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Weiye Loh

Skepticblog » Why are textbooks so expensive? - 0 views

  • In some cases, the costs are driven up because the market has gotten highly competitive with more and expensive features, like pricey full color throughout, and lots of ancillaries (website for the book, CD-ROM of Powerpoints or images, study guide for students, instructor’s guide, test banks, and many other extras). In the high-volume markets, like the introductory courses taken by hundreds of non-majors, these silly extras seem to make a big difference in enticing faculty to change their preferences and adopt a different book, so publishers must pull out all the stops on these expensive frills or lose in a highly competitive market. And, like any other market, the cost per unit is a function of how many you sell. In the huge introductory markets, there are tens of thousands of copies sold, and they can afford to keep their prices competitive but still must add every possible bell and whistle to lure instructors to adopt them. But in the upper-level undergraduate or the graduate courses, where there may only be a few hundred or a few thousand copies sold each year, they cannot afford expensive color, and each copy must be priced to match the anticipated sales. Low volume = higher individual cost per unit. It’s simple economics.
  • the real culprit is something most students don’t suspect: used book recyclers, and students’ own preferences for used books that are cheaper and already marked with someone else’s highlighter marker!
  • As an author, I’ve seen how the sales histories of textbooks work. Typically they have a big spike of sales for the first 1-2 years after they are introduced, and that’s when most the new copies are sold and most of the publisher’s money is made. But by year 3  (and sometimes sooner), the sales plunge and within another year or two, the sales are miniscule. The publishers have only a few options in a situation like this. One option: they can price the book so that the first two years’ worth of sales will pay their costs back before the used copies wipe out their market, which is the major reason new copies cost so much. Another option (especially with high-volume introductory textbooks) is to revise it within 2-3 years after the previous edition, so the new edition will drive all the used copies off the shelves for another two years or so. This is also a common strategy. For my most popular books, the publisher expected me to be working on a new edition almost as soon as the previous edition came out, and 2-3 years later, the new edition (with a distinctive new cover, and sometimes with significant new content as well) starts the sales curve cycle all over again. One of my books is in its eighth edition, but there are introductory textbooks that are in the 15th or 20th edition.
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    • For over 20 years now, I’ve heard all sorts of prophets saying that paper textbooks are dead, and predicting that all textbooks would be electronic within a few years. Year after year, I  hear this prediction—and paper textbooks continue to sell just fine, thank you.  Certainly, electronic editions of mass market best-sellers, novels and mysteries (usually cheaply produced with few illustrations) seem to do fine as Kindle editions or eBooks, and that market is well established. But electronic textbooks have never taken off, at least in science textbooks, despite numerous attempts to make them work. Watching students study, I have a few thoughts as to why this is:

      • Students seem to feel that they haven’t “studied” unless they’ve covered their textbook with yellow highlighter markings. Although there are electronic equivalents of the highlighter marker pen, most of today’s students seem to prefer physically marking on a real paper book.
      • Textbooks (especially science books) are heavy with color photographs and other images that don’t often look good on a tiny screen, don’t print out on ordinary paper well, but raise the price of the book. Even an eBook is going to be a lot more expensive with lots of images compared to a mass-market book with no art whatsoever.
      • I’ve watched my students study, and they like the flexibility of being able to use their book just about anywhere—in bright light outdoors away from a power supply especially. Although eBooks are getting better, most still have screens that are hard to read in bright light, and eventually their battery will run out, whether you’re near a power supply or not.
      • Finally, if  you drop your eBook or get it wet, you have a disaster. A textbook won’t even be dented by hard usage, and unless it’s totally soaked and cannot be dried, it does a lot better when wet than any electronic book.
  • A recent study found that digital textbooks were no panacea after all. Only one-third of the students said they were comfortable reading e-textbooks, and three-fourths preferred a paper textbook to an e-textbook if the costs were equal. And the costs have hidden jokers in the deck: e-textbooks may seem cheaper, but they tend to have built-in expiration dates and cannot be resold, so they may be priced below paper textbooks but end up costing about the same. E-textbooks are not that much cheaper for publishers, either, since the writing, editing, art manuscript, promotion, etc., all cost the publisher the same whether the final book is in paper or electronic. The only cost difference is printing and binding and shipping and storage vs. creating the electronic version.
    But in the 1980s and 1990s, the market changed drastically with the expansion of used book recyclers. They set up shop at the bookstore door near the end of the semester and bought students' new copies for pennies on the dollar. They would show up in my office uninvited and ask if I want to sell any of the free adopter's copies that I get from publishers trying to entice me. If you walk through any campus bookstore, nearly all the new copies have been replaced by used copies, usually very tattered and with broken spines. The students naturally gravitate to the cheaper used books (and some prefer them because they like it if a previous owner has highlighted the important stuff). In many bookstores, there are no new copies at all, or just a few that go unsold.
    What these bargain hunters don't realize is that every used copy purchased means a new copy unsold. Used copies pay nothing to the publisher (or the author, either), so to recoup their costs, publishers must price their new copies to offset the loss of sales by used copies. And so the vicious circle begins-publisher raises the price on the book again, more students buy used copies, so a new copy keeps climbing in price.
Bri Zabriskie

