Drugs and Textbooks

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A recent New York Times article I cam across compared Textbook companies to Drug companies. “They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.”

I COMPLETELY agree. And yes, I completely realize I am looking at this from the biased student perspective and not seeing the other side (i.e. what the money goes to) however these books are TOO expensive. I paid $100 PLUS tax for a Communications textbook! I was too upset about that but it was the new edition of the book so there were no used editions online that I could purchase at a discount rate. I of course had to give in and pay $100 for a text book.

The article proposes however, instead of buying these textbooks, just download them– for free. Companies and professors are working toward making their material available and downloadable online. This is definitely the way to go because 1- It saves paper (meaning the actual paper and also money) 2- Its more economically sufficient because you do not have to constantly re print new books when a new edition is released.

Sigh…. we can only wait until one day this is reality. The article gives further details on outlets that have some textbooks available now. Expand post or click HERE to read that article.


LINK:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/technology/15link.html?pagewanted=1&em

LINK BY LINK
Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free

By NOAM COHEN

SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.

It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

“The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,” he said. “There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.”

In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.

“This market is not working very well — except for the shareholders in the textbook publishers,” he said. “We have lots of knowledge, but we are not getting it out.”

While still on the periphery of the academic world, his volume, “Introduction to Economic Analysis,” is being used at some colleges, including Harvard and Claremont-McKenna, a private liberal arts college in Claremont, Calif..

And that, in a nutshell, is a big difference between textbook publishers and the drug makers. Sure, there have been scientists with Professor McAfee’s attitude — Jonas Salk was asked who owned the patent to the polio vaccine and scoffed: “Could you patent the sun?”

For the textbook makers, however, it is a different story. Professor McAfee allows anyone to download a Word file or PDF of his book, while also taking advantage of the growing marketplace for print on demand.

In true economist fashion, he has allowed two companies, Lulu and Flat World Knowledge, to sell print versions of his textbook, with Lulu charging $11 and Flat World anywhere from $19.95 to $59.95. As he said on his Web site, he is keeping the multiple options to “further constrain their ability to engage in monopoly pricing.”

A broader effort to publish free textbooks is called Connexions, which was the brainchild of Richard G. Baraniuk, an engineering professor at Rice University, which has received $6 million from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. In addition to being a repository for textbooks covering a wide range of subjects and educational levels, its ethic is taken from the digital music world, he said — rip, burn and mash.

Unlike other projects that share course materials, notably OpenCourseWare at M.I.T., Connexions uses broader Creative Commons license allowing students and teachers to rewrite and edit material as long as the originator is credited. Teachers put up material, called “modules,” and then mix and match their work with others’ to create a collection of material for students. “We are changing textbook publishing from a pipeline to an ecosystem,” he said.

Like Professor McAfee, Professor Baraniuk says he decided to share his material while writing a textbook.

“If I had finished my own book, I would have finished a couple years ago,” he said. “It would have taken five years. It would have spent five years in print and sold 2,000 copies.” Instead, he said, he posted it on the Web site and there have been 2.8 million page views of his textbook, “Signals and Systems,” including a translation into Spanish.

Connexions is strongest in statistics and electrical engineering — areas with technologically advanced students and a greater need to update material than, say, works on medieval history. He said there were 850,000 unique users a month, with more than 50 percent of the traffic originating from outside the United States.

“It’s anyone’s guess as to when we will break through,” he said.

Continue reading here: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/15/technology/15link.html?pagewanted=2&em

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