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Publisher Plans Customized Services for Precollegiate Market

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A major publisher of materials for history and social-studies courses last month entered the rapidly growing field of custom publishing and hopes to extend its services soon into the precollegiate market.

The American Heritage Custom Publishing Group, a subsidiary of American Heritage magazine, announced at the annual meeting of the Texas Junior College Teachers Association last month that it would begin targeting its new service at college-level instructors.

But the publisher, which is owned by Forbes Inc., also plans to offer its services to K-12 educators.

"We are very interested in accessing the high school market in particular,'' said Nancy Surridge, the editorial director for the new division.

Custom publishing--which has made greater inroads at the collegiate than the precollegiate level--refers to the creation of a supplementary reader or textbook by an instructor to meet specific instructional goals.

Timothy C. Forbes, the president of American Heritage magazine, noted that sales of custom-published books nationwide increased by more than 138 percent between October 1991 and October 1992.

Such large publishing houses as Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill have entered the field, and the Association of American Publishers now offers a service to obtain copyright clearance for individual instructors.

Observers say the practice is growing for a number of reasons, including the increased availability of "desktop publishing'' systems and instructors' efforts to combat dissatisfaction with the poor quality of some textbooks. It is also true that traditional textbooks cannot reflect the rapid pace of world change, as evidenced by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Custom publishing has also gotten a boost from a 1989 court decision requiring photocopying services to obtain the permission of copyright owners before reproducing materials for anthologies.

Custom publishing allows instructors to obtain the necessary permission to bundle photocopies of published works into a "course packet.''

But the term also refers to the creation of professionally edited and bound volumes of material selected from a data base, which has become known as "on demand'' publishing.

Use in A.P. Courses

American Heritage will allow instructors to create their own texts by combining their own writings with articles from the magazine's extensive data base and other works.

The final product will bear the professor's name as the author or editor and will be sold to students through the campus bookstore.

The cost of a customized reader, like the one American Heritage proposes to publish, is expected to run between $15 and $18, less than most college texts, although a minimum order of 100 books is required.

Some high school teachers are already expressing interest in custom publishing, Ms. Surridge said.

"Basically, it's being used ... in Advanced Placement history courses, because that group of people seems to be very well aware of our American-history products,'' she said.

A full-scale expansion into the K-12 market could come as early as next year, she added.

An exception will be states with statewide textbook-adoption regulations. In those states, which include California and Texas, two of the nation's largest textbook markets, local districts may use state textbook funds to purchase only those items adopted by the state, leaving them little leeway to buy supplementary materials.

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