Fighting over textbooks… More OA please?

People going undercover to get an edge in the bloody academic textbook market? Yup. According to a recent article in the Chronicle for Higher Education competition is fierce among book stores who are working hard to tap into our student loans.  Mytelka writes,

“The competitors for students’ textbook business are, on the one hand, several local independent booksellers, and on the other, the university bookstore, which is run under contract by the Follett Higher Education Group, the nation’s largest collegiate-bookstore chain.

It seems that a number of professors at the public university would prefer to give business to the local bookstores rather than to the Follett-run university store, so they provide their required reading lists — a prerequisite for ordering books ahead of time — only to the independent store owners.”

So theres another interesting side effect I’d have never imagined of making course reading lists available online well in advance. What really surprises me however is how little talk of open access publishing follows in the blog posts comments. Local book stores however might be hurt by OA publishing, unless they can be integrated into preparing course packs/OA material… I often prefer to have a hardcopy so I can read more easily in a cafe. Maybe they don’t want to turn into Kinko’s, but with all the OA material they could move in on the publishers terrain.

The discussion that followed the post points to the need for cheaper textbooks. One reader expresses his disdain for publishers strategies to fight the second hand book trade,

“Having worked my way through grad school at a local bookseller that carried textbooks, I need to chime in…the way publishers behave – new editions every year, homework websites with codes that can only be used once per book, and the like, I actually understand the impulse to pirate.”

Why pirate… At least when we get some more OOOAAA….

I enjoy sitting around in a bookstore so I feel for smaller bookstores who might benefit from the academic textbook system… At the same time, I really *hate* constant new editions of texts. Just update it online and make it available there. Bookstores might be able to find a way to thrive making OA material accessible in printed form.

6 responses to this post.

  1. Another good post.

    I wanted to add a few things. We have distortions of the Canadian Copyright Act in practice in Canada, that work to favour publishers and the unscrupulous private collectives that have sprung up to cash in — you pay them each time you buy a coursepack. This is the distortion: the Copyright Act clearly states that (1) the majority of a work, still under copyright, cannot be copied; (2) that “fair dealing” means you cannot charge a fee to those who use an item for personal study, research, reflection, etc. In addition, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled AGAINST restrictive interpretations of the Act, and warned against anyone trying to narrow the provisions of the law. Now here we are at Concordia University, where the university’s lawyers signed off on a deal, very suspiciously, with COPIBEC, which is a very narrow interpretation of the law (something like 25 pages, or one chapter, or 15% of a work) and anything over that requires extra fees to be paid. The university’s lawyers told me in writing that this agreement is like law now, because it is a contract. My response was: let’s hope that contract killings are on the decline then, because it seems they would supersede the law criminalizing murder. I asked them why they signed off on such a poor deal since it in no way benefits Concordia. NO ANSWER. I also indicated that COPIBEC purports to collect fees for authors…and yet years after, I have received nothing, and yet they have taken money in my name. Can anyone say RACKET?

    Ok, so it’s up to you students to do something about this, like…let’s see…RIOT perhaps?

    To make matters a little worse: students then say they would like to coursepacks so they can do readings in cafes. Alright…so what prevents you from doing the printing???

    I have gone to all-free, digitized readings online recently, for all my courses, in a way that neither COPIBEC, Concordia, nor Canada itself can claim any kind of jurisdiction whatsoever. I realize there will be students who complain, “I wish it were printed for me,” and my response to that is: f–king hell, you people are never satisfied by anything, and f–k me if you ever think about the consequences of your preferences.

    So there is my daily rant. I hope students do something about the COPIBEC scam that increases the costs of their studies, because on my own I have done everything possible already and have exhausted all options. The ball is in your court now.


  2. Doesn’t publishing in OA journals skip around this issue? Or if such an OA article is printed in the coursepack is there a magical charge anyway?


  3. OA journals are all still relatively young, and few in number and prestige in Anglophone anthropology. So this seems to be a very long-term solution, and a partial one at that since we would also need open access books.

    About the second question, I am not sure. It seems that these coursepacks are being produced for profit, and that adds a new dynamic. In the 1980s, they were produced at cost, and there was no debate over who should divide the spoils.

    What I fail to understand is why students don’t want to print the materials themselves, or why it is that they cannot read these materials on a computer screen (when you can magnify text to ridiculous proportions and manipulate text in a way you can’t do on paper). After all, some spend hours in Facebook, chat rooms, etc., and suddenly reading text on a screen is a problem?

    What I suspect is that some just don’t want the bother of having to print items, since it means keeping track of the readings to begin with and already a large minority of students have a serious problem just reminding themselves of which readings are due, let alone actually reading them.


  4. But I want an everlasting gob-stopper now, Daddy. Printing takes time and energy. I do think the younger ones read online more easily. My 18 year old does. She doesn’t mind ebooks. But she never got an everlasting gob-stopper just because she whined her want, either.


  5. I love your points. Thanks Pamthropologist and Max!

    Online archives filled with OA articles -> assign reading list, go to Kinko’s and baam, course pack. The student printing center downstairs lets students ask for materials on a per class basis, with OA articles they could provide those too.

    Oh, and I print articles because they are slow reads. I need to be *really* interested in something to read it through online.

    So when it comes to class readings, I’d rather print it and not have a Google search bar antagonizing me to escape.

    Aside from books, I am reading everything for this thesis online however… but it’s much easier for me to stay interested.


  6. Posted by NT on December 6, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    When available I purchase older edition books and used textbooks and have saved a reasonable amount of money.

    While I have successfully used a few of the sites listed here I would like to add one of my favorites . The site caries a number of US Edition and International Edition college textbooks that are priced well below discounted books on other sites. The trick with International Edition College Textbooks is that although they have the same content as US books they are typically printed on paperback and often in black and white print in order to save the cost of manufacturing.

    If you are lucky and they carry your textbooks it will save lots of money but make sure you have ample time because it can take up to 2 weeks to get delivery.


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