Indeed, the opposite is common. Walter Rudin is the author of several well-known books on mathematical analysis. The publisher, McGraw-Hill, jacked up the price of his books to stratospheric levels, and Rudin fought back -- which wasted him a lot of time, and (I believe) cost him a substantial amount of money. All so that students wouldn't be gouged when buying a copy of his book.
In the end, Rudin eventually lost. $95.56 for a very skinny (and quite popular) book on Amazon right now.
Moral: As content providers we don't need to figure out better ways to work with the publishing industry. We need to figure out better ways to work without them.
The professors they deal with know the game, and just string them along with soft promises and keep asking for more nights on the expense account. The day to day job in textbook sales is just bribing professors with expense accounts.
I was thinking of school books & standing in the line for photocopiers for reference books in the library.
I think that's my favorite system.
Kudos on him for valuing the spread of his work over any personal loss in royalties!
I am from SlugBooks- a web app that compares prices between the college bookstore and online options for ~800 universities in US and Canada. This topic hits close to home. We've been watching bookstores and publishers do this for years, and it's only getting worse. When professors assign customized or packaged books, it becomes nearly impossible to save money through sites like Amazon.
The most surprising thing is how many professors eat up the bullshit that custom editions actually help. They're supposed to be champions of critical thinking. Profs WANT to save students money - that's why they opt for custom editions (since publishers tell them it will save their students money). It's just sad.
The custom edition was cheaper than the regular edition and this is the only reason the professor did this. The book didn't seem to have very many used copies being sold as it was an advanced class and people were more likely to keep the book than sell it.
Just providing context to how a custom edition can be cheaper if the professor does work.
I've also had many professors write their own book and give it for free in pdf or let you buy it for $20 at the university copy center already bound with the option of buying supplemental books that they thought were of good quality.
Maybe my engineering department was different but it seemed most of my professors tried to work to help the students not have to pay large amounts.
-The biggest issue is that custom editions segment the global secondary market for a given textbook into slivers of useless fragments. Instead of Campbell Biology, Regular Edition being bought and sold between Stanford students and students at every other college in the country (this significant supply drives the price down), Campbell Biology, Stanford Custom Edition is only ever going to be bought/sold by Stanford students. This hurts students in multiple ways: 1) the bookstore is the only place they can BUY the book from. Period. 2) the bookstore is the only place they can SELL the book too. Custom editions are a perfect storm for bookstores/publishers.
-Custom editions are cheaper than what the regular edition costs in terms of what the bookstore would charge for each, but if you compare prices on the regular edition online, there are usually significantly cheaper prices out there than what the custom is being sold for at the bookstore.
-In the rare case where a custom edition is being used, but a regular edition is acceptable - the bookstore presenting both options and telling you to pick one will almost never result in you considering that the regular edition would be cheaper online. By adding this extra noise, they artificially make custom books look more affordable.
I agree - there are tons of professors that are on the right side of this fight. Textbooks SHOULD be free. And the fact that custom editions are even adopted is proof that professors care about students. They're just a terribly poor solution which reinforces the problem instead of solving it.
Give the publishers credit - custom editions are a genius business move.
There are over 16,000 classes across the country that can save >$100 on their books. Haven't run the numbers yet but the use of custom materials/access codes has EXPLODED, which prevents savings.
We are diff than other comparison engines bc of that course search component. Most students don't realize how easy it is to save (it's surprisingly daunting for students to do this the first time), we facilitate that process.
You're already paying tuition, you shouldn't have to pay extra just to do the homework. That's insane. It's no different from having to pay additional money to take the midterm.
After all, the professors and publishers make money from this, not the university. As far as I can tell, it can only reflect badly on a university -- so why don't they have policies in place against this? Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like a blatant abuse of power for financial gain on the part of professors.
This was an interactive package of notes/exercises/self-marking quizzes on the course content.
They sold it for about a quarter of the cost over the previous textbook for the course, and divvied up the proceeds at the end of each year.
I asked about the legality/morality of it, and he replied with 'it's better content, we charge much less, and turn a blind eye to sharing'.
His attitude could be boiled down to : the publishers are the ones making all the money, so I'm going to go direct and cut them out, plus endeavour to bring the content directly to the students.
It wasn't an online solution because the university had some (outdated if you ask me) prohibition on online only content, in case there were students who spent periods where they didn't have access to an internet connection. (note, this was a while ago)
The guy was already independently rich from his side-business of consulting in his industry, so I tended to believe him that he wasn't really in it for the money, though he did want it to be at least revenue positive.
