Sunday, October 03, 2010

How To Control Textbook Costs

To me, the easiest way would be for individual schools and university systems to forbid the practice of allowing a professor to make money off of textbooks used in their classes. Others have different ideas:

When Dennis Passovoy, a lecturer at University of Texas' McCombs School of Business, selected a new textbook for his Organizational Behavior class last year, his students didn't even have to buy it. They could read the book online for free, or purchase it in several formats, including as an audio book, PDF, or $30 paperback version ordered online that would be printed and then shipped to their doors. "It was equally as good as this $160 textbook, but what really got my attention was if the students adopted the book online, it was free," says Passovoy, who got the new textbook from startup publisher Flat World Knowledge.

Flat World was launched in 2007 by two textbook industry veterans to provide an alternative to expensive course books, such as Organizational Behavior, a standard text from Prentice Hall that lists for $180. "It was so obvious to anybody in the industry that students are running as fast as they can to avoid buying a new book," says Jeff Shelstad, Flat World's 46-year-old chief executive officer. CourseSmart, a joint venture by major textbook publishers including Pearson and McGraw-Hill, distributes digital versions of textbooks for a fee. Six months of digital access to Organizational Behavior, for example, costs $98, according to the venture's website.

I guess it's a start. Still, $98 seems egregiously expensive to me.


scott mccall said...

if you want to stay legal, you have to pay for something. i've done my share of research and found for the print of one of my books costs $320 (has 30 chapters, and the class I need it for covers only 8 chapters). If I wanted to use it online, or use it on the ipad or kindle or something similar, they only rent the textbook for a fraction. For all theses services, I can rent the textbook for about $240 but the textbook expires December 20th.

Anonymous said...

Curious to see a free-marketeer decry a for-profit industry and advocate such socialist practices as free books (online or otherwise). Mao's Little Red Book was free.

If you choose to produce and distribute content free of charge, that's your business (or lack thereof). But don't expect authors with expertise in a subject to "give it away."

Who's forcing students to enroll in classes with pricey books? No one. If the market allows a book to fetch $200, then $200 is the price of the book. If you don't like the fact a prof makes money from the book s/he chooses, don't take his/her course.

But trading free-market capitalism for socialism is not the solution; I'm surprised you advocate it.

Mrs. Widget said...

Our state passed funny laws on how to save money. One was the professor had to announce months in advance what the textbook was going to be. Funny because they may not know what they are teaching that far in the future. Technology issues crop up also, such as in the program supported.
As far as professors' not using their own textbooks, if my book is a good one, so what. There was a need for Our State's Law,(a required course for criminal justice majors and such) so a professor wrote one. There is no other.

Darren said...

Don't be a jackass, anonymous, and don't reinterpret what I said. Reread it, without your "I'm gonna disagree with RotLC no matter what" blinders on, and you'll see that *all* I advocated was eliminating what I view as a conflict of interest, to wit, having a professor make money off books used in his/her classes. I don't expect authors to give away their intellectual property.

scott mccall said...

Oh that also reminds me of my sophomore year here at the university of arizona. I had to take an "intro to engineering" course, which required a huge book. the course was taught by Professor X (since I can't remember his name). But, every day, he always had other engineers come and give lectures. He NEVER gave his own lecture. This lecture class was a class of 300 students. Once a week, we broke up into smaller classes of 20-30 students with different professors. We were required to purchase a book for the course, and our grade even depended on us having this book (directly, meaning 10% of total grade was proving to the professor we purchased the book).

I never used that book, ever. And the thing that really pisses me off, is the main professor of the 300 student lecture, was the single author of the book. So he forced all 300 students to purchase a book that he wrote, and made our grades dependent on it. The course was taught in his name, but he never bothered to give his own lecture.

And, Anonymous assumes we have a choice when it comes to choosing professors and classes. I had no choice. I transferred to the University of Arizona as a sophomore, and I was REQUIRED (AKA, FORCED) to take this intro to engineering course. This was the only course. So yes, I was FORCED to purchase a useless book from a professor who never gave his own lectures. So not only did he get paid a salary, but he made a butt-load on these books every year.

And the kicker: He has a "new" edition every year, and you're required to purchase the "new" edition for the course, which forces the university to not buy back the books at the end of the year. Quite a scam if you ask me.