How to Present While People are Twittering - Pistachio - 1 views

    imagine how this can change education, not just conferences
Bri Zabriskie

More than just passing notes in class? The Twitter-enabled backchannel - 1 views

    a great really basic explanation of twitter backchannel and its use in education
Aly Rutter

Learning Is Messy - Blog | :Roll up your sleeves and get messy - 0 views

    Really awesome teacher's blog who is doing much of the same things in his classroom as we are doing in ours... but for 5th graders!
Carlie Wallentine

Ebooks in Education - 0 views

    A great website on ebooks in general and in education.
Sam McGrath

BoomWriter - Schools - 1 views

    This is an interesting online tool to help students develop their writing skills and maybe even learn to love it. It makes assignments much more relevant.
Gideon Burton

Project Information Literacy: A large-scale study about early adults and their research... - 0 views

    A recent initiative to see how college students seek information in their everyday lives. Includes surveys, interviews, and research in progress.
Andrea Ostler

Toni Morrison speaks at Rutgers University Commencement Ceremony - 2 views

    The word is that "Snooki" from the crappy tv show "Jersey Shore" got paid more money to speak at Rutgers than the nobel prize winner Toni Morrison did for the university's commencement. This angers me, I'm not gonna lie
    yeah...that's kind of disturbing...
Sam McGrath

Using Google Docs in 3rd Grade Classroom Newspaper - 0 views

    Very relevant to what we are talking about. These kids are learning and growing collaborative skills and remixing while using Google Docs
Carlie Wallentine

Robotic Teacher in Japan--kinda creepy actually. - 0 views

    Apart from working on the first robotic french kiss, they've also got a robotic teacher in Japan. She looks a bit like Michael Jackson to me....
Carlie Wallentine

Education and Technology in Elementary Education - 0 views

    The 2012 topics for Elementary Education with Technology.
Sam McGrath

Google For Educators - 0 views

    Several posters designed for students offering tips on how to use different services offered by Google.
Gideon Burton

Sir Ken Robinson - Changing Education Paradigms - 0 views

    Animated version of Sir Ken Robinson's now famous manifesto for a new education paradigm. Very engaging
Allison Frost

Censorship causing brain drain in China? | Chicago Press Release Services - 0 views

  • Students are leaving mainland China for the opportunity to study in Hong Kong instead.
  • “We are a small elite who can afford freedom beyond China’s great firewall,” says “Li Cheng” from Shanghai.
  • Li, a student at the University of Hong Kong, did not want to disclose his real name or details about his study program, fearing consequences back home.

    “I live in one country, but it feels like having two identities,” Li said. “In Shanghai, I use special software to access sites blacklisted by the government, like Twitter or the uncensored version of Google.

  • ...4 more annotations...
  • “In Hong Kong, I am taught to integrate these tools in my research.”
  • Hong Kong is nothing like mainland China in terms of its free flow of information, freedom of speech and multiparty political system.
  • The exodus of students such as Li could signify a brain drain for mainland China, according to Bandurski.

    “Without political reform, economic growth in China will decline,” he said. “Talents will leave China. Students and teachers who want to have more access to information are not dissidents anymore. They are becoming the mainstream.”

  • With new freedom at hand, only a few fresh HKU graduates have returned to the mainland. Last year, only 3 percent of HKU graduates from mainland China returned home to look for a job.

    That matches the trend of Chinese students studying overseas.

    More than 70 percent of the more than 1 million Chinese students abroad did not return home after graduation between 1978 and 2006, according to a report by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences

    many students leaving beijing to study in hong kong. access to google and other sources of information, emphasis on information to further education, preference
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