The whole area is ripe for disruption, but then education itself is fat target.
In the short term, this setup helps universities keep their teaching costs low — they can pay instructors a lower base wage and let the instructors make up the difference in textbook-company kickbacks if their conscience allows. This kind of cost-cutting might be attractive in a scenario where instructors are more "contractors" (adjunct faculty) than "employees" or "the reason the university is here and more important than administrators" (tenured faculty).
Schools should soon realize that it's a bad idea for their employees to have another revenue stream and, essentially, another supervisor influencing how they do the same job.
It's a cost increase for students that's not as easily noticed as a "base" price increase in tuition. Which paying more to professors would require. As well as payroll taxes on the salary increase. So getting $1500 directly from publishers the same $1500 from the University costs extra in additional payroll costs (and then gets multiplied by any salary percentage increase in future years as well).
This is also somewhat analogous to what some elementary schools are doing (sorry no citation) with requiring parents to buy school supplies that were previously provided by the schools. It's a way of cost shifting that allows you to pass a tax that isn't recognized as a tax increase.
Other example may be an auto mfg. only raising the price of a new model slightly but removing and making certain features options, options that the majority of buyers will end up adding on anyway. (If the price of the car were higher many people wouldn't enter the showroom at all.)
This blog post guesses without giving evidence that the instructor may be making $5 off of each of his 250 students (who each paid $150 for a textbook), which would represent total textbook-company revenue of $1250.
To be sure, not all faculty are paid as poorly as adjuncts —  cites an estimate that adjunct faculty earn 26% less than tenured professors — but there is not a lot of money in teaching undergraduates, and for many kinds of instructors, textbook fees have the potential to become a substantial alternate revenue stream.
From what the blog author was describing it was just like something I had to buy once or twice--spiral bound copies of poems, essays, and excerpts.
There are two kinds of bricks - draft textbooks, and collections of papers.
It's quite common to get a draft textbook as a brick one year, then laugh at the students the next year who pay for the textbook when it's finally published.
It seems a bit weird to publish a collection of papers as a textbook, especially at a low undergrad level, but I hear it's happening these days.
Took a macro-economics class at my local community college. One of the required texts was a collection of essays that the professor had written (much of it incoherent blabble but that's a different topic), collected into a 130-page paperback that looked like it might cost $3.99 at the local BN. Cost: $55. No copy available in the library.
Adjuncts do not generally write textbooks and get kickbacks for them. They choose one of the 'standard' textbooks, and use the online problem set for that book. They do this not because they get compensation for it, but because it's the path of least resistance.
I find it kind of sad that you would speculate like this, without any specific examples (let alone proof of a general trend!) about the motives of the adjuncts. :(
This post seems to provide evidence that people who do not traditionally write textbooks (not the top hundred faculty members in a field) are being afforded a new opportunity by textbook companies to "write a book", which either means "pick and choose some portions of the standard textbook" (discussed elsewhere in the comments) or "publish a 'course reader'-style collection of readings as a book" (discussed in this blog post).
It seems to me that this new opportunity also represents a new revenue stream for more faculty members than currently receive textbook kickbacks.
I don't mean to suggest that I have any special knowledge of the motives of adjunct professors in particular — basically I just read the Chronicle of Higher Ed like everyone else. This is a well-trod area: see July 2008's "'Custom' Textbooks Raise Money -- and Questions of Ethics" (http://chronicle.com/article/Custom-Textbooks-Raise/41288), February 2010's "Format War Heats Up Among Publishers of Electronic Textbooks" (http://chronicle.com/article/Format-War-Heats-Up-Among/64323...), or October 2010's "As Textbooks Go Digital, Will Professors Build Their Own Books?" (http://chronicle.com/article/As-Textbooks-Go-Digital-Will/12...), to pick a few examples.
But if you got through some more rounds of education, then you might start to think. A professor that requires her students to buy a textbook she authored is something to think about.
What I found interesting in one of the degrees I got was that students did not even need the textbooks. The assignments and handouts were not tied to textbooks, though textbooks were certainly recommended and required as usual on the syllabi. So I decided not to buy any textbooks. I just used ones from the library. I learned more doing it this way than I ever did from mindlessly buying textbooks.
Still, the whole time I kept thinking, if every student tried this it would be unworkable. Professors did put materials, including texts, on reserve though, so "sharing" a copy of a text is not itself a crazy idea. Fortunately, few of my fellow students were keen to read the library's textbooks. As such, they were always readily available. I would routinely have about 7 texts checked out at any one time.
