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Old 01-18-2009, 05:41 PM   #1
random50
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Why are academic publishers so greedy?

I've been watching the number of available kindle books in my area (graduate mathematics) gradually grow. However, the prices are ridiculous. Hard copy books have always been expensive with publishers blaming the high costs of limited number runs (the authors themselves tend to get next to nothing). OK, fair enough, perhaps, although Dover somehow manage to publish at a fraction of the price. But how do they justify *still* charging $100+ for an old book when the production costs to them are essentially zero? It certainly has nothing to do with Kindle formatting since it's painfully apparent they have done *absolutely nothing*, not even flicking through the Kindle version themselves before publishing - in many cases, every other page contains equations which are totally unreadable in every font size.
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Old 01-18-2009, 05:43 PM   #2
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They have always been greedy. Why do you think a new edition comes out every 2-3 years? They don't profit from used books.

Oh, and the teachers are just as bad. They use their own books for class, and will lie and say the books are only available online and don't tell the bookstores, so they still get the profits.
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Old 01-18-2009, 06:04 PM   #3
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That's true at the undergraduate level. At the graduate level, new editions are published far less frequently and are usually a genuine improvement when they are. (The "changes" I see made to the undergraduate books I'm ordered to teach from are sickeningly pointless) I *thought* the attitude was different, but perhaps not.

There is one consolation, perhaps - if they continue with their price gouging tactics they are going to find themselves in exactly the same predicament as the music industry, killing the goose that lays the golden egg. Given that many of the profs are getting little or often no financial reward for authoring these titles (again, different to undergrad books where they make a killing), I wonder why they use the publishers?

Last edited by random50; 01-18-2009 at 06:09 PM.
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Old 01-18-2009, 06:20 PM   #4
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I think it is wrong to suggest that academic publishers are more greedy than any other publishers. This would imply that particularly greedy people gravitate to that segment of the publishing industry or that publishing non-fiction rather than fiction somehow makes someone greedier. The correct question to ask is how are academic publishers able to charge more than other publishers. I think the answer is rather simple: (a) they have a government granted monopoly (copyright) on the product and (b) they have a trapped customer base because students often require the exact textbook to complete their course. Textbooks are usually highly imperfect substitutes because the material is different and lecturers often require students to complete exercises from the book. Thus students are trapped into buying from the one publisher and there is no competition to drive down prices.
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Old 01-18-2009, 06:32 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by epiphany View Post
I think it is wrong to suggest that academic publishers are more greedy than any other publishers. This would imply that particularly greedy people gravitate to that segment of the publishing industry or that publishing non-fiction rather than fiction somehow makes someone greedier. The correct question to ask is how are academic publishers able to charge more than other publishers. I think the answer is rather simple: (a) they have a government granted monopoly (copyright) on the product and (b) they have a trapped customer base because students often require the exact textbook to complete their course. Textbooks are usually highly imperfect substitutes because the material is different and lecturers often require students to complete exercises from the book. Thus students are trapped into buying from the one publisher and there is no competition to drive down prices.

Actually, the academic press as you are experiencing it IS the result of a consolidation (led by Springer Verlag and a few others) effectuated precisely to allow the remaining publishers to make more money by raising prices against very limited competition.

Sometimes, even paranoid delusions are accurate.
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Old 01-18-2009, 06:32 PM   #6
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Yes, agreed. It seems slightly odd, though, that the situation isn't changing faster. Most profs are well aware of what the publishers are up to and they are (mostly) firmly opposed to it. The technology exists to circumvent this racket. I'd have thought there's even plenty of economic incentive - surely it must be possible to undercut the cartel and still make serious profits?
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Old 01-18-2009, 07:12 PM   #7
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Actually, the academic press as you are experiencing it IS the result of a consolidation (led by Springer Verlag and a few others) effectuated precisely to allow the remaining publishers to make more money by raising prices against very limited competition.

Sometimes, even paranoid delusions are accurate.
While fewer publishers is a plausible explanation for less competition (and higher prices), it still doesn't demonstrate that academic publishers are greedier than other publishers. Do you think that if non-academic publishers were able to merge and make more money they would choose not to in the interests of the consumer?

