The Used Book Problem


Have you ever read an article by an officer of a national organization, someone who doesn't seem to understand some important aspect of the online world, that just makes you want to scream?

The immediate past-president of the American Psychological Society writes about why college textbooks are so expensive: Used-book dealers are like video pirates!

Unless and until laws are changed to prevent the organized sale of used books, you can expect textbook prices to keep increasing.

So I'm screaming: "There'd just be a boom in student-to-student book exchanges online!"

Not that that's the only (or even most important) thing his legal solution ignores. Oh, the author also suggests that professors might do their small part to defeat used-book-sales piracy by giving their comp copies to libraries, but he doesn't recognize that we're part of the "problem," too -- I've sure noticed an increase in ILL requests for textbooks in the last year or so.

(Full disclosure: My spouse works for a textbook publisher.)


Now that's we've gotten that pesky right of first sale out of the way, what's next, slamming libraries?

In my experience, the profs say, "You need to use <title>", and they will put the edition from four or five years ago on reserve. That's the textbook that they've been using since they got it. They will tell the bookstore that <title> is the text for the course, and the bookstore will order the current edition (because that's the only one available).
Frequently, the prof is unaware that the book they use is three editions behind the current ed of the text, much like they have no real idea how much the journals they publish in cost.

It's probably got more to do with the fact that the existence of used copies reduces the demand for the new copies, which means that print runs have to be smaller (or the publisher has to store books for longer). And smaller print runs are more expensive, per unit, that large print runs. Of course, there's also the "what the market will bear" argument, which is why many computer textbooks are cheaper: they are frequently bought by practitioners, who will be more price conscious than a student who's been told to purchase the book.

My husband is a college history professor and frequently froths at the mouth when a new edition of a text book comes out. Changing lectures to suit new editions of a classic is very time consuming for the conscientious teacher -- and let's face it, Western Civ doesn't change very much. He is particularly upset when books of readings change; it is hard enough to find one that contains texts that fit the course content. He has occasionally been able to get permission from the publishers to photocopy (for a price) certain editions for his classes, but permission is not always given. It is getting to the point where one must either accept the publisher's dictation of what will be taught in a course, require students to buy a lot of different texts, put many different things on reserve, or get into the textbook racket oneself.

It is a shame that there are not a few more progressive professors that would work towards creating some open source textbooks that could be downloaded off the web. Students in the classes could work to improve the textbook. They would probably learn more about their subject in an attempt to improve the textbook that if they had an excellent textbook in front of them.
Since the whole world is converging libraries might consider become content creators and spearheading the creation of open source text. These texts would also benefit libraries because we would have the same open access to the works that students would be benefitting from.

Our library system rejects requests for textbooks currently used in the curriculum of the nearby schools. We do allow other textbooks requests.

(Whispers)You'll give them ideas

I like this idea of open source, but I think we are still facing the problem of authority control.
Wikipedia is well written, but I still will send a student to the stacks, or a worldbook before I send them to wiki.
That is the challege of 21st century librarianship, to establish authority control over the information which is bubbling up into our society.

That is truly sad, what stops teachers from building their own course materials and then using them?

The problem is the RICO like connection of the Universities, the Professors, and the Publishers. Not to sound all tin-foil-hatty but when a publisher changes 2 pages, and the Professor requires students to use the new issue, and the University allows him to do so, that is the problem.Especially for basics like Geometry, Calc, Trig, World Civ, etc then it becomes a clear and direct ripoff of students. There is no need to have annual versions of these as examples, once a decade should be the maximum. Unless there is an astounding new discovery that has actually been through peer review ( not a USAToday spread predicting the future cure for cancer) and is accepted fact.


"Used Cars taking jobs from Americans!"

Professors always require students to purchase the new edition of the textbook (even if a new one is published every year). Oddly enough, if you look at the powerpoint photos, slides, etc that they are showing, they are usually from editions at least 4-5 years old.

hmm, what's wrong with this picture.... would lead to laws banning the consignment of "hand-me-down" clothes because the original designers weren't getting anything out of it. So there goes the tax write-offs of donating to the American Lung Association or your local religious institution because they turn around and re-sell those items at a lower cost (because they are USED). I can understand where he's coming from, but I do not agree that the used book market is the driver of exorbitant textbook costs.