One of the things that kept the other students away from the library's textbook holdings was, I think, that they believed only the latest editions would be useful. Syllabi tell students to buy some specific edition of some textbook. And students, if they are fresh undergraduates, are very obedient. They will do as they are told.
But I found the dates on these texts mattered little. In some cases the best texts I found were "dated". But when you read lots of differenet texts, you get a much clearer picture of a subject area. And you can see the coverage as it has evolved. You can tell what's changed, and that itself is very useful knowledge. Now I'm absolutely hooked on this method of learning. I always seek out old texts as well as new ones.
The idea that "only the latest edition will work for this course" is another of the textbook publisher's little schemes. I'm sure they try to get faculty to use only the latest editions.
Interestingly, one can see the same dynamics played out in software. The hunger for the "new" thing, the bleeding edge, without any regard for history and how we got here. The obedience aspect is there too. To pick a random example, Microsoft tells people that they need Windows 8, and they obey. Little may have changed in 10-20-30-or-more years, the changes might be only cosmetic, but lots of people wouldn't know any different, because they focus only on what is considered "current". Like fresh undergraduates, they want to be told which edition to buy without ever thinking much about it.
The quantity of changes may be less relevant than the quality of the changes: i.e. did anything major change in this field in the last n number of years. With a closed source software program, like Windows, it's very difficult to assess the quality of the changes. All we see is the user interface.
It's like the syllabus that says you need the latest version of the textbook but does not tell you why the previous version will not do.
Look at it this way: in "most cases" (whether it's software or textbooks), from version to version, there's more substance that stays the same than substance which changes.
Not sure about you but I'm a little wary of buying the latest version of an expensive textbook in order to gain a small number of reatively minor changes that I could easily identify, and take note of, by comparing the latest version with the previous one.
When I took thermal physics waaay back in the 80s, my professor hated the newest edition of the text, and gave us all photocopies of the first edition.
The funny thing is that I was annoyed by this, falling firmly into the "undergradate mentality" you mention.
I worked for a company in 2004 that was a spinoff of a professor's project to create randomizable equations linked to a text book. Students would get a unique key/ID from their textbook, and log into our system to take practice exams and work on examples. Each question would be unique, and hopefully pedagogically correct.
Textbook publishers loved this idea, especially the fact that it required a unique key for each student. We had all of the major college textbook publishers as customers, either using our hosted system or licensing our software to use on their own web servers. If I recall correctly, we charged around $20-30 per student.
Eventually we were acquired, but I assume the software is still being "marketed" to the students.
The professor's project was funded by a DoE grant, and then he turns around and commercializes it with the explicit approval of the university.
Note that their stats about how rentals save students $1160 a year are sort of BS. On books where renting saves you a lot of money over the full retail price (which no one ever pays anyway), you can usually just buy the book outright for the same amount on Amazon (and then sell it back when youre done for a ridiculously lower total cost of ownership).
Just come out with a new edition each year where you move the problems around so that people have to buy the new textbook and cannot buy used. And in the occasional case where that does not work, change the title of the book occasionally so that students do not know which second hand book to buy.
Most of the time when we had professor written material we only paid $10-20 to cover the cost of having a pdf printed and bound by the university print shop.
The course packs were either all original material, or an original composition of parts of case studies, essays, and text books; they were almost always under $50 (except in the case where licensing the copied portions drove the cost higher).
If a professor is actually just teaching out of a standard text book, all the relevant information is taught in lecture. If there is an express need for a textbook, it's on reserve at the school library.
I would urge every student to only consider purchasing a textbook if they really think they need it two weeks into class. Textbooks are overpriced, only a small amount of the information is relevant to the class, and the information is often redundant and can be found in lectures/slides. (if the idea of coming to class without a book is scary, check your school book store's policy on returning books)
The alternative to buying a copy of texts you really need (and I know there are a lot of legal issues with this) is "finding" the book online (and I haven't yet had a book I couldn't find trivially). A couple of PDF's instead of a pile of dead trees, and I have the added advantage of in-text search.
It boggles my mind that Stallman went out and spelled out a totally crazy-sounding future in "The Right to Read" (http://www.gnu.org/philosophy/right-to-read.html), and yet somehow bits and pieces of that future keep arriving.
This is the place where it's going to get worse. The traditional model is that testing and homework exercises are done by TAs, but universities are finding out that you can contract out these services to the textbook publisher.
