Publishers are 21st century bandits

Cartoon by Nick Briceno

Cartoon by Nick Briceno

Instructors often get criticism for assigning textbooks they wrote, but the bigger villains are textbook publishers.

It is usually not the instructor taking advantage of their students, but the publishing industry. Textbooks have become incredibly expensive and publishers have only made it harder for students to afford their course materials by making it so students have to constantly buy new editions and online keys.

Used books, those crumpled and dog-eared manuscripts of higher learning, are more rare than white rhinos. Book publishers have hunted them to the brink of extinction because they cannot make money off them.

Publishers will always make more than the writers, who are lucky to get 10 percent of sales in royalties. Most textbooks can earn their authors from 6 to 10 percent in royalties. So for even the most expensive textbooks —the $200-$300 beasts—might only receive $20-$50 per textbook sold. Thankfully, most textbooks only cost around $40.

Though it is easier to blame an instructor for an expensive book rather than an unseen publisher, it is not the instructor’s fault that many textbooks cost an arm and a leg…and a torso and a head.

While some provide free files of their book, other instructors go the distance to alleviate the cost of textbooks by providing their students with photocopies of the relevant information.

Not all textbooks are created equal and an instructor might be compelled to write a book that more accurately fits the course material. Instructors have a right to choose their course material and in some cases their own work works best.

If an instructor can craft a tome that fits his course, then it would be more valuable than a textbook that has chapters-worth of dead weight.

It is completely legal for instructors to assign textbooks that they will earn royalties from, but many colleges have rules to remove any tint of impropriety.

Some colleges require permission from the dean, school president or department chair before an instructor can assign their own work, and others make the instructors donate their royalties to charities or otherwise give away the money.

An instructor that is both an expert in the subject and a good writer should write textbooks. Whether they actually make their students buy the book is a different matter.

Publishers commit highway robbery by using unfair tactics that make textbook rentals and used books obsolete. An instructor who wants a clear conscience will go the extra mile to make sure that their textbook is not an excuse for publishers to take advantage of their students.


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