There was a mix-up in textbook ordering for this term (entirely my fault), and the books for my modern physics course were not in the bookstore when the term started. I made a spare copy available in the interim, and also half-jokingly suggested buying it from Amazon rather than waiting for the bookstore to get them in. After saying that, I went to Amazon, and found that the book in question sells for $150. “That can’t be right,” I thought. And, indeed, it’s not– the bookstore sells its copies at the list price of $180.

I had no idea the books were that expensive, and now I feel guilty about the whole thing. Not so much the delay in getting them, but the outlandish cost. Like most faculty, I had no idea what the books cost when I picked the text– I’m using this book because the guy who taught the class before me used it, and it’s at least as good as any of the other modern physics books I’ve used. And, for the record, the price is on the high end, but not wildly out of line with other modern physics textbooks.

This is a rotten situation, though. I use maybe half of the chapters in the book, and there’s a lot of jumping around and compression of material, because we run on 10-week trimesters, rather than 15-week semesters. Even in the chapters I do cover, I don’t follow the book’s treatment all that closely, because I prefer to cover some of the material in a different way.

I’m not at all convinced that the students get $180 worth of use out of the book. At the same time, though, I don’t see a good alternative that’s ethical (photocopying the textbook and handing it out is not ethical). It’s useful for students to have a book to look at, and I like having it as a resource for homework problems and the like. I could just lecture off my own notes, but they’re not as comprehensive, and expanding them enough to really take the place of a textbook would be equivalent to writing my own textbook, which just isn’t worth the effort at this time.

It’s a tough situation. Anybody with good suggestions of a cost-effective and ethical alternative to using a ludicrously expensive textbook for a sophomore modern physics class, please leave me a comment, because I’d love to do better.

Comments

  1. #1 Johan Larson
    January 12, 2009

    Could the same book be used for several courses? Presumably the people taking Modern Physics are mostly physics majors, and they don’t just take the one course.

  2. #2 Chad Orzel
    January 12, 2009

    Could the same book be used for several courses?

    In principle, the book would be useful as a reference for a future course covering the same material (I knew a grad student who referred to Griffiths’s E&M book as “the Rosetta Stone for Jackson”). That’s about it, though– the nature of these books is that they’re written for a very particular level, and not much good for other classes.

    Some of the chapters I don’t teach cover topics in statistical mechanics, which are part of another course, but we have yet another book that we’re using for that class, which covers much more material in StatMech and thermodynamics.

  3. #3 Tex
    January 12, 2009

    You should check with the publisher to see if they have an e-book option, where the students pay a much reduced price for electronic access to the text.

  4. #4 catgirl
    January 12, 2009

    I just graduate college last spring, and I can certainly identify with this. One thing I have a problem with is that many of my books had a paperback edition (at a much lower cost) which was only supposed to be sold in other countries. A few times, I managed to buy a used copy of one online.

    One thing that you can do is avoid requiring students to have the newest edition when it comes out. Many students rely on used books, so when a new edition is released, try to design the course to use both editions.

    For one of my classes, the teacher somehow got the publisher to print only the few chapters we needed out of a particular book. I don’t know how he did this, but I know it was legal.

    If you teach the same course every term, you could try to write your own book and have it available online.

  5. #5 Chad Orzel
    January 12, 2009

    For one of my classes, the teacher somehow got the publisher to print only the few chapters we needed out of a particular book. I don’t know how he did this, but I know it was legal.

    They’ll do that, if you agree to order enough copies over the next N years. They’ll even bind chapters together in a different order, for enough guaranteed orders.

    We looked into this a few years ago for the intro classes, but decided to go in another direction.

    I don’t know about the e-book thing. I’ll have to check into that.

  6. #6 Jim C
    January 12, 2009

    As the parent of two college age children I certainly wish more instructors would look at this.

    as was mentioned where possible allow the use of older versions. Far too many course require the “current” edition which is not available used.

    Avoid “bundling” the current tactic many publishers use is to combined a text book and work book or a piece of software and cheep memory stick into a bundle with its own ISDN number that is only available from the publisher. You cannot find the ISDN on the separate items or look them up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

    Finally I wish more professors would create their course material and make it available through public licenses such as creative commons or simply put it in the public domain. I realize this takes time and not everyone is a writer, but education is rapidly becoming too expensive for most American and something needs to be done to lower the cost. reducing the price or text books would certainly help.

  7. #7 chris
    January 12, 2009

    One way that myself and a few colleagues have gotten around it is to use the same edition for a very long period of time. The current text might be in its 9th edition but the 5th is very similar. We teach Anatomy and Physiology and we have our bookstore hold on to old editions and buy up the cheap ones so students can buy the edition that is almost spot on the same but costs $100 less. Warning: publishing companies will really hate you for doing this and constantly telling you about the great revisions they’ve made in 2 yrs since the last edition came out. These revisions are almost always very superficial or so minor as to not really matter.

  8. #8 chris
    January 12, 2009

    I have demoed a few ebooks and they have some nice features, but they expire at the end of the semester and are laden with DRM and usually cost the same as a used edition. The new edition of the text I use is $140, I have found used copies for $50-75 and the ebook is $60 last I checked.

  9. #9 Ron
    January 12, 2009

    Have useful materials come out of MIT’s OpenCourseWare? Is there enough on Wikipedia and it’s ilk to make a reading list of URLs for your topics as a equally attractive non-profiteering alternative to the text? Can you finish the book and ramp up your blogging activity to the point where old Uncertain Principles posts are meaty enough for class?

  10. #10 Mudlock
    January 12, 2009

    Can you use a free/creative-commons/open text book?

    http://www.opentextbook.org/2007/06/24/a-few-open-physics-textbooks/

  11. #11 adam
    January 12, 2009

    I echo the comments above about not using the latest and greatest editions. As well, look into books published by Dover if you’re just using the textbooks as a reference or for problems. Dover publishes high quality content on el cheapo paper and with low cost fonts and so on. These books are ubiquitous in most bookstores, and very low cost.

  12. #12 AndyB
    January 12, 2009

    I don’t like ebooks for the reasons stated above (some expire, while others are just rampantly inconvenient to use or keep later). Used books are a good option, but I’d also recommend calling the publisher to negotiate- particularly if your course is big enough to give you leverage.

    I’m currently teaching for an intro chemistry course, and we’ve managed to convince the publisher to create a “custom” textbook featuring the chapters we use (about half the book) coupled to the solutions manual for those chapters. In paperback- an option that the publisher might not admit to unless pressed.

  13. #13 Stephen
    January 12, 2009

    Can I suggest the Taylor/Zafiratos “Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers”? IIRC, $50 used.

  14. #14 Jon
    January 12, 2009

    Remember, with ebooks the resale value is zero, because you don’t really ever own something with DRM on it, and therefore can’t sell it. For the ebook to be a good deal, it has to cost less than the textbook minus the resale value. If the real book costs $180 and I can resell it for $100, the ebook better be less than $80, or it’s not a good deal. It probably needs to be a lot less than $80 to make up for having to read it on a computer or buy a wildly overpriced reader.

  15. #15 Stephen
    January 12, 2009

    …And that means the Taylor/Zafiratos edition before Dubson was added to the author list. (Nothing against Dubson, he wrote me a letter of rec. back in the day, just that the older edition is cheaper)

  16. #16 Larry Moran
    January 12, 2009

    photocopying the textbook and handing it out is not ethical

    It’s also illegal.

    Finally I wish more professors would create their course material and make it available through public licenses such as creative commons or simply put it in the public domain. I realize this takes time and not everyone is a writer, but education is rapidly becoming too expensive for most American and something needs to be done to lower the cost. reducing the price or text books would certainly help.

    I write introductory biochemistry textbooks. I can assure you that it’s not an easy job. I don’t know too many professors who could create their own course material without consulting (and paraphrasing) a good textbook. I have to rely on a groups of experts in various fields in order to ensure that the material is accurate.

    You can’t reduce the price of textbooks. Be realistic. This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to sell a cheaper book and still make a profit. The fact that the textbooks are so pricey is because they cost a lot of money to produce and distribute.

