About the only segment of print publishing that’s still consistently profitable these days is textbooks. However, it appears that the publishing industry is effectively shooting itself in the proverbial foot. Soon that juicy source of revenue is going to dry up.
Over at Heavenly Gardens Community College, we’re planning to stop requiring our magazine-writing students to buy a textbook. Instead, we’ll replace the text content with links to websites that offer the same information for free.
Meanwhile, I signed up for a program that will allow me to rewrite my composition section using an elaborate online educational resource, one of whose segments contains a comprehensive library of writing instruction. Don’t know if the students have to pay to get into that, but I suspect it will be provided with the course for the cost of tuition. Or for not much more than that.
The feature-writing text costs $62 plus shipping if you buy it at Amazon; $59 in a Kindle version. I’m sorry, but that thing is not worth sixty-two bucks! It’s a $25 paperback.
The comp text is A HUNDRED AND TWENTY DOLLARS new. Can you imagine? The thing contains nothing more than the usual freshman-comp litany, some sample essays from various newspapers and magazines, and a few decorative photos. It is certainly not worth $120, or $67 used. It’s a horrible rip-off!
The reason textbook publishers get away with this is obvious: a captive audience. To succeed in most courses, students pretty much have to buy the textbook. Prices are kept high by churning out repeated “new” editions — our comp text is now in its 11th(!) edition; the only changes made were to the selections of sample essays. This gets around the problem of reselling, which takes money out of publishers’ and authors’ pockets. When retailer resells a textbook, no revenues are remitted to the publisher.
Faculty as well as students have had a bellyful of that kind of exploitation. So schools are moving away from print texts to digital media.
Personally, I’m not pleased at the prospect of having to spend the summer — for free — rewriting two courses to fit online sources. This will take many, many hours, and all of those hours will be unpaid. But from an altruistic point of view, it will be worth the effort. Students are saddled with enough tuition debt without having to mortgage their firstborn sons and daughters to buy the textbooks.
But it won’t last, you know. Just imagine the dollars to be made by mounting textbook content online, in smorgasbord fashion, and charging users for access! Eventually I imagine the cost will rise right back up to where textbooks are now. But for the time being, maybe we can faze at least one cohort of students past the Scylla of Greed and the Charybdis of Exploitation.
I freelanced an article for the Chicago Tribune some years back and a textbook publisher asked for reprint rights. Payment was $2,000.
The publisher has repurchased the rights twice since then. In other words, I’ve earned $6,000 for one medium-sized features article. No wonder textbooks cost so much.
Lordie! That is AMAZING! When I published The Essential Feature through Columbia, we didn’t pay anything even faintly like that. I think the most we paid was around a hundred bucks, but some people — including a couple of Pulitzer candidates — gave us permission to use them for free.