Book Futures: The College Market

Thursday, August 19, 2010

In the 3rd installment of our August weekly series on books and the future of the publishing industry, Michael Cader, founder of Publishers Marketplace and Publishers Lunch, discusses the changing college market.


Michael Cader

Comments [16]

Lawyer from Doctor Miles

This is an attempt by publishers to avoid application of the "First Sale Doctrine" in which once a book is sold or given away, the seller can no longer control its subsequent use and later resale.

If a wholesaler can control the price or activity of retailers, it would break existing anti-trust law.

Aug. 24 2010 01:56 PM
Michael from Queens

I know this piece has been mainly about college textbooks. Where the open source/shared textbook idea would work really well is in elementary and middle school. Many of the same concepts are taught nationwide, e.g. "addition of single digit numbers" and teachers write hundreds of lesson plans for each concept which most are happy to share, especially if they know the favor will be returned.

This type of information sharing of concepts, teaching techniques, lessons, etc. would greatly improve the quality of many lessons since the content would be current, adaptable to different learners and generated by those using it, teachers. I would propose an oversight/approval committee to validate the lessons and add them to the curriculum appropriately.

Additional cost would involve effective computers and printers in every classroom and a larger supply of paper and toner but it would pale in comparison to what districts spend in textbooks.

Aug. 19 2010 11:54 AM

Books are an essential part of a college education- they round out our lectures and allow us to explore more content than our class time usually permits. Most of us work hard to keep costs down. For example, I don't require the newest edition, or books I won't fully utilize. As a science professor, I am acutely aware of costs. But I assign them because I am aware of the value of these books, and so are many students. Good students buy the books, read them and do well in class. Weak students? Well, they tend to complain the loudest about the cost and use it as an excuse not to purchase the book. Good students also recognize that these are references that will serve them throughout their careers. I still pull out my old chem texts, 20 years after taking that class. What surprises me is that students don't seem to seek out other options, such as sharing a text or finding it in a library. That's what I did as an undergrad and it worked out fine.

I am sure there are some texts that are assigned and not worth it, but I am also sure that this is an issue that empowers the lazy student to do even less for his/ her gentleman's B (yes, it's been inflated since W.'s time in school).

There are other issues, too. Books take a lot of time to write, and cost a lot to produce. I would never write a textbook because if I did I wouldn't have time to do research. Plus, I am not an expert in every aspect of my field, so I turn to books written by experts and, this is very important, reviewed for content by other experts in the field. I would not ever assign a text that didn't move through the peer review process.
Production also drive up costs. Students insist on glossy graphics, video, etc that take additional time to prepare, edit, and peer review. Who's going to do all that work? Who's going to pay for that work? I don't know how much of the cost of textbooks is real, but I do know at least some of it is justified compensation for the professionals who write them.

Sure you could start an open source textbook but you'll get what you pay for. You're not likely to get many experts to add to it. We don't have the time because we are doing research to remain experts, plus most of us think wikipedia is a weak source and a waste of time. And finally, why should we work for free? Because Johnny can afford a $40k tuition bill but doesn't feel like paying $200 for a book? Come on.

Aug. 19 2010 11:35 AM
Nora Rocket from Queens

Two things about textbook cost:
1. There are more costly publishers and there are less costly publishers. Look at the shelves in any college bookstore and note who is at the top of the pile and who is at the bottom, consistently, across disciplines; look at revision and pricing histories and consider what publishers bring out yearly editions or undertake yearly price increases - or both. The onus is on the professor to survey the market and, with quality vs. cost in mind, select the book and publisher that balances what she or he wants with cost to students. Professors who assign books from publishers with outlandish revision/pricing practices *without considering less expensive books/publishers who might provide an as-good-or-better text* are contributing to the problem. Professors have to be the agents who put the brakes on: students will (and have) merely stop (and have stopped) buying books, entirely.
2. My household mobile phone bill (2-line family plan w/minimum minutes + one data plan) tops $100 *per month*. Everyday on campus I see students with smartphones. Whether they pay that bill or their parents do (and whether they pay their book bill or their parents do) it does not go unnoticed that the social, vocational, and educational value of the smartphone to that student is such a given that the payer ponies up $400 for the semester's worth of access - which, through conscientious buying and texts from less costly publishers, might just be what they spend on books in a term.