    The biochemistry textbook I used in 1965 cost $9.95. My book cost $144.10 this year and it’s a vastly superior product. The most obvious changes are the figures, which now have to be in four colors and be far more accurate than the standard required forty years ago.

    That kind of price increase isn’t out of line with many other price increases over the same length of time.

    When students are paying more than $10,000 in tuition, the potential savings in reducing the price of textbooks is pretty trivial.

    The real question is whether requiring a textbook is a benefit to the student. Can the course be taught accurately and thoroughly without a textbook?

    I suppose it depends on the course and on the instructor. I’m obviously biased because I write the textbooks but I think it’s important for students to see different perspectives in a course. In my experience, the instructors who are the most out-of-date are the ones who avoid textbooks like the plague. They don’t want students to see the conflict between their old-fashioned lectures that haven’t changed in twenty years and the material in the textbook.

  17. #17 dean
    January 12, 2009

    We are in a similar situation, if not worse: our school actually requires faculty to use the newest editions of text: orders for earlier editions are not allowed. This puts an enormous burden on our students.
    Just as reference, I pulled out my copy of ‘Fundamentals of Physics” by Halliday and Resnick. I used it for 3 (count them, three) semesters in the first physics sequence at Western Michigan University, starting in 1974. I can still read the cost: $16.95.

    I don’t believe I paid $100 for a textbook until grad school, for a text in multivariate analysis. Things are certainly different now.

  18. #18 Moshe
    January 12, 2009

    There is a relatively easy solution, which is how things worked for me as an undergrad, but I have never seen it implemented in north America, not sure why. The library purchases N copies of the official course textbook, where N approximates the number of expected users, and puts the copies on hold for the registered students of the relevant courses. I am sure the money for that has to come from somewhere, perhaps ultimately from the student pockets, but even then it is obviously more efficient financially. Just think about all the people that will lose money under this arrangement – obviously the publishers, but also the bookstores selling and re-selling the same copies every year…all money coming from the students, the weakest in this food chain. Maybe I am starting to understand why this is not implemented.

  19. #19 Kat
    January 12, 2009

    It is unfortunate that textbooks are so expensive, but they really are a necessary part of any physics course (especially introductory ones). I’ve had physics courses where professors lectured exclusively from their own notes, and it can be very difficult for some students to follow along. The advantage of a textbook is that it might present the material differently than you do, so the students have an opportunity to see two different approaches to the same problem.

    To keep costs down, I agree that using older editions is a good solution. New editions exist mainly for profit.

  20. #20 Joe
    January 12, 2009

    To put things in a little perspective, $10 in 1965 (#16) and $17 in 1974 (#17) are both around $70 today, so there seems to be a factor of 2 real increase in price. Arguably tuition has exceeded inflation by a similar factor.

  21. #21 Moshe
    January 12, 2009

    Couple more comments along those lines:

    It doesn’t have to be the library, the department or the student union can do the same, essentially cutting the middle man. The cost of the textbook that is used 10 times (conservative estimate) will be cut by a factor of 10 for each user.

    I also think this is something natural for donors to contribute to (if they can be distracted from the shiny football team) – they might enjoy the idea of a sticker in the front page, “this textbook was donated by this and that rich person”, also the idea of substantially contributing to the education of so many students.

  22. #22 Mark P
    January 12, 2009

    This seems kind of like doctors that prescribe medicine without knowing how much it costs. My doctor prescribed a migraine medicine. The generic was $200 per nine pills. I said my migraines are not that bad. Unfortunately, college students don’t have that option. They do not participate in a free market.

    My atmospheric chemistry course had no text. We used a gigantic compendium of student notes collected over several years. All the notes were based on the prof’s lectures. This was a graduate-level course, which meant there was a fairly close community of students who could pass the notes down. It probably wouldn’t work with an undergrad course.

  23. #23 D. C. Sessions
    January 12, 2009

    To echo the comment on opentextbook.org, I will also point out that if there’s material there that is in the right direction but not quite what you want, you can always change it to suit.

    Which is, after all, how things there grow.


    dcs, who had twins both studying physics. Talk about textbook sticker shock!

  24. #24 dean
    January 12, 2009

    “To put things in a little perspective, $10 in 1965 (#16) and $17 in 1974 (#17) are both around $70 today, so there seems to be a factor of 2 real increase in price. Arguably tuition has exceeded inflation by a similar factor”

    I agree inflation has some relevance – I’m not sure where the “factor of 2 real increase in price” comes from.

    Still, when my students have to pay $180 for an introductory statistics text, it hurts them where it counts, especially in the current economic climate.

  25. #25 Dan Miller
    January 12, 2009

    “When students are paying more than $10,000 in tuition, the potential savings in reducing the price of textbooks is pretty trivial.”

    Oftentimes it’s much easier to pay for tuition with borrowed money than textbooks. When I was an undergrad my tuition came from scholarships and student loans, but textbooks were either out of my pocket or my parents’ (which often meant credit cards, but that’s another story).

  26. #26 Sylvia
    January 12, 2009

    I used to work for this publisher. They do not have an e-book for this text in this edition. However, they apparently have some overstock, because they are selling it direct to students for $111.99. See http://tinyurl.com/79agty

    The best solution, however, is to use an older edition. Usually all that changes are the problems – some will disappear, some will be added, the rest are moved around.

  27. #27 Eric Lund
    January 12, 2009

    This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to sell a cheaper book and still make a profit. The fact that the textbooks are so pricey is because they cost a lot of money to produce and distribute.

    No, it’s not a free market for the students. They buy (or not) a certain textbook because their professor has adopted said textbook for his class. You can’t expect your average undergraduate to know what the alternative textbooks are and how good they are; it’s the professor who should know the relevant choices.

    Another problem is that, at least at my undergrad institution, used textbooks for anything above typical freshman courses were between scarce and unavailable–perhaps some people at your school could get used textbooks, but most (and in some cases all) of your students will need to either buy new or do without.

    Additional textbook price anecdata: For my undergraduate courses (late 1980s), most hardback textbooks were in the $40-50 range, with Jackson (the then-current second edition) an outlier at $54.50 for a book at least half again as thick as any of my other undergrad textbooks. My grad-school textbooks (early 1990s) were typically $50-60; arguably grad level textbooks should be a bit more expensive because the market is thinner. If the $180 price tag for your textbook is anywhere near typical, that means textbook prices have roughly quadrupled in the last 20 years, whereas inflation would have predicted roughly a doubling in price.

  28. #28 Nathan Williams
    January 12, 2009

    With electronic editions of whatever form, make sure you aren’t just shifting the cost to the student’s (or the IT department’s) paper/ink/toner budget.

  29. #29 Chad Orzel
    January 12, 2009

    #18: There is a relatively easy solution, which is how things worked for me as an undergrad, but I have never seen it implemented in north America, not sure why. The library purchases N copies of the official course textbook, where N approximates the number of expected users, and puts the copies on hold for the registered students of the relevant courses.

    When I was an undergrad, Williams had a thing called the Class of mumble Library, which had a large store of commonly used texts. If you were on financial aid, you could go there, give them a list of your classes, and they would give you as many of the assigned books as they could. If they didn’t haev everything, they would give you a voucher for, if I’m remembering correctly, $40 toward the purchase of new books, with the proviso that any books bought with the voucher would be returned to them at the end of the semester.

    It was a nice system, and I used it for nearly all of my non-physics classes. For physics and math classes, I generally bought the books with my own (well, my parents’) money, so I could keep them for future reference.

    I think it’s a bit of a hard sell for wealthy donors, who seem to prefer giant monuments to their own egos. Which is probably why it was the Class of mumble Library– much easier to get a lot of small donors to go along with that than to get one big one to do it.

    #23: To echo the comment on opentextbook.org, I will also point out that if there’s material there that is in the right direction but not quite what you want, you can always change it to suit.

    The limiting factor is time. I don’t feel that I have the time to spend writing material for a textbook, whatever the format. My class notes are necessarily somewhat sketchy, and while turning them into textbook-style material would take less effort than writing a book from scratch, that’s still time that would be better spent on other activities.