I think that there are still too many players in the game for some sort of cartel arrangement to explain the high prices. For one thing it would be pretty easy for other publishers to start publishing academic texts if there were easy profits to be made. I suspect that some academic publishers merged more out of economic necessity than some nefarious scheme to reduce competition.

I guess a relatively easy way to test the theory that academic publishers charge more just because they are greedy is to look at the prices of some of the popular books they are publishing. My prediction: because people choose to read popular non-fiction books rather than being forced to for their degree, they can be selective and competition will drive prices low.

Quote:
It seems slightly odd, though, that the situation isn't changing faster. Most profs are well aware of what the publishers are up to and they are (mostly) firmly opposed to it. The technology exists to circumvent this racket. I'd have thought there's even plenty of economic incentive - surely it must be possible to undercut the cartel and still make serious profits?
Again I argue that the professors are the cause of the "racket" because they face no economic incentive to set cheaper books for their class texts. Usually lecturers receive review copies for free so I bet most lecturers don't even know the price of the books they are setting as required reading.
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Old 01-18-2009, 09:19 PM   #8
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Again I argue that the professors are the cause of the "racket" because they face no economic incentive to set cheaper books for their class texts. Usually lecturers receive review copies for free so I bet most lecturers don't even know the price of the books they are setting as required reading.
That's not always true.
I certainly know the price of textbooks because it shows up automatically, along with all the other details, when I am compiling my electronic course reading lists.
And students are quite canny in my part of the world. They have been known to opt for courses with cheaper set books.
I've got every sympathy with them, so use PD texts whenever possible, and mention free electronic versions, when they are available.
I also label the items on my reading lists as "essential", "useful for lectures 1 and 2", "useful background reading" etc. This helps the students to prioritise.
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Old 01-21-2009, 07:14 PM   #9
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To be fair, most academic texts have a very limited market. It's not like they sell many of these books to the general public, theres only a few thousand students each year for some of the books. But yeah, very expensive and very hard for students to obtain.
Technology like e-books should bring the cost back to something reasonable.
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Old 01-23-2009, 01:37 PM   #10
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To be fair, most academic texts have a very limited market. It's not like they sell many of these books to the general public, theres only a few thousand students each year for some of the books. But yeah, very expensive and very hard for students to obtain.
Technology like e-books should bring the cost back to something reasonable.
Yes, it *should*, but the early signs are it won't make any difference at all in the US market. They are simply pricing printed and ebooks at the same level. How long before academic authors simply start self-publishing? That's the route I'd be taking. It would serve the academic publishers right.

I've heard publishers in the German academic market have been embracing the obvious discounted pricing model much more readily, although my source for that is purely anecdotal.
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Old 01-23-2009, 02:34 PM   #11
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For the same reason a University can cram over 100 students into a three hour course survey course at $200-1000/hr (maybe more) depending on the institution AND have it taught by a grad student making a pittance and that may or may not have passable (insert local country language here).

At the low end, that brings in $60,000 in revenue on a class they pay a grad student maybe $2000 to teach. Higher education economics baffle me completely.

The reason they charge ridiculous prices - because they can.
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Old 01-23-2009, 06:24 PM   #12
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I think the prices a little bit and and should be significantly cheaper than the pBook versions... BUt I can understand why the ebooks are more expensive.

It's completely different to write a novella or a physics book.
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Old 02-01-2009, 11:15 PM   #13
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Not Kindle related, but I just bought a book for school.

Brand new it is $210 and used it is $150. So as I was looking at the used copies trying to find one in good shape a kid saw me looking at them and says "I sold mine back at the end of last semester... they gave me $30 for it".

Academic publishers are greedy but the Universities are pretty friggin greedy too.
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Old 02-02-2009, 08:42 AM   #14
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Not Kindle related, but I just bought a book for school.

Brand new it is $210 and used it is $150. So as I was looking at the used copies trying to find one in good shape a kid saw me looking at them and says "I sold mine back at the end of last semester... they gave me $30 for it".

Academic publishers are greedy but the Universities are pretty friggin greedy too.
I can help explain that.

If the bookstore hasn't been told yet that the book will be used next semester, then you will get the "Wholesale" price. That means the textbook company thinks there is a chance it will get used somewhere soon (in the country). If they do know it is getting used, you'll get around 50% of the used price. Textbook stores have a lot of overhead too (stealing is a really big problem).
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