Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge

A Sale of Two Titles

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.

Comments

  1. #1 sailor
    September 17, 2007

    Small run books like this should really be done on the web with a payable fee for a download. It is a matter of organizing it. Course teachers have to get together, decide what they want for a book, approach an author, preferably one who can illustrate his own books, find someone to put it up and charge for the dowloads. The money would go to the author. Publishers are making too much money to bother and no one else hs stepped in to organize it.

    I notice if you get the original version of this book there is a student download available for the first book.

  2. #2 SDC
    September 17, 2007

    Good choice teaching Python. Java is a pretty tacky language and I feel sorry for the poor suckers who take Java-oriented classes as their introduction to programming.

    I hadn’t heard of Dawson’s book. I like Mark Pilgrim’s ‘Dive Into Python’, though I’m not sure it’d make a good text. Oddly, I don’t really like the O’Reilly Python books I have. Usually, they are pretty solid. ‘Programming Python’ is 2000 pages and weighs 20 pounds. I think it’s got a travel diary from when Guido visited Greece when he was 10 in there, and recipes for brownies and stuff. Somebody doesn’t know how to trim things down to the essentials.

  3. #3 JimFiore
    September 18, 2007

    SDC, agreed! I usually head to O’Reilly for programming books as well, but I was not satisfied with their Python titles.

    sailor, I like what you’ve outlined, but as always, the trick is getting the ball rolling. I know one thing, I will never write another book and hand over copyright.

  4. #4 PhysioProf
    September 21, 2007

    It’s been over twenty years since I took computer science in college. Are there any courses on Pascal anymore?

  5. #5 JimFiore
    September 21, 2007

    Pascal is as dead as Modula-2. Almost as worthwhile as learning 8085 assembly.

  6. #6 PhysioProf
    September 22, 2007

    Darn. The only thing I remember about my course was that I wrote a Lisp interpreter in Pascal. That was cool.