  30. #30 Dr. Kate
    January 12, 2009

    “When students are paying more than $10,000 in tuition, the potential savings in reducing the price of textbooks is pretty trivial.”

    I’ll echo Dan here: Many students’ loans and scholarships cover tuition ONLY. That means that textbooks and other fees have to come out of their own pockets. I.e., the “real” cost to the student is not $10,000–it’s closer to $1000, and cutting $100 out of $1000 is a significant savings.

    As far as new textbooks being a “huge improvement” over older ones–yes, if you’re comparing textbooks from the 1960s to the ones today. But as others have pointed out, the changes made from a 9th edition to a 10th edition two years later are (especially in physics, math, and chemistry) generally completely negligible. They’ll rewrite a few problems, or add internet links or a CD, and then charge $200 for the book when you could buy the previous edition for $50 online. I work for textbook publishers, too, and I’ve seen the kinds of “revisions” they do between editions. It’s very rare that they make any changes large enough to completely invalidate the previous edition. (Obviously this doesn’t apply to fields that are undergoing significant change, such as evo-devo or history.)

    I’ll second (or third, or whatever) the recommendations to make your course as compatible with older versions of the text as possible. There are a lot of online stores that sell used books (ecampus.com, textbooks.com, and amazon.com are three that leap to mind) really cheap, but generally you have to get an older version. If you have the time to spend to compare the new version with the older ones and let students know of any significant differences (specifically ones that affect their assignments), that will make things much easier for them.

    The big differences most publishers add to new additions are a) bells & whistles, such as CDs with interactive animations or internet links; b) updated information about current practice; c) reorganization of the same content; and d) revisions to problem sets. I suspect that a) can just be ignored; presumably if you’ve been using the same textbook for a while, you’re not using it because of new, fancier features. You can handle b) and c) by comparing the new version to the older ones and summarizing any important differences for the students (if you have the time). d) is probably the easiest–just provide students with the text of the questions you want them to solve that aren’t in the older versions.

  31. #31 Electric Landlady
    January 12, 2009

    In my later years at McGill (we’re now talking 10 or so years ago) we had course packs for a lot of courses — the prof would tell the campus bookstore (I think?) what chapters of what books to include, and they would take care of getting copyright permission and doing all the photocopying. This was much cheaper for us students than buying a whole bunch of different textbooks (or even one textbook, in many cases) and worked out really well for courses that used a lot of chapters from different sources (History of Medicine and catalytic chemistry spring to mind). Might not be so great for your purposes. I don’t know if US copyright law would allow it, either. Could be worth a look, though.

    Aside from that, yes, allowing older versions is very helpful. The McGill bookstore would buy back textbooks that were going to be used again at the end of term, and sell them at a discount. Or you could go to one of the used bookstores near campus and see if they had it.

  32. #32 Mary
    January 12, 2009

    I seem to recall a post a while ago (three or four years?) here where you said you’d kept your college textbooks and didn’t get why someone wouldn’t, and I posted a comment admitting that I didn’t. I didn’t keep them because I didn’t buy them. I just couldn’t make myself lay out that kind of money for a book I didn’t even pick out, especially since I often get very frustrated with textbooks and come to loathe them deeply. :-)

    For some courses, I actually shared a textbook with someone else, and since they kept it after the term was over, I put in a smaller fraction of the cost of buying it. For a couple more, I bought the book directly from someone who’d just finished it, cutting out the bookstore as the middleman (some universities have online exchange systems for that now). For others I got old editions from the library and just copied the questions at the end of the chapters out of someone else’s book (since those are usually different between editions.) And for a few, I didn’t like the book the professor picked, and got a completely different textbook or two out of the library, and again copied the questions out of someone else’s book…

    I don’t know how much of that you can legitimately encourage in your classes. Making your own questions and having the textbook be recommended rather than required would be the best way to go (that’s what a lot of my grad school professors did, and the professors in England, where I spent my junior year), but of course, that’s time consuming if you want to change the questions periodically so that solution sheets don’t get passed down through generations of students.

    The other great option would be to buy lots of copies for the department and then loan them out, as someone else already suggested. Basically, the way a high school handles its textbooks.

  33. #33 Rhett
    January 12, 2009

    I agree that this whole textbook thing has “jumped the shark”. Too expensive and for the most part the students don’t even use them correctly. The new edition stuff is clearly a trick to get more books sold.

    There has to be a “next step” for textbooks, but I don’t know what it is. I gathered some of my blog posts and put them together so that they could be used like a book – but I think this is just something to do, and not the way things should go. (http://blog.dotphys.net/physics-textbook/). Note that I am mostly talking about texts for non-physics majors.

    I think the next step will be something much more interactive than a textbook can be, but also be a reference at the same time.

  34. #34 Ian Durham
    January 12, 2009

    I use Tom Moore’s Six Ideas That Shaped Physics focusing on Units R, Q, and T with some emphasis on the relativistic aspects from E.

    Aside from the fact that I use it for one of our introductory courses, it’s an awesome book (I consider myself a Moore acolyte though I’ve never met the man in person).

    Since it comes in paperback units (sold separately) you can get used copies online for pretty cheap.

    Honestly, though, I’ve always checked on the prices of my textbooks before ordering them. I mean, they were expensive when I was a student fifteen years ago. So I do my best to keep the cost low while also maximizing the pedagogical usefulness of a text.

  35. #35 Moopheus
    January 12, 2009

    I’ve been working for months as a copyeditor on a high-school science textbook. A half-dozen editors, two copyeditors, several designers, two lead authors, etc., etc. working for six months. Plus the physical production costs, I can make a guess what it costs to print a large, full-color book like this; printing alone probably costs several times as much as an ordinary trade book. I can’t speak to the relative efficiency of other parts of the business, but I can say that going to an e-book format would eliminate one large cost (printing), but leave other large costs that would still have to paid for, unless you wanted a really crappy book. How frequently the books really “need” to be updated, I can’t say either, but there is surely a commercial consideration, as much as a material one, for the publishers.

  36. #36 santi ituarte
    January 12, 2009

    “You can’t reduce the price of textbooks. Be realistic. This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to sell a cheaper book and still make a profit.”

    I think it`s completly the opposite. The book is as expensive as possible, why earn less if they can earn more?

    I teach in South America (Argentina) and here the problem is worse since the price is 3 times higher, and translations make the books even more expensive. The solution here: photocopying – illegal, sure, but who cares?-. However, most students (and teacheres) would love to have the original, photocopies are usually quite low in quality. I think that if they lowered the price they would gain a really huge market in the 2nd or 3rd world countries…
    (sorry for my English).

  37. #37 Eric
    January 12, 2009

    As a college student it’s refreshing to see that some professors care about the cost of books. When I picked up books for this semester I saw that microbiology had 4 required books. My jaw about hit the floor. There’s a reason I often buy the older edition instead of the shiny new one. I do appreciate it when profs stick with the old edition instead of moving onto the next one every time.

  38. #38 truth is life
    January 12, 2009

    I have to agree with this post and many of the comments. I’m a physics/math major sophomore and textbook prices are really just insane. What’s worse is that a lot of the time professors seem to require books which are impossible to get outside of the college bookstore. I was only able to get two of my 6 or 7 textbooks this semester online, since the rest were out of print (and there weren’t any used copies available), apparently non-existent editions (and I’ve been burned too much before on not having the exact edition the professor asked for), bundled with various junk, etc. Luckily, I have a scholarship that pays for up to $500 worth of books, which certainly helps with the financial pain, but the trouble you have to go through to get everything is really crazy.

  39. #39 santi ituarte
    January 12, 2009

    “You can’t reduce the price of textbooks. Be realistic. This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to sell a cheaper book and still make a profit.”

    I think it`s completly the opposite. The book is as expensive as possible, why earn less if they can earn more?

    I teach in South America (Argentina) and here the problem is worse since the price is 3 times higher, and translations make the books even more expensive. The solution here: photocopying – illegal, sure, but who cares?-. However, most students (and teacheres) would love to have the original, photocopies are usually quite low in quality. I think that if they lowered the price they would gain a really huge market in the 2nd or 3rd world countries…
    (sorry for my English).

