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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.
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    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.
Weiye Loh

Battle of the Book | Conservation Magazine - 1 views

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    So, how many volumes do you need to read on your e-reader to break even? With respect to fossil fuels, water use, and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, though, it's 100 books; with human health consequences, it's somewhere in between.

    All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library. ♣
Derrick Clements

Writing about Literature in the Digital Age - 2 views

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    Our eBook is published! Here is a possible website we can use as home base.
Gideon Burton

Writing About Literature in the Digital Age : Gideon Burton, Alymarie Rutter, Amy Whita... - 1 views

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    The link to where we can download our eBook: Writing about LIterature in the Digital Age
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    This page archives and makes the many formats available for Writing About Literature in the Digital Age
Gideon Burton

iPad app: T.S. Eliot - 0 views

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    An article from MediaPost reviewing another eBook for the iPad, in this case a hypertext version of Eliot's "The Wasteland."
Gideon Burton

Catalog of Free e-books | TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing an... - 2 views

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    A nice list of sites and services for free eBooks
Sam McGrath

Amazon.com: Kindle Direct Publishing: Help - 2 views

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    Amazon's guidlines for publishing images in the kindle format.
Gideon Burton

Cheap E-Books Crowd Best Sellers - WSJ.com - 0 views

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    The economics of eBooks favors low price and changes who it is that can make a splash in publishing
Nyssa Silvester

Amazon to Allow ePub eBooks on the Kindle e-Reader | Good E-Reader Blog - ebook Reader ... - 1 views

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    Apparently, if we're crunched for time, we only have to create an epub version of our book.
Carlie Wallentine

Ebooks in Education - 0 views

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    A great website on ebooks in general and in education.
Aly Rutter

Contact me | eBookAnoid - 2 views

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    An idea of where we could get our ebook posted, or at least a link. Maybe we could find other eBook-obsessed bloggers who would like to share our class's story
Aly Rutter

Best of the free - Google eBookstore - 2 views

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    Free eBooks online (includes Walden, Pride and Prejudice, Great Expectations, and many more!)
Gideon Burton

BookGlutton - Social Reading - 1 views

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    More ways to join others online with the reading experience.
Gideon Burton

Ebooks the way nature intended | Enhanced Editions - 0 views

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    New modes of delivering multi-media, multi-modal books (via the iPhone). I wonder if this is now dated since the advent of the iPad, or whether anything like this can really get traction if it is for a dedicated device (no matter how popular the iPhone is).
Gideon Burton

Welcome to Open Library (Open Library) - 0 views

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    eBooks open new opportunities for finding and lending / borrowing books.
Carlie Wallentine

E-book Sales Stats - 0 views

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    A short article about the rise of e-book sales.
Gideon Burton

Walter Benjamin's Aura: Open Bookmarks and the future eBook | booktwo.org - 3 views

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    Fascinating exploration of "social reading" and the prospect of open bookmarks.
Gideon Burton

Lendle: Kindle™ Book Lending, Borrowing, & Sharing - 0 views

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    A service that helps to make eBooks more like print books (in terms of being able to borrow, lend, and share them)
Carlie Wallentine

Free eBooks - 1 views

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    I love how everything connects now! Today we had the discussion on eBooks. I didn't even really know what they were, and then I find a site about free eBooks and I get all excited because I know what they are now!
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