Aug. 19 2010 11:19 AM
charles Harris from IH NJ

We no longer haqve to go to schools or libraries to get information it surrounds us.

Aug. 19 2010 10:59 AM
Anne from Harlem from Harlem

Can you please give us a website for finding online open source textbooks??

I am sick of the cartel these book publishers maintain, keeping prices ridiculously high and continually issuing new editions to make used copies obsolete. If these companies would simply sell textbooks that are affordable, and with a moratorium on new editions (allow a new edition , say, only every 5 years) folks like me wouldn't turn to open source texts. These textbook publishers are digging their own graves!

Aug. 19 2010 10:59 AM
Leah from Morningside Heights

Where I work, at Columbia, we've discovered that students - at least this current generation - balk at e-reading. We've invested greatly in our e-literature infrastructure, but we've found our demands for printing have gone up hugely where instructors have only assigned e-texts. We've also found that students segregate their online and digital activities by work v. play - that is, they tend to use smart phones and other devices (iPad, etc) for non-academic online activities and their laptop or desktop for "work" (e.g., assignments, research).

Aug. 19 2010 10:57 AM
Janet from Queens

Hello. Is there a way to make notes in the e-textbooks and to highlight text?

Aug. 19 2010 10:57 AM
Brad from CT

I had a prof who wrote the book, then made the class buy it for class each semester. However because he came under fire at some point about this, he now donates all proceeds to a scholarship in his father's name... made me feel a little bit better about buying the book.

Aug. 19 2010 10:56 AM
Janet from Queens

Hello. Is there a way to make notes in the e-textbooks and to highlight text?

Aug. 19 2010 10:56 AM

After all the claims about lower costs for e-books, Amazon and Barnes & Noble are charging nothing like the discounts they held out as a lure for e-books.

Moreover, for years publishers have claimed that printing and distribution expenses were what blew book prices through the roof. Now their lies are being exposed as they try to charge pretty much the same price for e-books.

As for rentals, what reason is there to believe that the rental price is any different from the "Rent-to-Own" scams?

Aug. 19 2010 10:55 AM

a prof once pdf'd the class the whole book by email

Aug. 19 2010 10:54 AM

There is no reason at all to say that Wikipedia is going to have more errors than traditional media. This is the propaganda line offered by traditional news organizations afraid of _better_ work done by new media. Look at the miserable performance of the New York Times or NPR on Iraq and Afghanistan. (And then there's Fox & Co.)

A study in Britain comparing Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica found _more_ errors in Britannica.

The problem for Wikipedia is politically loaded stuff, like Israel-Palestine. But there again, Britannica, Prentice Hall, the Times, NPR, CNN are just as susceptible to politics. They tend to be more adept at masking their political leanings.

As for textbooks, a great scholar may be very smart and an appalling writer and teacher. Pretty common.

Aug. 19 2010 10:53 AM

Under a system like that at Rice, how would textbook creation be added into a professor's job? Is there added compensation, or does it become part of the research/teaching/committee requirements, thus adding more to the job?

Aug. 19 2010 10:52 AM

One thing I remember about being a student is buying these "open source" textbooks, paying over $100 for basically a strung-together bunch of photocopies and having absolutely no chance of making any money selling it back at the end of the semester.

Aug. 19 2010 10:51 AM
Mike from NYU

The live text open source thing is quite simply a dumb idea. I already mark students down if not fail them on papers that cite wikipedia as "real" research.

As for shared textbooks or customizable ones, I could possibly get behind that. But I worry about the availability of non-canonical texts. I like to assign a variety.

Aug. 19 2010 10:46 AM

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