  40. #40 Chad Orzel
    January 12, 2009

    I agree that this whole textbook thing has “jumped the shark”. Too expensive and for the most part the students don’t even use them correctly. The new edition stuff is clearly a trick to get more books sold.

    It occurs to me that in some sense, this is the same problem as the tuition issue discussed last week: textbook prices have been increasing at unsustainable rates for a while now, and we’re starting to see the consequences. Of course, there’s no collegiate analogue to “buy a used copy of a pirated Chinese edition from a shady web site”…

    “You can’t reduce the price of textbooks. Be realistic. This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to sell a cheaper book and still make a profit.”

    I think it`s completly the opposite. The book is as expensive as possible, why earn less if they can earn more?

    There’s no reason both can’t be true.
    The price point is almost certainly set through some formal or informal maximization process: the price for which the expected income from sales will yield the highest revenue.

    If you can reduce the price and sell a bunch more copies, your profits may actually increase, while if you charge more per copy, and people go elsewhere, your profits may decrease. The whole trick to the publishing business is finding the sweet spot between those two effects.

  41. #41 santi
    January 12, 2009

    “if you charge more per copy, and people go elsewhere”

    True, if people have somewhere else to go. But usually you want a particular textbook that is published by only one publisher.

  42. #42 Eric Lund
    January 12, 2009

    Supplementing my previous post (#27) with some hard data: I just looked on Amazon for the current (third) edition of Jackson. It happens to be on sale at the moment for $81.80 with a usual price of $95.95. The second edition, which I purchased new in 1987 for $54.50 (the price tag is still in the book) is available used for $39. A university bookstore would probably charge around $120 for it, which is not out of line with inflation. So the problem of severely inflated textbook costs seems to be worse for undergrad texts. Or perhaps Jackson is not representative, since it’s only on its third edition since its 1962 introduction and is one of the more widely used texts.

    SI (#36): You’re definitely being overcharged in Argentina. I could understand adding 10-20% to US costs for an English language edition, to cover things like shipping and import duties, plus whatever VAT or similar tax your country charges (US textbook prices are typically quoted without sales tax, which varies by state and locality from zero–I live in one of the four such states–to 10% or more). Of course costs will be higher still for translations. But if you are paying around US$500 for a typical textbook (as your post implies) I can understand your frustration. That price would be outrageous in a rich country like the US, let alone a second or third world country. My advice, at least for English language texts: Check whether Dover (mentioned upthread) publishes something suitable for your course. Their base prices (and any import duties and VAT which are derived from the base price) are much lower than most other publishers. They usually don’t have all of the latest stuff for science courses, but for math and engineering they have a decent selection of topics.

  43. #43 supercameron
    January 12, 2009

    Textbook publishing is a cartel. As with any cartel, prices are set artificially high. If more competition existed, efficiencies would increase and prices would drop. The best way to lower costs for your students is to choose books coming from sources outside the cartel. This means more work for you and possibly for them. Higher prices or more work–everything’s a tradeoff.

    If you’re not willing to do that, encourage your students to purchase books through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Alibris, EBay, half.com, and of course from your former students. While the cartel we call “higher education” has a lock on the textbook publishing market, there exists no such lock on distribution. Any student can get a 25%-75% discount by purchasing his or her books through non-traditional channels.

  44. #44 Alioth
    January 12, 2009

    Speaking as a current student: The very best thing you can do is to make it abundantly clear how exactly you plan to use the textbook in your courses.

    - Will there be required reading? Is it really required (as in, you’ll be graded on doing the reading), or just strongly suggested?

    - Will the reading recapitulate what you say in lecture, or is it a different presentation of the material (good, perhaps, if you didn’t understand it the first time)?

    - Will you use any of the bells and whistles (bundled CD, online access thingy, etc), and in what way?

    - Will you be assigning homework problems from the book? NB: Many of my profs have posted problem sets online containing re-typed-out problems from the book, as well as original problems. I’m sure this is technically copyright infringement, but much less serious than photocopying the text.

    With this information, students can feel comfortable deciding for themselves whether to splurge for the new edition, find a cheap old edition on the internets, or go without. It makes a world of difference to hear this kind of information straight from the professor, instead of from older students, because circumstances change.

    Also good: encourage students to form study groups and share texts, and mention whether the library has a copy. For some courses it may make sense to recommend alternative textbooks, if multiple good ones exist and you’re not going to closely follow any particular one.

    If I were in your class and you did any of the above, I’d give you major brownie points. If you did most or all of the above, I’d give you a standing ovation.

  45. #45 William Hyde
    January 12, 2009

    Well, it’s probably not a fit for the course you are teaching, but here’s a classic for $20, less than I paid for it long ago.

    http://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Mechanics-Physics-Vol-1/dp/0486409244

    The new Goldstein is pricey at $110, but the old is available for $15. Not enough copies for a class, though. Pathria’s “Statistical Mechanics” seems reasonable at $72.

    In the first two years of my undergrad program we used the Berkeley physics texts, vol 1,2,3, and 5 (4 was QM, and couldn’t have been worse than the book we did use). I bought most of these for $7. The only one in print is Purcell’s E&M for $149. Reif’s stat mech (vol 5) is available used for $696. I may have to put my copy in a safe.

    William Hyde

  46. #46 Mark P
    January 12, 2009

    santi ituarte, your situation is similar to the situation of music CD buyers in the US when illegal duplication became commonplace. In the case of music CDs, the market decided that prices were too high, and the market adjusted them downwards. Illegal copying of textbooks is not likely to be a significant issue in the US because it’s not easy to copy a textbook. If it were, the textbook market in the US would already have adjusted prices downward.

  47. #47 John Novak
    January 12, 2009

    Textbook prices have always been murderous. You and I are contemporaries, and I remember engineering texts costing in the upper double and lower triple digits even back then. I’ve assumed without justification that textbook inflation has tracked tuition inflation over the same period, and I bet I’m not far wrong in that.

    (Particularly egregious was Guillermo Gonzalez’ book on microwave amplifiers– a slender little 244 page volume– going for something like $90 at the time. That was completely unjustifiable.)

    What I’d really, really like to see (and which is obviously not a one person or a one year project) is a reasonable set of open textbooks for introductory (say, sophomore or junior level and below) subjects through the science and engineering community. There isn’t much change in the fundamentals of those disciplines that needs to be tracked on a year to year basis. Kirchoff Current Law analysis isn’t going to change, nor the fundamentals amplifier design, nor equivalents in physics and chemistry and mathematics.

    The chief differences are style and presentation order, so there would probably still be competing versions, but I’ve dreamed of such a thing since my first introduction to the web. Hell, I’d use it as an adult to bootstrap myself in areas I’m not knowledgeable on. You’d think MIT would be building in this direction from their Open Course Ware materials. Think of all the trees that could be saved.

    Alas, this does not actually solve your problem.

  48. #48 Rainedaye
    January 12, 2009

    I just spent $300 on two biology textbooks today. The book store sells them for more than on Amazon and only usually have only one or two used copies available. Unfortunately, there is no way for me to find out what books are needed until the first day of class…usually too late for me to order the books elsewhere. Please tell your students as soon as you can what books you are using so that they may choose where to purchase them (mass emails are convenient)…although my college has a policy that prevents professors from doing that so you may want to be careful. Also, at the end of last semester the bookstore would only pay three dollars for about fifty bucks worth of used books since they were not popularly used (they usually buy them for 50% of original value and then sell them back for 75%…). Unless a book you wish to use is exceptionally good I’d stick with books that you know are in demand. And using an older edition (as long as there are enough copies) can save tons of money. The price of a lightly used hundred dollar textbook can drop to double (or even single) digits when a new edition comes out. How many new physics updates do you really need?