On the surface the conditions even almost seem ideal - you have an existing oligopoly where each player has huge overheads and then on top of this add huge markups. You have a somewhat captive market (the students are entirely captive, while the professors are generally pretty free to choose the books that they want), and a product that's targeted towards younger, educated people (people to whom technology isn't a huge burden).
The only thing that's really standing in the way of someone shaking things up is in convincing the professors that your option is better than whatever's being offered by the incumbents. I really, really hope that at some point soon someone takes on the publishers - with a serious product, they'd have the potential to win, and more importantly, to do something useful for making education more accessible.
Textbooks for introductory courses don't change much between editions. The pagination may change slightly, as might the odd illustration, and that is that. What needs to happen is that the students need to get off their collective asses and buy the previous edition of the text from their colleagues from the year before. Nothing else will bring prices down. It's not likely to happen, considering just how spoonfed students at your average college are.
My own personal experiences have been with archaeology texts where the chapter-end studies were replaced with a different culture, physics texts where the figures within the questions were changed and maths texts where the questions were the same but reordered. Yeah, you can learn the same stuff from the textbook's main content, but if you get assigned a list of questions to complete and those questions don't match with this years' then buying the previous textbook is essentially useless. In my later years, the homework was never "do these questions from the book", so the texts dated less.
The print textbooks used in schools in several parts of east Asia have had a rational production process like that (hire experts to determine what is really essential content, and then have pedagogical experts work out the best way to present the content) for years. That's one of the big reasons why, even when Japan, Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore were poor countries (are you old enough to remember those days?), they made good educational progress through effective schooling for the broad national population, and why none of those countries are poor anymore. The United States is still too "fat and happy" (I like that dialectical English term for "complacent") to do something as efficient or rational for its school system.
Worse, this is effectively what you already have in state school systems like Texas where you have a committee approving the sanctioned books for the public schools.
The results of this is the inclusion of intelligent design, downplaying of evolution, etc... etc..
If all you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_instrument
So what happened is that in order to be eligible for that 30% part of your final mark, you had to pay an extra 150$. Otherwise, you simply couldn't do and submit your assignments.
In other words, you first pay the university to be taught the course but, oh that's not all. You can't actually get the course for that price; no you have to pay an extra 150$ to really do the course.
After fighting with her for two weeks at the beginning of the term, she gave me the choice between subscribing to the service for 50$ to only get an access code, without the textbook. Or I could get the questions on paper, and submit them manually, but only if I would take a rendez-vous every time to get the questions, and answer them on site for the duration of the rendez-vous, which was ridiculous. In the end I bought the 50$ access code, in shame. Maybe I should have fought my case, but I was already sick of this 2 week fight over one of my 5 other courses.
I think there's a fight to be done there. There must be laws that force the prof to disclose how much money they get from publishers. There must be laws that disallow linking marks to the purchase of some material. It seems obvious to me that once I paid the price of the course to the university, I should be given access to the same share of marks than student who will pay for whatever other extra. Maybe I would have a harder time doing the course without the textbook, but that would be my own decision, and I would still get the chance to have all my marks if I work hard enough.
To end this long post, I'll admit that although I don't agree with piracy, I do use bootleg copies of textbook if I don't consider them of worthy quality. I don't like to be forced into buying something I don't like. However, I will (and do) pay for the books I consider worthy, and be quite happy to do it. For instance, I don't like the book required by my C++ class, so I will most likely use a bootleg copy, and buy another book that I find of better quality.
There is not enough information here to decide if the professor is lazy or the university is overworking her - we would need to know about her course load, class sizes and other duties. However, there is no excuse for this stealth increase in tuition, this cannot be allowed to happen.
If you made a 4 on the AP US history exam, you most likely learned more than the average student who made an A in college US History.
They also severely limit credit by examination. It's all about making people pay for classes.
Here's the dirty secret: with the teacher's edition there comes access to the solutions and a bank of exercises and test questions. If there's a set text it's likely that the students pay for the convenience of whoever teaches the class.
If your instructor uses Tanenbaum's perfectly good question about page eviction strategies from "Modern Operating Systems", rather than writing (and debugging) essentially the same question over again, they can spend more of their time talking to you and helping you.
Also, some set texts are really excellent, and the instructor would not be able to produce as good a resource themselves. Some people are better teachers, others writers. Writing good, unambiguous questions that produce decent answers is much harder than it sounds.
