No clever title, this

Fri 13 Jan 2012 11:12 PM

Here is a despairing rant about the cost of textbooks and how my attempts to do something about it have been frustrated by bullshit:

I wrote forall x because existing logic textbooks were ridiculously expensive and were rapidly reissued in new editions so as to kill the market for cheaper, used copies. My book is written to be a physical book. It has practice problems, solutions in the back, reference tables, and content which is best accessed by thumbing back and forth between various sections. So I allowed students to buy it as a course packet, paying only the printing cost.

Because other people beyond just my students might want to use it, I made it available for download on the internet. Faculty at dozens of schools have used it as a course text, and lots of people have used it for independent study. To reiterate, electronic availability was just for distribution to the broader world.

When the copy shop across the street from campus closed, I let the campus bookstore sell the course packet. The first semester I did this, they charged a reasonable $10. The second semester, they jacked that up to $20 without letting me know. So I started using the copy center on campus instead. Last year, the copy center closed. The only place that will sell course packets off campus is several miles away, and students grouse if I ask them to schlepp over there.

So for this coming semester, I asked the campus bookstore to determine how much they would charge. The answer: $27.15. For 160 pages. That are covered by an open license. I was told, "That price is solely based on production costs."

My reply: "The course packet service you are using simply lies about production costs. It's the worst kind of bullshit."

So I am just going to point students to the PDF and encourage them to print their own copy. Many of them won't, which will be a mistake. They would do better in the course if they had the textbook in an accessible form. Working practice problems on scratch paper is easier with a workbook than in front of a computer screen. But they could pay 15 cents a page for printing and still save money over what the bookstore would have charged.


from: Matt Brown

Sat 14 Jan 2012 08:04 PM

Could you use an online printing service, something like It looks it would sell it for about $12 a copy that way.

from: P.D.

Sat 14 Jan 2012 09:15 PM

Matt: The downside would be that either (a) students would need to wait to have the books shipped to them or (b) I would have to front the money for a case of books and sell them myself. I am somewhat tempted by the latter route.

However, the fact that Lulu can sell it for $12-ish is what makes $27-ish such bullshit.