  49. #49 deep
    January 12, 2009

    I just spent $300 on two biology textbooks today. The book store sells them for more than on Amazon and only usually have only one or two used copies available. Unfortunately, there is no way for me to find out what books are needed until the first day of class…usually too late for me to order the books elsewhere. Please tell your students as soon as you can what books you are using so that they may choose where to purchase them (mass emails are convenient)…although my college has a policy that prevents professors from doing that so you may want to be careful. Also, at the end of last semester the bookstore would only pay three dollars for about fifty bucks worth of used books since they were not popularly used (they usually buy them for 50% of original value and then sell them back for 75%…). Unless a book you wish to use is exceptionally good I’d stick with books that you know are in demand. And using an older edition (as long as there are enough copies) can save tons of money. The price of a lightly used hundred dollar textbook can drop to double (or even single) digits when a new edition comes out. How many new physics updates do you really need?

  50. #50 Regnirrab
    January 12, 2009

    I think the best way around something like this would be to inform us students what book will be required beforehand, giving us a chance to purchase it through a vendor other than the Union Bookstore. I also second using older editions where possible.

    I’m also confused as to why there were no used copies of the book available if it had indeed been used before by a previous teacher.

  51. #51 deep
    January 12, 2009

    I just spent $300 on two biology textbooks today. The book store sells them for more than on Amazon and only usually have only one or two used copies available. Unfortunately, there is no way for me to find out what books are needed until the first day of class…usually too late for me to order the books elsewhere. Please tell your students as soon as you can what books you are using so that they may choose where to purchase them (mass emails are convenient)…although my college has a policy that prevents professors from doing that so you may want to be careful. Also, at the end of last semester the bookstore would only pay three dollars for about fifty bucks worth of used books since they were not popularly used (they usually buy them for 50% of original value and then sell them back for 75%…). Unless a book you wish to use is exceptionally good I’d stick with books that you know are in demand. And using an older edition (as long as there are enough copies) can save tons of money. The price of a lightly used hundred dollar textbook can drop to double (or even single) digits when a new edition comes out. How many new physics updates do you really need?

  52. #52 Ponder Stibbons
    January 12, 2009

    “You can’t reduce the price of textbooks. Be realistic. This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to sell a cheaper book and still make a profit.”

    I disagree that publishers are restricted by high production costs. It’s obvious that US publishers are inflating the price of textbooks way beyond production when you compare US textbook prices to prices in Asia, for the same books. When I was back in Singapore for my summer holidays, I used to buy the texts I would need for the coming academic year (if I knew what they were) in Singapore, for roughly a third of their listed price in the US. Sometimes the printing quality was identical, but sometimes the paper was a little thinner, and sometimes it was paperback instead of hardcover. For a cost savings of 2/3 of the US price, I think most students would be willing to buy paperback instead. (Plus, as I mentioned, sometimes it was cheaper even when the books were identical.) To earn some spare cash, in addition to buying books that I needed for my courses, I would buy texts that were popularly used in my college, bring them with me to the US, and flog them to students at my college for a neat 100% profit (still 1/3 cheaper than the US list price!). Similarly, if you go on eBay, you can find people selling brand new South Asian editions of textbooks for much lower than the US price. I remember buying Griffiths’ Electrodynamics this way. Even after taking into account international shipping, it was still cheaper to buy these editions than to buy the US edition. The educational contents are always identical.

  53. #53 Davin Flateau
    January 12, 2009

    Here at the University of Cincinnati, there is a trend in some math classes to use free online math textbooks, which have remarkably been produced under a creative commons license – one is Linear Algebra by Hefferon. In physics, I haven’t used it, but I’m sure many are aware of the Waves and Vibrations books by Crowell that is free. Is there an online list somewhere that has any more?

  54. #54 Chad Orzel
    January 12, 2009

    I think the best way around something like this would be to inform us students what book will be required beforehand, giving us a chance to purchase it through a vendor other than the Union Bookstore. I also second using older editions where possible.

    A couple of people did ask the name of the book in advance. I’m happy to provide that information, I’m just not always sure in advance who’s going to need it.

    I’m also confused as to why there were no used copies of the book available if it had indeed been used before by a previous teacher.

    The ways of the used book market are beyond all comprehension. I suspect that it has to do with the fact that the last two years, the enrollment in the course has been low (4-8). This year’s class of 14 is anomalously large.

    #52: I disagree that publishers are restricted by high production costs. It’s obvious that US publishers are inflating the price of textbooks way beyond production when you compare US textbook prices to prices in Asia, for the same books. When I was back in Singapore for my summer holidays, I used to buy the texts I would need for the coming academic year (if I knew what they were) in Singapore, for roughly a third of their listed price in the US. Sometimes the printing quality was identical, but sometimes the paper was a little thinner, and sometimes it was paperback instead of hardcover.

    This is a common but nonetheless incorrect view of the publishing industry. The physical printing of books is only a small part of the cost of producing a textbook– most of the money is in writing, editing, image permissions, copyediting, typesetting, design, etc.

    Those Asian knock-offs are a third of the US price not because they’re printing the book on cheap paper, but because they’re piggy-backing off the US edition, and not paying the people involved in the production of the original book (or not paying them nearly as much, in the case of “international editions” approved by the publisher).

  55. #55 Brian X
    January 12, 2009

    I am going to echo what was said above — has MIT’s Open Courseware project had any effect at all? More to the point, isn’t it possible to use books like the Dummies books and test prep outlines from people like Cliff’s and Barron’s for intro courses? Granted that doesn’t help much once you’re past the intro classes, but it’s still a break in the overall college budget.

    I’ve seen it from both sides anyway, as a college student and later as a bookseller in a major bookstore (Borders) in a major college town (Boston). Without fail, beginning of semester would bring a flood of students trying to save a few bucks on their texts. I would love to have helped them more, but not only could we not get their books in a timely fashion, we couldn’t even quote them a price. That’s how I became convinced that textbook publishing is a scam — the Books in Print screen said one price, the order screen said something else, and when the book finally came in the price would be something different altogether.

  56. #56 dreikin
    January 12, 2009

    Looking around on this subject, I came up with http://www.chegg.com/ – basically, netflix for textbooks. Looks interesting.

    My own ideas are:
    - Have the publishers publish their books as PDF’s. Any college that wants to use the book for their courses pays by enrollment in the course(s) using the book (so the publisher gets paid without having to trust the students). This could give a lot of saving (no print costs, esp. for low print runs; no bookstore markup/costs). It’s in PDF format so it’s always accessible, and the fact that it’s paid by enrollment reduces costs associated with competing with the used book market. It can be kept from ‘public access’ by simply putting the pdf behind a login that verifies you’re in the course (this won’t prevent all sharing – but outside of the people already covered, there’s not really a market anyway).

    - Bribe/Compel public universities to publish textbooks (not necessarily in dead tree form), freely available to the public, written by their professors. This can be managed at the federal and/or state level, and would also give a pretty good return for the money.

  57. #57 Bardiac
    January 12, 2009

    I’m lucky in my field because I often have multiple choices for a given text, so I try to look at different choices and choose the one that balances good presentation with decent binding/printing and decent cost. There are tons of choices for an intro poetry text, say; so you choose one that balances the things that are important.

    Do you have multiple choices for physics texts? If you can look at a few, you may be able to get a paperback edition or other slightly cheaper (or older) edition for a better price.

    My science (mostly bio) books in the late 70s/early 80s ran between $60-80, with a small discount for used.

  58. #58 Feynmaniac
    January 12, 2009

    This semester a professor of mine announced to the class that the textbook for the course costs $17.95. He nearly got a standing ovation.

    As for Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers, it was actually recommended, but not required, for a course I took a few years back. I checked it out of the library and I remember it being pretty decent, however I wouldn’t spend $180 on it.

  59. #59 Xerxes1729
    January 12, 2009

    I can see why writing a textbook, or your own notes for a class, which is basically the same thing, isn’t really feasible. If you just use the textbook as supplementary reading material, and not as a source of required problems, then students can easily get an older edition or use the reserve copy in the library to do the reading. Basically, just make buying the text optional.

  60. #60 AmandaScott
    January 12, 2009

    I would agree witht the comment that you should be very explicit about how the textbook will be used, so your students can choose how to use it. Some will want to collect every book they can, and som will only want to read it at the library when absolutely necessary.
    In addition, in reference to your error in getting the selection to the bookstore in tiem, I would recommend that you NOT make the textbook required reading at all. Announce a change to the syllabus, and recommend an earlier edition that would be avaialbe at the library. I once had to wait a month for a textbook to come in, so between the wait and finals, I paid $150 for a one-course textbook that I used for less than three months that wasn’t even referred to regularly. This will get your students grumbling, will probably be acidly commented upon in your review by at least one broke soul.
    I was an immunology major so many of my textbooks needed to be current, but for all the physical sciences and maths, the old editions are the best bet.

    Good luck!

  61. #61 Mary
    January 12, 2009

    How can it cost so muh to typset and edit a textbook, when any grad student can do creditable job on a 200 page thesis with Word and Mathtype? (Or LaTex for those who want to get really fancy)? Seriously, we just paid Kinkos outrageous fee to print every page of my husband’s thesis in color (because it was worth the extra not to have to collate them again if we separated them in to color pages and B&W) on acid free cotton paper with a hard binding and gold leaf on the spine, and it was *still* cheaper than some textbooks I’ve bought that had more errata…

  62. #62 llewelly
    January 13, 2009

    One severe problem with most textbook ‘ebook’ offerings is that they expire. Even those that don’t, digital data (all forms) is effectively much less durable than printed books. If you’re in a typical engineering or sciences major, you’ll have a number of textbooks you’ll need for later courses – and some you’ll need as references if you plan on using the degree after you earn it.
    In other words, ‘ebooks’ are fine for through-away courses, but for anything important, they’re insufficient.

  63. #63 fvngvs
    January 13, 2009

    On textbooks in general:
    Is it a good book? Will it continue to be a good book in 20 years time?

    Some students (speaking) may like to keep ‘em. I still refer to SZ+Y. The pages are a bit yellow, but the physics hasn’t changed that much in the past mumble years.

  64. #64 literarydeadkittens
    January 13, 2009

    EBay
    2nd Hand from Amazon
    Check abroad, might be cheaper to order overseas
    ABE Books and other second hand book stores online
    Get students who are leaving to sell them on to students that follow.
    Get the university to buy them and rent them, leaving a security deposit that they can get back. They could also sell with it scotch tape type tags for marking pages that won’t harm the book.
    Use an older version
    Students could ‘timeshare’ books
    More copies in the library, non-lending copies, purely reference.
    Sometimes publishers will let you photocopy relevant chapters for a fee. Have the university do it and charge the students for that.
    For really poor students, suggest a couple of cheaper books and have a couple of copies in the department that you let them lend overnight when only that textbook will do.

    You’re right, the cost of textbooks is really evil. I don’t know about the American system, but over in the UK you can get bursaries and means-tested grants to help with the cost of books. Unfortunantely, the introduction of a fee system has seriously damaged the chances of poorer students making it through university. It was hard enough when I went, before they added the fees.

  65. #65 Bardiac
    January 13, 2009

    A quick note to the folks who think that making a textbook should be cheaper, or that faculty should just make their notes available on-line: text books are a form of publication, and at many colleges/universities, they count as such for tenure and promotion decisions. Handing out your notes doesn’t. And, should one’s textbook sell decently, one can make royalties; yes, one might actually be paid for such work. Faculty salaries at a lot of places are low enough that royalties can make a big difference.

  66. #66 Eric Lund
    January 13, 2009

    I’m also confused as to why there were no used copies of the book available if it had indeed been used before by a previous teacher.

    Consider the economics of this deal. Since I don’t know what the actual numbers are, let me assume that the bookstore will buy your books at the end of the term for 1/3 of the new price and sell them for 1/2 the new price the next time the course is taught. (It costs money to store the books, and the bookstore needs its profit margin.) If you are a student who bought the book new for $180, you can either keep it or sell it back to the bookstore for $60. (You can also try to sell it privately to a third party, but $90 would be an upper limit to your price because otherwise your fellow students would get it for $90 at the bookstore.) If you choose to sell it back to the bookstore, you are out a net $120 with nothing to show for it. So if there is any chance you think you will use the book as a reference in the future (which will be true for most science and engineering majors) and you are not desperate for cash, you are better off keeping the book. Even if you bought it used, selling it back would leave you out a net $30, which is still outrageously high to rent the book for one term.

    If you expect to stay in the field, it is definitely worth while to keep your textbooks for reference. I still regularly refer to several of the textbooks I bought as an undergrad, as well as the more field-specific textbooks from my grad school years. In my experience, wide availability of an upper level or graduate used textbook was a red flag that the book wasn’t any good. The reason freshman-level textbooks are more available than upper level textbooks is that a larger fraction of the freshmen will change majors out of science/engineering (either because they choose a path of less resistance toward graduating with a high GPA, or because they get weeded out of the Big U science/engineering program) and therefore reasonably conclude that they will not need to refer to their freshman-level physics text anymore.

  67. #67 Matt Leifer
    January 13, 2009

    It is incredibly naive think that textbook piracy is any more difficult or rare than music or software piracy. A quick search on thepiratebay for physics textbooks would convince you otherwise. Remember that although scanning a book is a pain, it only has to be done *once*. There are even sites that *specialize* in illegal textbook downloads and you can bet that the generation that grew up on Napster and bittorrent knows about them. I’m not condoning the practice, since I believe that people deserve to be paid for their hard work, but given that most students will only use a textbook for a single course, I can see how they would be tempted. The only thing stopping it becoming extremely widespread is that parents are more likely to shell out for extremely expensive textbooks for their kids than for overpriced CDs and DVDs.

    We need to act quickly to make low cost learning materials available in order to avoid criminalizing an entire generation of students. A few publishers will allow you to maintain a free electronic version of a published book. This seems to be a good solution for the time-being, as it allows profs to benefit from the editorial process and to gain the CV points from having a traditionally published text.

  68. #68 Jim Thomerson
    January 13, 2009

    Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville has a textbook rental system. The student rents textbooks for a nominal price. A particular textbook will be rented out semester at at ime over three years or more, then sold cheap. At recruiting events, parent’s eyes light up when the rental system and its reduced costs are explained to them.

  69. #69 marciepooh
    January 13, 2009

    The Intro to Modern Physics course I took used the same text as the first 2 semesters of Physics, and our professor wasn’t picky if we had the latest edition or the one before (except you needed to check the problem sets because they did differ). I unfortunately had bought the text book in 2 volumes, to make best use of my book scholarship, and so didn’t get those chapters (cut from the 2nd volume, to encourage purchase of the big version?). I still have both editions on my shelf. (No one in town would buy back the old edition a year after the new one’d come out.)

  70. #70 Mark P
    January 13, 2009

    Matt Leiffer – the difference between pirating textbooks and pirating music is that anyone can reproduce a music CD essentially perfectly, while it’s a lot harder to reproduce (scan) a textbook, and the result is far from perfect. As I said before, if you could copy a textbook as easily as you can a CD, it would be done routinely.

  71. #71 reesei
    January 13, 2009

    The biggest advantage of the textbooks is that as a prof, I can pull the shiny figures for my powerpoint lecture notes, which I can make available for download through the class website (password protected of course). I do think that access to good figures that illustrate the principles I am trying to get across is invaluable. Yes, I fill in around the book figs every time I go outside what the book covers, and pull attributed figs from the literature where appropriate, and make my own figures for other slides – but you can always tell my figures because they aren’t nearly as complete, and haven’t been refined over multiple editions for clarity.

    I don’t require the book – I supplement a lot when I lecture. So what is covered in lecture is what students need for exams. However, I recommend to students that they read the appropriate sections, because having another perspective on the material is very useful. I also suggest (but don’t require) several problems from the back of the chapter that I think would be the most useful.

    Most students do buy the book (we also make sure to use the same textbook across all the courses in the yearlong series to reduce costs). However, I have had students use only the library reserve copies, or old editions, and do just fine.

