A Textbook Scam


For years, it has been standard practice in the college-textbook biz to churn out “new editions” of textbooks, even in such slow-moving fields such as formal logic or metaphysics. In fact, in order to even get a textbook contract with most publishers, profs have to agree to produce x-number of new editions within a set period of time — typically, something like three editions in five years.

Everyone knows it is bogus, that the sole purpose of the new edition is to undercut the used textbook market; it’s effectively a tuition surtax on students (or their parents) that gets paid directly to profs and publishers.

Now some colleges in the US are going one better: They’re publishing department-specific textbooks — usually some standard text with an added chapter that consists of something like the department style guide — and printing an (illegal) notice on the book that reads “This book may not be bought or sold used.” The publisher then sends a royalty (aka a kickback) to the department, which usually forgets to tell the students about this arrangement.

Real classy stuff. Attention students and profs — anyone know of anything like this going on in Canada? Send me private emails if you like.

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A Textbook Scam

  1. Oh yeah.
    Not aware of the latest scam that you mention.

    But back in the middle ice age when I actually
    had to deal with this nonsense it drove me nuts.
    Change a caption to the picture on page 214 and
    call it a new edition.
    I usually had access to an “older” edition and
    went to the bookstore,compared,and absent any
    substantial difference just went with the “old”.

    Some profs tried to overcome that by “selling”
    directly in the class. That led to some confrontations,but that was just mostly fun.

  2. Happens a lot. Can’t blame the publishers or the universities.

    Software companies have been churning out upgrades. Movie companies make sequels. Cell phone companies bring out version IIs and whatnots.

    Got to make profits, somehow.

  3. I was always surprised by how little this happened to me during an English/History degree. (Queen’s 01-05, where there is a notably monopolistic campus bookstore.)
    A couple of shameless self-plugs in first-year aside, I got by largely on Penguins and photocopies.
    Obviously, these are subjects where one can do such a thing, but I did notice the care not to make us buy a huge new Norton each year.

  4. Yeah, it’s called Bill C-61.

  5. Happened to me in Community College way back in early 90’s.

    Not only were the prices outrageous, they were just cheap loose leaf papers bound with plastic springs. High price, low quality.

    Upside was, after the course was done they were very easy to send through the shredder.

  6. I have nothing against the textbook companies trying to make a buck. What I do have a problem with are things like the “it is illegal to sell this textbook or buy it used” Potter mentioned – lies, in other words, intended to intimidate or bewilder slower-witted students.

    Luckily, if you do your research online before buying a textbook, a lot of the time you can find whether it is essentially the same as the previous version, and then you know what to do.

  7. I recall a certain European publisher charging an arm and a leg ($100+) for a book by Edmund Husserl during my time as a student at a university in Central Ontario, as they were the only publisher with rights to the translation. Fortunately the instructor of the course recognized extortion when he saw it and made arrangements to provide copies to the class for a nominal fee.

  8. Edmund Husserl died in 1938, so no one has “exclusive rights” to his works in Canada (or most of the world for that matter) any more. Even in Europe, with its overly long term of copyright, the “exclusive” rights will end this year.

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