Sunday, September 28, 2008

If only "Classical Greek Influence on Renaissance Architecture" were edible....

...then it might be of more value to students

Textbook publishers are assholes.

I've been lucky and smart and planned ahead enough through the last 4 years to have got by without buying hardly any more texts than I have needed all the way through. Nevertheless, in my first year I still fell prey to peer pressure and people telling me that I must buy overpriced bundles of paper and cardboard so that I could pass the course, then proceeded to leave them right where I could reach them, above my desk. That was where they stayed all year.

Fully acknowledging my hypocrisy here, I still shake my head when seeing all the freshman students at the start of the year lining up to buy their armful of $100 + biology, chemistry, physics, and math textbooks that I know sometimes do not even get the shrinkwrap removed before the course ends. I can only hope that it teaches them the same thing it taught me, and that's to never buy a text until you find yourself in genuine need. What would be better if they figured it out beforehand, but as I experienced as well, no matter how many times you hear you should wait before buying them, the pressure gets too much and you cave, forking over unnecessary amounts for books that you don't really need.

I'd like to know how textbook publishers sleep at night. They continue to charge obscene amounts of money ($168 for one of mine this term - which of course I have no intent of forking over the cash for, sorry Oxford University Press) for books that cost them a fraction the price to produce. How many textbooks sold at 1200% production cost does it take to break even? My guess is not nearly as many as sell. The rest of the thousands of sales go straight from the poor, destitute students into the pockets of Misters Wiley and Freeman.*

It's not just the text companies, either. Instructors, especially at the entry level, continue to push texts on students, claiming that you will not be able to complete the course without one. Sometimes true, but rarely (speaking as a student of the sciences, anyway). I still resent the co-ordinator of introductory biology who told students that the text was essential for the course and that we must fork over $120 for one, following which it was of no use in that or the following course. Multiply by a class of 1800, and we're talking a lot of wasted dollars. The whole thing ends up exploiting individuals known to be poor, helpless, and subsisting entirely on Ramen noodles.

This isn't to say that the texts are not good; a lot of them are excellent, and I have got a huge amount of use out of three in particular. But these are texts I knew I would need, and for every one like me that uses them well, there are 99 who never touch them, and it's quite sad that so many students buy texts that depreciate and become worthless within a few years.

I enjoy upper year classes that teach straight from the primary literature, and if not, then all you might need is a reference text should you need to check facts and for some reason Wikipedia doesn't suffice. Almost done my undergrad, I don't plan on buying another text ever for classes here. I can't foresee having to pay for any others, as all my classes are upper-year sci - oh...wait...right, I'm taking that one too.

Oh, speak of the devil. Hang on a second.

What's that, second year Personal Financial Management?

You say I need the text to complete the assignments for this course?

Do I absolutely need to?

60% eh.... What if I -

Or if I -

Ok, fine. You win. This time. Sleep with one eye open.

Sorry you had to hear that. Well, dammit. Seems there's one more text I need. Guess I'm off to feed the man once more. Till next time.

*Make note that I make no claim that I understand Economics in any way, shape or form. The textbook was too expensive, and so I didn't bother learning. The statements made here are based completely on the assumption (granted, it is the correct one) that publishers are evil soul-eating bat-demons. And I've heard they have something to do with Osama bin Laden, too. Told you they were assholes.

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