper, and cover materials to ensure that the books last for at least six years.

"In a suburban district in open territory, teachers can buy anything they want," Mr. Eklund said. "They could customize."

"In adoption states, you'd have to change a lot of rules," he added.

Under the McGraw-Hill custom-publishing system, which is being developed in conjunction with the Eastman Kodak Company and the R.R. Donnelly & Sons Company, the New York-based publisher will work with educators to organize and publish all the materials that might be needed for a course, including text, instructors' notes, study guides, practice sets, and syllabuses.

McGraw-Hill will also arrange to obtain permission and pay royalties for any copyrighted material, such as magazine articles, that might be included in the package.

After being repaginated, printed, and bound, a customized textbook could be shipped in as little as 48 hours, company officials said.

The new system will allow the firm to move toward eliminating warehouses full of unsold books, yet never have books out of stock, officials said. In addition, they said, the company will be able to revise materials electronically and send periodic updates to teachers and students.

"Textbooks will never be the same," Joseph L. Dionne, McGraw-Hill's chairman, predicted.

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