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Custom editions and packaged access codes are the last futile attempt that publishers bookstores and professors have against cheaper Internet alternatives. The one thing your writeup didn't touch upon is digital textbooks- which the publishers actually love since eBooks are usually rentals, so the secondary markets like Amazon and AbeBooks are cut out.

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.

I had one college course with a custom edition and we still had the option of using the regular edition, (all the page numbers were the same the custom editions only difference was a lack of extra chapters that we weren't going to cover).

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.


Hey, thanks for this. There are corner cases where custom editions make sense, but overall they cause far more harm than good.

-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.


As unhappy as I am with the publishers, I agree that custom textbooks are a brilliant business move. It's no wonder why they send in sales teams - it's very lucrative!


It's like Windows - Windows 7 OEM is about $100 and is tied to your mobo, while a retail Windows 7 can be used on a different machine. The retail version probably has a lower TCO.


So you are essentially a search engine for textbooks?


Yep, kayak for textbooks. You can either search by book or search by school/course. If you really want to get angry, look up MATH 203 at Medgar Evers College in NY. A textbook with a list price of $174 is being sold for $330 new, $240 used - available from online sites for less than $10.

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.


Can you share a link with us? You're being too modest.


The link is just http://www.slugbooks.com - cheers.


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