It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was.. Oops. Sorry, already been done. Start again.
The other day I brought up some thoughts concerning the high cost of college textbooks. In the arena of science and engineering there are issues with the fairly narrow audience and resultant low volume, and some difficulties with the used book market. There is, of course, the issue of the publishers. I am going to risk having my snout slapped by biting the hand that feeds me, but hey, I noticed something the other day that has my head spinning anyway.
I teach an introductory course in programming using the Python language. I like Python. It’s a solid, accepted language and it’s free (a double bonus for my students). The class text is Michael Dawson’s “Python Programming for the Absolute Beginner, 2E”. It’s a very nice book and modestly priced at about $30 US. The other day I received a new book from this publisher, another Python text also by Michael Dawson, entitled “Guide to Programming with Python”. As I liked Dawson’s other book, I was excited about this new title, so I began to look through it. A curious thing happened. I had seen this before. It turns out that as far as I can determine, the content of the new text is identical to the old text with the exception of an extra couple of pages at the end of each chapter with a Summary, Review Questions and Projects (mostly home work exercises that involve modifying code from earlier examples). I consider this a modest improvement at best, but I didn’t understand why it warranted a new title. Then I went “shopping”. The new text lists for approximately $77, or over 2.5 times the original. The texts are both soft cover and of the same size, weight, etc. I was floored.
I can only think of two possible reasons for this. First, perhaps the original title was not doing well in the open programming market and in order to save it, the publisher decided to recast it as a college text with a more narrow focus, thus requiring a price boost. Second, the publisher found a way of milking the captive audience of students.
As I said, I really like the book and chose it after looking at perhaps a half dozen other titles, so I’m having a hard time thinking it was a failure in the market. I should also note that the new variant has a more “serious looking” cover. I am going to be watching to see if the original version is dropped by the publisher (I suspect that it may be as Amazon is now selling it for only $16.75). In any case, I shall do my best to stipulate the original version for my course.