The Educational Scene in Relation with the Publishers

Today, artificial intelligence is no longer a remote concept relegated to the science fiction novel. Yet, the reality of a "thinking" computer was first delineated almost fifty years ago in Norbert Weiner's groundbreaking work Cybernetics, published by a distinguished publisher in this field, John Wiley & Sons.

Wiley is one of the most prominent names in professional publishing. Founded in 1807 by Charles Wiley as a small printing plant in downtown New York City, the tiny company later branched out to become a bookstore and publishing operation. Its early output included law books, language texts, and a new genre-the American novel.

By 1915, Wiley became recognized for publishing the best in scientific literature. In the years before World War II, the company widened its sphere to include business and professional books. I can remember studying two Wiley books, Principles of Radio and Elements of Electricity, both having sold in the hundreds of thousands.

In the 1950s, worldwide interest in science escalated with the Soviet Union's launching of Sputnik. Wiley became an international scientific publisher with the publication of the nuclear scientists Edward Teller, Harold Urey, and Hans Bethe.

Here are some landmark books published by Wiley, which give an indication of the range of this company:
  • Physics, by David Halliday and Robert Resnick. This popular book uses easy, almost colloquial, language and cartoons ("Peanuts" is a favorite) to explain technical concepts.

  • General Virology, by S. E. Luria (Nobel Prize winner).

  • The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System, by John E. Exner, Jr. This work sets forth the first cohesive system for scoring and interpreting the Rorschach projective psychological test.

  • Basic Inorganic Chemistry, by Geoffrey Wilkinson (Nobel Prize winner).

  • Cybernetics, by Norbert Weiner.   
Four recent Wiley Professional catalogs were separated into Earth Sciences and the Environment; Life Sciences, Medical Sciences and Related Areas; Chemistry and Related Areas; and Mathematics, Statistics, Physics and Optics and Optical Engineering.

The books in these catalogs are published in paperback and cloth (hardbound), and are priced from as low as $12.95 to $1,360 for a six- volume set of the Handbook of Applicable Mathematics.

The Computer Book Publishing Revolution

They say that Bill Gates, the young guiding genius behind Microsoft, is almost as wealthy as the Sultan of Brunei. Gates gained his fortune with Microsoft, the company that created the hugely successful Word and Windows computer software packages.

Making effective and creative use of these programs has given rise to a miniflood of computer books in recent years. There are more than 250 books on WordPerfect alone. One book distributor claims that in a recent two-month period he had been offered forty books on DOS-5. Yet each announcement of new computer books brings a torrent of titles that inundate an already overblown market.

In spring 1992, when Microsoft released its Windows 3.1 operating system, it had by then sold more than nine million copies of the original Windows. To guide purchasers on the use of Windows 3.1, more than a dozen publishers issued books on it in only the first three months of its introduction. Leading the publishing pack, Microsoft itself published ten books on this new software.

For the buyers of these computer books, information on a new system does not come cheap. Microsoft's Windows 3,1 Programmer's Reference Library of six volumes costs $180. There are, however, valid reasons for these high prices. From the publisher's standpoint, the books are expensive to produce, requiring an elaborate editing process and high-priced authors.

Computer publishing's output consists of books, book/disc combinations, guides, tutorials, and reference manuals for PC novices, programmers, and just plain dabblers. Periodically, Publishers Weekly publishes its list of computer best-sellers, which is broken out into the leaders on operating systems, applications, general, and Macintosh. In July 1995, the "dummy" concept dominated the list. IDG, a large publishing organization in this field, had the following hot dummy winners:

Conclusion: It makes good publishing sense to appeal to computer dummies, although The Complete Idiot's Guide to DOS 6 and Macs for Morons did not make the list.

Textbooks and Reference Books

Forty years ago, the choice of textbooks to be used in the classroom was made at the statewide level. Once a book was adopted, it was used for as many as five to seven years. Today, publishers of textbooks must be concerned with considerations of content including ethnic and racial mix, and readability formulas, such as the number of multisyllabic words in a sentence. There are focus groups to do evaluations, and most important, high-tech systems of teacher's aids, including guides, videos, disks, and other sophisticated material.

Today's elementary and high school textbook is adopted in a lengthy and rigid process by a state, city, or local school district or board of education, working closely with school superintendents and special textbook committees consisting of administrators and teachers.
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