On Campus

A textbook scam: Potter

Some book publishers giving kickbacks to US colleges

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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