And We Wonder Why Textbooks are So Expensive

Tindall_2My blogging buddy Rebecca Goetz blogged about this some time ago [scroll down], but given what happened yesterday I just had to chime in.  Yesterday our department received two packages from Norton publishers.  I received one and my department chair the other.  Both packages included the second edition of Eric Foner’s Give Me Liberty! which I am currently using in my AP classes.  Keep in mind that my department chair does not teach American history so she gave me her copy.  Also in her package was a copy of the 7th edition of America: A Historical Narrative by Tindall and Shi.  Since she has no use for the book she gave it to me.  That makes two copies of the 7th ed., one copy of the 6th ed., and one copy of the Fourth ed. that are currently gracing my bookshelves here at school.  Keep in mind that I’ve received these books over the past two years.  Has Tindall and Shi really changed that much that they feel a need to send multiple copies to people who will never use it in class. 

Why not send emails out to instructors and professors asking if they are interested in receiving sample copies.  By the way the hardcover version of Give Me Liberty! is $97.50 while America: A Historical Narrative is $50.  I can’t tell you how much fun it is when a textbook representative calls me only to hear that I don’t use them in half of my classes.  There is this awkward pause followed by the uneasy question, "So what do you do in those classes?"  Ten minutes later he wished he never asked that question.

4 comments add yours

  1. It is much worse at the college level. Each semester I get 10-20 unsolicited textbooks and readers. Plus CD test banks, instructors’ manuals and various detritus from the textbook-industrial complex.

    This flood over overpriced and unwanted material has produced a new kind of information worker, the independent book buyer. Twice a semester Fred comes by with a engaging smile, a UPC barcode scanner, and a big wad of bills. At first I would not sell the books, I gave them to education majors for their lesson planning. But it turns out they didn’t really use them. So Fred and I have become friendly.

    It is a terrible scam.

  2. I stopped teaching survey courses 1.5 years ago, but still receive numerous textbook solicitations—via e-mail and copies of the books themselves.

    The cost of textbooks is a MAJOR problem. I regret having used them in my past courses. If I were Professor Foner, I’d be ashamed of the cost of “Liberty” (hah! Sorry, I couldn’t resist the joke).

    If textbooks were cheaper, then we could afford to follow the advice of Aldous Huxley: namely, stop lecturing. Until that day comes, using more inexpensive books or lecturing seem to be the only alternatives.

    As an aside, at least in great books programs you usually purchase a book you’ll want to keep. With that in mind, Kevin, in a way your textbook-less course is a kind of “great history books” course, yes? Your Joseph Ellis post made me think of this. – TL

  3. I spent over $700 buying the textbooks for my two daughters’ high school classes for this year. Most of the books were used, and some classes didn’t require a textbook at all. The priciest of course were the big cloth texts for classes like World History and math, but then there were also the classes like Language Arts and French that required expensive large paperback workbooks that had to be new. Yes, my daughters go to a private school, so if we can afford that then we should be able to afford the books. No one needs to pull out their violin for us. Still, school districts buy many of these texts for the public schools, and even at a discounted rate, the taxpayers are shelling out a lot for them.

  4. Before we bash publishers relentlessly, we might want to remind ourselves that the used book market has a lot to do with this. Since there are no royalties on resold books, publishers (and authors) have to make a killing on the first sale. This helps explain why they make books that fall apart (and thus cannot be resold) or “revised” editions (to kill off the market for older editions). That in turn explains why some text conceptrs work better than others (it’s hard to revise biographies as a rule).

    We recently got a great deal of pressure from our university to set forth our book request lists early. That came from the bookstores, who want to be as efficient as possible in buying back and reselling books. They claimed it was all about the students. It was all about the giant college and university textbook resellers.

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