    Now, where I became really irritated with the salespeople is with the supplementary online material. They were really pushing the online quizzes, etc… when I asked about price, they said it was free with a _new_ copy of the book. If a student bought a used copy or used the library copy, they would have to shell out $50 or 75 for the online material. I teach at a major state university – while some of my students wouldn’t care about the extra cost, others are trying to get through while working multiple jobs and barely scraping by. I have enough of a problem wrapping my brain around the inequities of which students can afford to do research – adding income inequities in the textbook is more than I could handle.

  72. #72 Larry Moran
    January 13, 2009

    I seem to recall a post a while ago (three or four years?) here where you said you’d kept your college textbooks and didn’t get why someone wouldn’t, and I posted a comment admitting that I didn’t. I didn’t keep them because I didn’t buy them. I just couldn’t make myself lay out that kind of money for a book I didn’t even pick out, especially since I often get very frustrated with textbooks and come to loathe them deeply. :-)

    This applies to me. I have every book I’ve ever purchased and most of my textbooks from college served me for several years as valuable references. I still consult them from time to time.

    There seems to be a class of student who see the textbook as simply a means to a short-term end—the end being completing the course and getting a decent mark. If the book isn’t making a big contribution to that goal then it’s a waste of money.

    These students will get rid of their textbook as soon as possible since they have no intention of ever revisiting the subject once they have their grade.

    That’s an attitude that I don’t relate to very well. For me the textbook was a valuable part of the educational experience. I filled my books with comments and notes and highlighted the important parts. By the time the course was over the book had become my personal record of the learning experience.

    I never took a course that I wanted to forget as soon as it was over. Every one of them was preparation for something else and that’s why keeping the textbook is such an important part of my experience. Sometimes I even bought other textbooks covering the same topic just to have a different perspective on the subject.

    Back in the sixties I would rather have bought a book than a record album or a transistor radio. To put that in today’s terms, it means that I would have bought a book instead of a CD or an iPhone.

    Most of my students think I’m weird.

  73. #73 Larry Moran
    January 13, 2009

    I am going to echo what was said above — has MIT’s Open Courseware project had any effect at all?

    Nope. In my fields (biology, biochemistry, molecular biology) the quality of material on the MIT site is horrible. It’s an embarrassment to the university and I wouldn’t be surprised if they put an end to it in the near future.

    More to the point, isn’t it possible to use books like the Dummies books and test prep outlines from people like Cliff’s and Barron’s for intro courses?

    If that’s the quality of education that you want then by all means, go to a university that uses those books.

  74. #74 Ian Durham
    January 13, 2009

    Here at the University of Cincinnati, there is a trend in some math classes to use free online math textbooks, which have remarkably been produced under a creative commons license – one is Linear Algebra by Hefferon.

    I just used Hefferon’s text last semester for the Linear Analysis course I taught. It wasn’t bad. What was best about it, though, was that he provides the TeX source so you can tweak it or add to it or whatever (I think he released it under the creative commons license so you can’t pass it off as your own).

    One of my colleagues here at Saint A’s wrote a introductory calculus-based physics text recently and makes it freely available by download or, if you want a bound copy, you can buy it from Lulu.com.

  75. #75 Ian Durham
    January 13, 2009

    Here at the University of Cincinnati, there is a trend in some math classes to use free online math textbooks, which have remarkably been produced under a creative commons license – one is Linear Algebra by Hefferon.

    I just used Hefferon’s text last semester for the Linear Analysis course I taught. It wasn’t bad. What was best about it, though, was that he provides the TeX source so you can tweak it or add to it or whatever (I think he released it under the creative commons license so you can’t pass it off as your own).

    One of my colleagues here at Saint A’s wrote a introductory calculus-based physics text recently and makes it freely available by download or, if you want a bound copy, you can buy it from Lulu.com.

  76. #76 marciepooh
    January 13, 2009

    @#73 – Same here although in the 1990s, with slight caveat. The few classes I didn’t want to keep the books for I couldn’t sell them back for one reason or another (bundled, workbook,…).

  77. #77 Larry Moran
    January 13, 2009

    I am going to echo what was said above — has MIT’s Open Courseware project had any effect at all?

    Nope. In my fields (biology, biochemistry, molecular biology) the quality of material on the MIT site is horrible. It’s an embarrassment to the university and I wouldn’t be surprised if they put an end to it in the near future.

    More to the point, isn’t it possible to use books like the Dummies books and test prep outlines from people like Cliff’s and Barron’s for intro courses?

    If that’s the quality of education that you want then, by all means, go to a university that uses those books. You will save lots of money.

  78. #78 Demian Cho
    January 13, 2009

    In my Oscillations and Waves class here at Kenyon this semester, I am using two online textbooks. (Students love the idea.) The physics of waves by Howard Georgi and Mathematical Tools for Physics by James Nearing. In my opinion, both of them are excellent choices, and also free. Students also have a choice of selecting out chapters or portions of books to print out. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any books like that for Modern Physics course.

  79. #79 CCPhysicist
    January 13, 2009

    FYI –
    One of many cheap textbook search engines turned up a copy of your textbook for $75 (free shipping) or $80 ($74 plus shipping) as well as $119 (including shipping). The last one was half.com, which I learned about when one of my students got our physics text for $20, new. I suspect some of these are illegal imports and others are sell-backs from faculty, but students don’t care.

    I will never select a book without knowing its price. That was one factor I used in selecting Wolfson’s “Essentials” textbook, but the other was that keeping the book short (which is what makes it cheaper) also makes it much more readable. KISS. I now regularly get students telling other students to read the book. This is not the only book of this type, so I hope it is a trend. Combine that with a Schaum’s Outline, not to mention access to what some of us call a Library, and students are quite happy. Even more so if you know enough physics to pick your examples to complement, rather than duplicate, what is in the book.

  80. #80 Brian
    January 13, 2009

    I’m a double major in Physics and Mathematics.
    My courses and textbooks for Spring 09:

    PHYS-3315 Modern Physics I
    Textbooks:
    Modern Physics for Scientists and Engineers by Stephen T. Thornton, Andrew Rex 3rd Edition ©2006
    College Bookstore New: $185.00 / Used: $138.75
    Amazon reseller NEW: $131.81 + $3.99 shipping
    AND
    Quantum Physics by Stephen Gasiorowicz 3rd Edition ©2003
    From bookstore New $147.60 / Used: $110.70
    Amazon reseller NEW: $58.98 + $3.99 shipping

    MATH-3338 Probability
    Textbook:
    Modern Mathematical Statistics with Applications by Jay L. Devore, Kenneth N. Berk 1st Edition ©2007
    From bookstore New: $171.45 / Used: $128.60
    Amazon Reseller NEW: $127.58 + $3.99 shipping

    MATH-3330 Abstract Algebra
    Textbook:
    Elements of Modern Algebra by Jimmie Gilbert, Linda Gilbert 6th Edition ©2005
    From bookstore New: $160.35 / Used: $120.25
    Amazon Reseller NEW: $61.55 + $3.99 shipping

    MATH-3333 Intermediate Analysis
    Textbook:
    Elementary Analysis: The Theory of Calculus by Kenneth Ross 1st Edition ©2003
    From bookstore New: $49.95 / Used: $37.45
    Amazon Reseller NEW: $34.97 + $3.99 shipping

    So,
    Buying all new textbooks from my college bookstore would cost me $714.35 plus tax. Buying all used from bookstore would be $535.75 plus tax. And finally, buying exactly the same books, all NEW, from Amazon resellers cost me $414.89, plus $4/book shipping (or $7/book for “expedited shipping) and no tax.

    My choice was obvious. College bookstores really need to get with the program and quit gouging their students.

  81. #81 Ponder Stibbons
    January 14, 2009

    Those Asian knock-offs are a third of the US price not because they’re printing the book on cheap paper, but because they’re piggy-backing off the US edition, and not paying the people involved in the production of the original book (or not paying them nearly as much, in the case of “international editions” approved by the publisher).

    Fair enough. But I think there’s still room for US textbooks to be cheaper, for example for texts where only hardcover editions are released in the US. I treat my books gently and would gladly pay less for a paperback edition even if it’s less ‘hardy’.