U.S universities don't stock their libraries with multiple copies of their course books?
These were just what you think. The scant things added to this years "edition" so that you couldn't use last years used one. They were rarely more than a few pages long and mostly full of hints on where things got moved to instead of legitimately new content.
I even knew some college students that looked "down" on buying used books, like you were buying someone's used underwear.
If more professors did this, then the problem would be solved.
For what it's worth, I did not know anyone with this attitude. Everyone bought either used or international versions off of Amazon.
On the other hand, he's excited about finishing his degree, which he has put off for many years now, so if this is what does it for him, it's a small price to pay.... at least that's what I keep telling myself. I suspect that once the excitement of the first couple of semesters of "hey, I'm actually doing this" wears off, he'll be buying used books like the rest of us.
Many professors in the UK resist attempts for custom editions and for single access to textbooks, indeed there are those who even go so far as to _avoid_ textbooks pushed in this way - preferring academic relevance over expense account dinners.
I am surprised, in fact very surprised that a university would allow such a connection between a book and a course. it goes against principles of higher education and education in general. What happens if you take the course but can not afford the text (and did not have the patience and drive shown by Luke?) How lacking in belief in their own capabilities to teach and research must an academic be if they must think of these types of activities to shore up their own income?
Many UK academics we have spoken to would rather use the best content for their course from a variety of sources than either custom editions from a single publisher or a single textbook.
Indeed work such as those by Flat World Knowledge and Bookboon.com on a market level as beginning to chip away at this market dominance, however you will still have unscrupulous professors. The growth of Flat World Knowledge in terms of adoptions, shows that there is a clear market out there for accessible alternatives to mainstream textbooks.
Couldn't he at least have given the professor's name? I guess when uni becomes such a massive financial hedge, agitation goes out the window.
The system is broken, but to give in to a corrupt professor's bribe in order to get an A isn't the fault of greedy publishers.
Interesting to see the behavior of people who are interested in teaching. Anything that gets in the way is seen as a barrier to be overcome.
The book was as terrible as his teaching.
Buying an access code just to be able to do the homework really sucks. (Trying to input mathematical notations onto blackboard is possibly the only thing that sucks more.)
Just enough that someone doing those problems out of the book for an assignment would be hosed. It didn't hurt me because my prof assigned his own homework problems, but still, hugely annoying.
In Canada, it is illegal to require students to pay for their own testing. By law, those textbooks which come with the Access Code for an online quiz are not allowed (if the teacher actually collects the marks for those quizzes). The funny thing is that this law is hardly being enforced! Other posters are right in their encouraging students to make a stand, because the law already backs them up here. With all of the protests in Montreal, I wouldn't be surprised if Quebec were to be the first to fall.
There's a twist to this story, however, and it's analogous to Cold War military spending. During that time, the government was in a position of not knowing how much was enough, so they poured in as much as they could, and that probably lead to a lot of innovation from minds that might not have gotten a chance to do this stuff without the money being there. Granted, it also made a lot of people in American academia pretty fat and happy.
The company I work for is an innovator. We are taking advantage of this high-margin market to fund TONS of desperately-needed R&D in education and provide new kinds of learning products. The axe will come down one day, inevitably, but in the meantime, I at least hope to move the dial on learning methods from 1912 to 2012 and beyond.
Once students do take a stand, the good thing is that they at least won't be getting ripped off directly. Sooner or later though, teachers are going to be demanding their online quiz software back. That'll be a perfect opportunity for a company such as Blackboard to swoop in and add licensing fees to their own embedded quizzing software. This will be easy to digest for school administrators who can see the advantage of the upgrade. But that's when things get back into a stalemate position. Sure, it might be possible to build technology that vastly enhances the understanding of a subject through modelling, etc, but why fund it if either it doesn't change the money coming in to Blackboard or costs the schools too much (would be eating directly into staff salaries, unless you make an argument for the need to hire fewer TA's...).
At that point, I would bet that you might be seeing more innovative models coming from nationally-funded development programs for textbooks (as mentioned in another post), similar to the extremely high innovation that comes out of an organization such as the National Film Board of Canada (http://www.nfb.ca/), clearly run by smart brains. Government orgs aren't generally known for innovation, but it really only takes one country somewhere to do it and others can copy. Otherwise, we will probably have some areas where the model is still predominantly that of selling directly to students, and they would have the funding at least to do this kind of development (though there's probably a 10% chance they would squander what's left of the tits they've been milking for years).