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.