Printing/publishing costs in general seem to have risen at substantially higher rates than inflation. I know when I managed journal subscriptions for my agency, we would see increases of 8-11% per year. So, I think he's barking up the wrong tree. Woof.

Video piracy? I mean, in order for a text book to be used someone does have to buy it once... Unless you're photocopying a 1,000 pages of text of your one copy for 500 hundred of your friends... it's not the same animal.

I don't know about you, but I bought very few used textbooks in college. Reason being that they weren't that much cheaper than the new ones. (I couldn't even get any used ones in grad school). They were, at the most, two to three dollars cheaper than ones that weren't marked in, or had beer spilled on them, etc... So usually I just opted for clean copies.

And this guy's from where? The Psychological Society? Usually books that deal with that sort of subject...medicine, psychology... are updated yearly, if not every semester... I know, my dad's a counselor, my room mate was a nursing student. Neither could ever sell back the books they didn't find useful or didn't want to keep. A new edition comes out, the professor immediately starts using that edition, with different pagination, different verbiage, different assigments... Nobody will buy them back to officially resell them.

There's a lot of finger pointing and FUD going around lately. Ahhh! Blog People! Ahhhh! Wikipedia is like a public toilet! Ahhh! Used text books are going to put text book publishers out of business!

Lemme get this straight...
Competition in the marketplace from lower-priced goods leads to higher prices in newer goods?
Good thing he's teaching Psych, and not Econ.

My recommendation to him is to publish his textbooks only in an eBook format. Then his publisher can saddle it with a click-through EULA that prevents re-sale (nevermind that EULAs are on questionable legal ground). Then he can assign it in his own classes and force at least a few purchases.

"I've sure noticed an increase in ILL requests for textbooks in the last year or so."

My previous institution had a policy of rejecting textbook requests from students and faculty. Maybe your institution should consider that policy if you are that concerned about it.

I've hear others saying the say thing ("I've sure noticed an increase in ILL requests for textbooks in the last year or so.") and I swear we ran a story on this, though I can't seem to find it.

The reason that so many people are in therapy is because psychologists keep telling them there's something wrong with them. Outlaw psychology!(That was sarcasm folks, in the way-out-there category, where the used-books-is-piracy analogy also belongs.)

1. About monographs, mostly. Academic publishers put out a hard cover at $80 plus and a paperback for 19.99. What am I gonna buy? Even for my library, I'll take the pb since I feel no special obligation to subsidize the publication. Do other libraries do this, or only for their own faculty (and their associates?) These are low use items anyway, if it gets distressed it can be rebound for about $8.
2. ILL of textbooks. We don't care if they do, we just warn them that 1) you may not get them (ie who's gonna lend it?), 2) we won't renew them.

One lady got a brand new textbook ($120 plus), kept it for 6 months, claimed she lost it, was then billed for it, and asked if we would reiumburse her if we found it. We said no, since we didn't want the book. She didn't pay. She "found" it near the end of her term, returned it FULL of HIGHLIGHTING and underlining. She had no idea there was anything wrong with this! She eventually paid for it and got to keep it.

1. About monographs, mostly. Academic publishers put out a hard cover at $80 plus and a paperback for 19.99. What am I gonna buy? Even for my library, I'll take the pb since I feel no special obligation to subsidize the publication. Do other libraries do this, or only for their own faculty (and their associates?)

My library's policy is that if the paperback is more than $10 cheaper than the hardcover, then we will purchase the paperback. Quite simply, it costs $10 to send the book to the bindery for rebinding in a plain library binding, so we buy the paperback, circulate it until it needs repairing, and then rebind it so that it will last longer, and it's still cheaper than the original hardcover.

There is a lot of pressure on professors to keep the costs down for the students.

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