THE BLOG

Talkin' Bout a Textbook Revolution

11/16/2012 10:56 pm ET | Updated Jan 16, 2013

Please indulge me and imagine a regular workday for Textbook Publisher A. High-speed internet, a barrage of emails and a box of Cubans because it's Friday. No, we will not disclose pricing information to you, dear professor. No, we will not unbundle this bundle, lowly student -- you need these DRM protected glow in the dark atoms to understand nuclear energy. Or something to this effect.

Textbook publishing is a sector of the industry unlike any other. New editions are published frequently, though in some cases the textbook has not been substantially edited to warrant a new release. Students are then obliged to purchase the latest edition in lieu of last year's cheaper, albeit "outdated," book. House sales reps aren't always forthcoming about price hikes from one edition to another, leading professors to consult Amazon as the more informative, less expensive resource. Students, too, revisit Amazon each book buying season with the hope of catching a price break.

Professors have given up on working with publishers and are now looking for ways to teach without them. Open-source textbooks, which are free for students to use and easy for professors to update, are becoming increasingly popular at the college level. Adding insult to injury, many professors advocate buying books on Amazon for the discounts alone. Textbook publishers should show some initiative rather than allow business to shift towards online retailers. They ought to consider how digital products and services can justify new editions and maximize course adoptions. Free access to educational software might even be an incentive to students who are considering buying a textbook elsewhere.

If I had any kind of say, things would be different (apart from Cuban Fridays). Call me naïve, call me a socialist, but things would be ethical. Textbook publishing is a business with profit margins and stock options, but at its core it is a business that provides a great service to students. These publishers have a responsibility to deliver quality educational material that is commensurate with the price of inflation. Students are already under great financial pressure and textbook publishers aren't helping. Frankly, my dear, they don't give a damn.