  82. #82 Larry Moran
    January 14, 2009

    Fair enough. But I think there’s still room for US textbooks to be cheaper, for example for texts where only hardcover editions are released in the US. I treat my books gently and would gladly pay less for a paperback edition even if it’s less ‘hardy’.

    I don’t know the exact cost—it depends a bit on the number of pages—but as a general rule the difference between a hard cover and a soft cover is less than fifty cents.

    If you want to switch from typical hardcover paper with glossy color images to typical newsprint style paper with black-and-white images then that would be a savings of about five dollars for a typical textbook.

    Look at some of the earlier comments. A good part of the price goes to the bookstores and the distributors. Maybe the students in the campus bookstore could work for the same wages as the students in the Asian bookstores? That would help save money.

  83. #83 andy.s
    January 14, 2009

    You can’t reduce the price of textbooks. Be realistic. This is a competitive market and every publisher would love to

    I disagree with that a bit. Every commodity has to compete with Nothing. I.E., a book can’t be too expensive, or the buyer will keep his money and move on.

    But textbooks are different. If you’re taking a class and a book is assigned, you pretty much have to get it. Everybody can’t check out the 3 reserved copies in the library.

    Some things you can do right now, Chad. Check the list price in the bookstore and then the price on Amazon. First day of class – hell – in the on-line course syllabus is even better – announce that Amazon is x% cheaper than the bookstore.

    If every faculty member started doing that, and the Campus Crookstore had to eat 30 copies of Jackson, prices would come down real fast.

    And Larry M., sorry man, I’m sure you have bills to pay like the rest of us, but the purpose of a teacher is not to turn a profit for a textbook publisher. That’s your problem, not his.

  84. #84 Larry Moran
    January 15, 2009

    And Larry M., sorry man, I’m sure you have bills to pay like the rest of us, but the purpose of a teacher is not to turn a profit for a textbook publisher.

    I don’t understand that statement. I got into textbook writing because I like to teach and this was a very effective way to reach lots of students. I was further motivated by the fact that much of what was in the current textbooks was wrong and I thought I could do a better job.

    If there was such a thing as a non-profit textbook company that could do as fine a job of producing and marketing my textbook then I’d choose them over my current publisher.

    Do you know of such an organization?

    After 21 years in the textbook business, my observations indicate that the major publishers aren’t making unusual profits. Many of their books lose money. Do you think that you are being exploited by textbook publishers? Do you feel the same way about campus bookstores?

  85. #85 Larry Moran
    January 15, 2009

    andy.s says,

    I disagree with that a bit. Every commodity has to compete with Nothing. I.E., a book can’t be too expensive, or the buyer will keep his money and move on.

    But textbooks are different. If you’re taking a class and a book is assigned, you pretty much have to get it. Everybody can’t check out the 3 reserved copies in the library.

    Textbooks aren’t sold directly to students. It’s Professors and committees who actually make the decision, as you correctly point out.

    That decision is based, in part, on price. In a competitive market like biochemistry the wholesale price of the book plays an important role in getting a book adopted. The sales people from the big publishers will make every effort to convince the committee that their book is good value for the money.

    That’s why prices are kept as low as possible. You can’t get any adoptions if the price is too high.

  86. #86 Lindsay
    February 6, 2009

    **** beware your university bookstore *****

    Our university bookstore has admitted to trying to “get out of the used book business.” How do they do this? When the profs put in the book orders (even if the ISBN is specified!) the bookstore identifies the same book in the bundled form (with a workbook, CD, whatever–the bundle has a different ISBN) and orders those instead. Once the wrapping has been opened, these bundles are UNRETURNABLE and the bookstore often will not buy them back for used at the end of the semester either.

    Many students complain to the profs, who often have no idea what had happened. Complaining to the bookstore is useless. Most profs at my university now automatically suggest getting books online or at competing local bookstores instead of the university bookstore. However, this has had no effect on the univ. bookstore’s prices or policies.

    I understand all the work and effort put into creating a textbook, but textbook publishing is a SCAM. This is but one small part of universities returning to their elitist roots by pricing out all but the wealthiest students.

  87. #87 Leah
    February 19, 2009
    And Larry M., sorry man, I’m sure you have bills to pay like the rest of us, but the purpose of a teacher is not to turn a profit for a textbook publisher.

    I don’t understand that statement. I got into textbook writing because I like to teach and this was a very effective way to reach lots of students. I was further motivated by the fact that much of what was in the current textbooks was wrong and I thought I could do a better job.

    If there was such a thing as a non-profit textbook company that could do as fine a job of producing and marketing my textbook then I’d choose them over my current publisher.

    Do you know of such an organization?

    After 21 years in the textbook business, my observations indicate that the major publishers aren’t making unusual profits. Many of their books lose money. Do you think that you are being exploited by textbook publishers? Do you feel the same way about campus bookstores?

    The organization you describe is called “The Internet.” Publish your work on a personal website. One of my professors did.

    Just because textbook publishers are losing money doesn’t mean students aren’t being extorted. Maybe it’s because of their exploitative costs – students aren’t buying anymore. And yes, I think campus bookstores are just as bad.

    Here’s what I want clarification on:

    …photocopying the textbook and handing it out is not ethical.

    …Why? It’s more ethical to extort the students than upset the publishing companies who set up this unjust system in the first place? Are libraries unethical? Learning should be free. Putting a price on education is unethical.

    I think the word you wanted was, “illegal”. That’s a completely different thing.

  88. #88 Troy Parrish
    August 2, 2009

    We found that the cost of my daughters text as well as mine (I have returned to school) are extremely high and I have always purchased my books via Amazon for the very reason that you cited. The issue that you raise about the value of the book is significant, I paid $25.00 for a book that was 12 pages long and we never used in the class. And the school book store buy back program is a joke. My daughter was offered $1.00 for one of her texts that was in perfect condition, and you bet they would sell it for a whole lot more. We decided that we would address this issue by creating a web site for students to sell and buy their used texts books in order for both the buyer and seller to get a better bargain on their books. CC Book Exchange is a free classified ad site. We want as many people to use the site as possible in order to sell their books in order to combat the prices of the bookstore.
    I also believe that the commitment of professors to stick to a text book as long as the information is good will make used books salable and push prices down. The constant upgrade to the latest edition makes older editions much less valuable and helps to drive up costs.

  89. #89 Anon
    February 2, 2010

    Copy and paste your current students emails and send to those previously enrolled. The current stduents then buy the book used for usually half the price. You will find after the second time you teach the course, the books practically cost the students nothing this way and the transaction happens fast.
    Believe me, it works…I have used it for years.
    Anon

  90. #90 Curtis L. DeBerg
    February 21, 2010

    I am a professor of accounting at CSU-Chico. For the past three years, I have gone without a textbook in my principles of financial accounting class. Instead, I use wikipedia and other open-source materials (e.g., real financial reports of real companies, real time!) to teach accounting theory. For practice, all my students become adept at Excel spreadsheets to construct personal budgets and external financial statements. Instead of paying $205.50 (which incudes tax!) for the book all my colleagues are using, my students pay zero.

    And how do they do on the common final exam? My students have performed at the same and higher levels than their textbook-buying peers.

  91. #91 Julie
    February 28, 2010

    Texts are ridiculously expensive. We love using Chegg.com to rent textbooks and save a lot of money! I wanted to share a code that your readers can use to get a discount on their text order. Put in the code when ordering and hit the “apply” button. The code also gives you back an additional $5 when selling Chegg your used texts.

    The code does not have an expiration date so it can be used with every order. Here it is:

    CC123047

    Feel free to share this code with your friends.

  92. #92 Clive Boustred
    February 6, 2011

    We have a solution, it will be going live in South Africa this year.

    With InfoTelesys’ computer called and IT Set costing around $100 and their IT Book costing substantially less than that, students have access to hundreds of thousands of free books for the cost of one IT Set or IT Book.

    Get IT Ed is assembling dedicated servers for schools with not only top of the line digital books but rich-media including videos, websites and more. Teachers will have a vast array of tools to guide their students.

    C U on the Net,
    Clive Boustred,
    Chairman Get IT Ed. http://www.getited.com

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