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Old 08-10-2008, 02:14 AM   #16
rlc
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I've registered to comment on the subject.

My grandmother is a university professor who has published her own textbooks and frequently contributes chapters to other textbooks and I've spoken to her about academic publishing very frequently.
In academic publishing, profit is not a consideration for the authors(this may be slightly different for the rare author who writes a seminal work in the field). Instead, publishing is done for prestige. For instance, for contributing a chapter to a book will typically only get you a copy. Publish your own textbook and you may earn about 300$.

It is the publishing houses who drive up prices, but greed still isn't the only factor here. The most i've paid for a book was $240 for my freshman organic chemistry class. It was a new edition and cost about 60$ more than the previous one, and the price set off a minor scandal in the class. Eventually one of the publishing reps can and talked to us. The price hikes were a result of some new highly technical pictures that the publishing house had to heavily invest in some specialized equipment to produce. Publishing is expensive. of course it also came out that the school was getting kickbacks from the publishing house, but thats a seperate issue.

Aside from textbooks, academic publishing is rapidly dying. If one were a history professor and wanted to publish a monogrpah, they would have an extremely difficult time trying to find a publisher. And the price of the book would be exorbitant. A regular sized book of about 400 pages might cost $200. It used to be tradition for the other professors in a department to buy a copy of a book one of their colleagues publishes, but this is no longer done because of prices. Indeed, it isn't even certain that the uni library will buy a copy of the book.

The same issue is with scholarly journals. For a journal that might put out 4 issues in a year, a library subscription might be 300-400 dollars.


The fact is that it is expensive to run a specialized press. You have to charge very high prices to recoup costs. Additionally publishing houses(even academic presses) are typically profit driven businesses.

The answer of course is electronic distribution. Academic publishing houses and university presses need to reevaluate their mission. The expense in formatting a tex document to distribute is miniscule compared to the price of running a press. Prices for the consumer should adjust accordingly.
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Old 08-10-2008, 04:39 AM   #17
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rlc,

I too an a textbook author and I really have to disagree with you about electronic distribution being "the answer". Printing is minor component of the cost of a textbook; it's a combination of very low sales (compared with fiction) and very high production costs which make them expensive. In the example you mention above, the "specialised equipment" to produce a technical illustration would still have been required whether that picture ends up on paper or in an electronic document.

Electronic distribution would knock a few $ or perhaps 10s of $ off prices. You're never going to get $5 organic chemistry textbooks.
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Old 08-10-2008, 12:25 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by HarryT View Post
Electronic distribution would knock a few $ or perhaps 10s of $ off prices. You're never going to get $5 organic chemistry textbooks.
Perhaps not yet, but through Connexions, you can get a $20 textbook, hardcover. I haven't evaluated their printing facilities in comparison with larger commercial operations so I can't speak to the difference in quality, but my impression from Baraniuk's talk is that the price is obviated by the print-on-demand architecture combined with a complete (and voluntary, and legal) disregard for contributor monetary remuneration.

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[. . .] it's a combination of very low sales (compared with fiction) and very high production costs which make them expensive. In the example you mention above, the "specialised equipment" to produce a technical illustration would still have been required whether that picture ends up on paper or in an electronic document.
I offer a trade in theoretical costs, Harry: we've been ignoring the cost of commissioning artwork, which I don't think is yet taken into account by Connexions (and would require the same prestige imperatives of academe or the same altruism of progressive pedagogy; this is something that the Creative Commons movement may solve, but I don't think we're there yet). I will admit this cost, but I think it fair that you should admit, where digital transmission (even legal, golly-whiz) is involved, the fancier things we can do with print technology, such as transparent overlays and super high-resolution, can be achieved with current image and video embedding technology, and can be produced for a nominal fee if not gratis by the author of these materials with equipment and software owned/licensed by his or her institution. What say you?

(Also, in honest curiosity and full cordiality, I was wondering what your field of study is, Harry. I didn't realise this was an area touching you personally, and if I've hurt your feelings with my approach in this conversation, please accept my sincere apologies.)

Last edited by Danny Fekete; 08-10-2008 at 12:27 PM.
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Old 08-10-2008, 12:34 PM   #19
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You can't make a blanket statement to that effect - it depends on "intent". If you download for the purpose of commercial resale, that it then criminal copyright violation and you can go to jail for it.

Downloading for personal use only, however, is a civil offence, and "merely" carries a fine.
This is also a blanket statement. It depends in which country you live in.
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Old 08-10-2008, 12:52 PM   #20
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(Also, in honest curiosity and full cordiality, I was wondering what your field of study is, Harry. I didn't realise this was an area touching you personally, and if I've hurt your feelings with my approach in this conversation, please accept my sincere apologies.)
You haven't hurt my feelings in the slightest - I welcome open discussion of this or any other subject. Physics is my field (or used to be, to be more honest; I've given up the physics and the textbook writing these days).
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Old 08-11-2008, 01:39 PM   #21
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Piracy isn't going to fix the problem, really, just bypass it for some students. The real fix would have to start with the faculty - students need to talk to them and get them to either pay more attention to pricing, or to look at textbooks distributed outside traditional publishing venues (like some creative commons textbooks that can be freely downloaded or printed cheaply - there aren't a lot, but there are indeed some like that being used at ivy league schools, written by professors, and that underwent peer review before release).
I'd like to see textbooks distributed as ebooks with a reasonable price for the book rolled into the fees for the class. Ideally, schools could give price breaks or even free books to students with financial need.
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Old 08-13-2008, 09:32 PM   #22
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Whether the publishers like it or not, Ebook textbooks are here to stay! Granted the publishers will lose money on succeeding editions, however they can still make money on E-updates. This will definitely help the student and the schools, think of how easy it will be to update a textbook, just plug into a USB and hit update!!
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