Tuesday, August 23, 2005


TEXTBOOK PRICES: A PROPOSAL FOR FREEWARE

I'm not going to get all reporterly about text books on y'all because I don't have the energy or the time. Our classes started this week and all of that Taoism stuff is not quite working as well as it should. But it's nice to wish, and to try to be calmer than usual (and if beginning to get that distant, depressed feeling counts as being "calm", then maybe I'm getting calm with every new day of the nascent semester).

For years I've been fuming about textbook prices and book prices in general. It pisses me off that my students --who are working class-- have to pay 100-150 $ a semester on my literature classes. Granted they are spending at least that if not more in their non-literary disciplines, but it sucks. I have a fantasy about creating a network of PDF "freeware" on-line, where faculty from across this "great" nation could post scanned in, copy-right free texts for classroom use, or just write them and provide them on-line.

I understand that this would not be good for publishers (and what satisfaction or possible reward could there be for faculty who edit content for release on internet or who write original materials?).But the pricing of books is ridiculous. A 250 page small-sized paperback textbook for 70$? A book that no second hand bookstore will want to buy. A book that's crummy like most "textbooks." 70$ That's a crime. It makes my blood boil.

So now enterprising minds are getting on the publish on demand craze, marketing cheap editions of public domain texts for faculty. But why should I line the pockets of those people when I can do the same thing? (Albeit without a shiny cover and such.) I have begun to scan in copy-right free primary texts for my students to use. No bookstore shenanigans. No publisher shenanigans. No copyright persecutions. No nobody getting unfair profits.

But damn it, wait a minute... what hurts academic publishers hurts publishing faculty. I really don't know why I go down these roads. Time for some Taoism.

8 Comments:

At 4:59 PM, Blogger J. Otto Pohl said...

Amazon has my second book listed at $100.95 new. My last royalty check covering an accumulated three years was less than that. So the high prices certainly do not help the author. And to be honest the author and reader are the only part of the publishing chain I care about. Currently both get a raw deal from academic publishing.

 
At 6:35 PM, Blogger academic coach said...

I've been trying to buy my academic press books from the academic press because then the press gets 40 - 50% more than it does from Amazon. I want to support Academic Presses. Especially when they publish a person like me - rather than a more specialized scholar.

Profit margins in publishing have gotten so low that when you look at the numbers you can see why academic presses charge so much more than mainstream presses for book that cost a similar amount to publish.

As for $100 + books, I'm curious whether a) only uni libraries buy them and/or b)they are very expensive to print (lots of pictures and other graphics.)

 
At 7:38 PM, Blogger J. Otto Pohl said...

The high price is due to the limited market in most cases. My book has no pictures.

 
At 7:37 AM, Blogger Ianqui said...

The textbook I use is $75.95 for much less than 250 pages. It does come with a CD, but the ENTIRE contents of the CD are available on the author's website for free. It's a total crime. It made me feel a little better when I heard that the author is pissed that the book is so expensive, and wanted to switch publishers, but can't yet because of his contract.

In the meantime, the book is just a little over 100 pages and I turn a blind eye when I hear that students are photocopying it. I know that's bad, but I can't stop them anyway.

 
At 7:41 AM, Blogger Vito said...

Textbook prices in general are ridiculous. I don't buy the limited market thing because somehow Dover manages to produce math books for $10-20. The same publishers manage to sell identical texts overseas for a tiny fraction of what they charge in the US. It's like Ticketmaster. They don't charge high prices because they have to, they chargeg high prices because they can.

 
At 7:45 PM, Blogger shrinkykitten said...

I use almost exclusively pdf files as I simply cannot find any textbooks I like, plus I like the flexibility (read: disorganization since I'm a chick). My students complain SO MUCH about my using pdf files. They say they'd prefer a coursepacket. They have no idea how much that would end up costing!!! But they are convinced it would be cheaper/better.

Sometimes it feels like there is no way to win.

 
At 9:05 PM, Blogger Frank said...

As a recent student and general biblophile, I abhor the outrageous cost of textbooks. However, I also love textbooks themselves. (Indeed, I've often described myself as a textbook fetishist.) You lose something when you just put up some pdfs.

Also, pdfs are problematic because you have to either stare at a screen and read them or print the whole damn thing out. That can get up to a lot of pages. I'm not going to use MY ink to print out 250 pages and printing them out at school would probably become an issue. Other people have other things to print and wouldn't be happy to wait while I spit out a whole book. And you can bet that, after a while, the school would come in and limit pages to save on paper.

So, basically, I have no idea how to fix the problem.

 
At 8:36 AM, Blogger What Now? said...

My personal commitment is that I won't let my books cost more than $100 per class per term. Now, of course, this is easier for me as a professor of American literature, since I'm mostly ordering paperback novels, but it's my personal stand in favor of a more affordable education.

 

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