Friday, September 23, 2011

Textbook Ethics (part II)

Last week I posted about the ethics of creating new editions of textbooks that may not be so new or updated.  I demonstrated my frustration at the short updated edition schedule and I seemed to lay the blame on the publishers and authors.

Then I read this article, which has a completely different take. According to this author, most of the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the used book industry.  The article blames the rise of textbook prices to the advent of large used book companies that have set up shop on college campuses in order to buy back textbooks and redistribute them to where they are needed across the country to resell them. These used book companies have only been prominent in higher education for a few decades now.

Let's imagine that you are an author or publisher in the 1960s, before the advent of large scale used textbook companies. Perhaps you have a deal to write, publish, market, and distribute a new sociology textbook and you plan to give it an update every 10 years.  You estimate that the book will sell X number of copies a year at Y number of Universities.  You plan your price and update based on 10 years of royalties and a fairly constant stream of sales.

Now, imagine, in year 5, a used bookstore moves on to campus, buys back previous year's used books, and resells them the following year.  You, the publisher or author, now make 0 for every used book sold.  You have lost 5 years of revenue that you were counting on and that factored in to your original price of the textbook. 

What recourse do the publishing companies and author's have?

Well, one would be legal: try and claim some royalties on used textbooks.  Yet, this has been unsuccessful up to this point. 

The only recourse left to publishers and authors are 1) to raise the original textbook price, and 2) update the edition more frequently rendering the previous edition obsolete.  

So, now, after two posts, how do you see it?

1 comment: