Here are some of the responses by TAA members to Jay Devore’s letter posted on the TAA Textbook Authoring Listserv about the rising cost of textbooks:
Hi Dr. Devore,
As the old saying goes, I feel your pain. I have several textbooks with a few different companies, and their prices range from about $60 to $160. The top price is lower than what you indicate for your books, but still a handsome sum. These books are published by excellent companies, and I am glad to be their author. But the books are not inexpensive.
As an instructor at a public university for more than 30 years, my concern about textbook prices helped lead me to publish my two most recent new textbooks with an open textbook publisher, Flat World Knowledge. Flat World makes its peer reviewed books available online for free or in digital and print formats for about $35-$40. Three of its books, including one of mine, have won the Texty award. Students are reading highquality textbooks while saving a lot of money.
This alternative probably doesn’t help you deal with the dilemma of your own textbooks’ prices. Even though our editors may have no control over the price of the books we write, it certainly can’t hurt for textbook authors to urge their editors and publishers to lower prices, and I applaud you for doing so. Perhaps if enough authors began to do this often enough, one or two publishers may decide to heed their authors’ concerns. And if they do so and then see their sales of new books increase, other publishers could follow suit. Wishful thinking, to be sure, but stranger things have happened.
Best of luck,
Dept. of Sociology
University of Maine
I am in a similar position. My first book, Elementary Algebra, was published in 1978 with a list price of $14.95. The same book now lists for $220. My editor has no say-so in pricing for my books, it comes from above him. My trigonometry book, which at one time was the best selling trigonometry book in the country, now lists for $240. The previous edition was down 20% in sales from the edition before it. This edition will decrease in sales even more. Regardless of what the publishers say, high prices result in fewer sales.
MathTV and XYZ Textbooks
Lower retail prices are one of the many things I love about working for a small publisher, namely, Morton Publishing in Englewood, CO. Since their inception in 1977 they have made it their mission to offer high quality books at affordable prices. While they do not publish textbooks, they specialize in lab manuals and supplements such as photographic atlases for biology. All Morton's titles are far less expensive than equivalent products with the major publishers. For example, I have written four books for them in the fields of anatomy & physiology and chemistry called the Visual Analogy Guide series. All are selling very well across the U.S. And Canada. My books are a bit out of the ordinary but can best be described as a stand alone title that serves as a coloring book, workbook, and summary of key concepts. All my titles are two-color. My longest book is 512 pages and retails for $49.95. On the low end, my least expensive title has a retail price of $33.95.
As an instructor at a public university for more than 30 years, my concern about textbook prices helped lead me to publish my two most recent new textbooks with an open textbook publisher, Flat World Knowledge. Flat World makes its peer reviewed books available online for free or in digital and print formats for about $35-$40. Three of its books, including one of mine, have won the Texty award. Students are reading highquality textbooks while saving a lot of moneyI have been with my publisher at conferences and attendees actually come up to them and thank them for selling books at such affordable prices. Isn't that refreshing?
It also makes me proud to work for them.
Here's hoping they remain small because we all know there are not many small
Professor of Biology
Grand Rapids Community College
The vexing thing about this is that if prices are to be reduced, publishers' costs have to be reduced somewhere. Better heads than mine have analyzed where the money earned by current prices is going. Authors find their royalty statements modest; even more so for reviewers' honoraria. Freelance editors like me are certainly not getting rich. Many design & production jobs have been outsourced to places like India; hasn't this saved publishers a significant amount in costs?
I don't pretend to grasp the overall financial picture of what it takes to bring a textbook to market, but I am concerned about who is most likely to suffer if prices come down.
Freelance Editing for Higher Ed since 1984
Based on my experience as a physics text author, I know for many books the so-called "free ancillaries" (in physics that includes such things as HW websites, test banks, self-graded tests, quizzes, etc ,etc ad nauseum) must somehow be included in the cost.
However my take on these is that, when polled, faculty say they love them, but I observe very few of my colleagues actually employing them in their classes. The technology looks glossy and neat but in fact, IMO, doesn’t contribute much except to the book price.
I also think the use of color has gone way beyond any pedagogical benefits. Somehow black and white used to suffice, now for some reason we need a zillion colors.
Prof. Emeritus, Physics
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
I appreciate the afore-going dialog on textbook pricing. I write for a small niche audience of students, and have been invited to revise and expand my previous text on elements of mathematical hydrology. As a niche text, it will probably be a second recommended text for a class, but with added material is shaping up to be priced right out of the reach of students; particularly with the cost of the main stream texts going out of sight as two previous correspondents have noted.
Hoping that a proposed e-book version might take some of the pressure off the students' budget, I found that the price of the e-book will be close to the same as the print version. Acquisition editors are sympathetic, but the "suits" in the front office have their own view of profits.
I've read with interest all the reactions to textbook pricing and thought I would add a few thoughts of my own. The remarks below are intended only for college textbooks.
I, too, have watched textbook prices escalate over time. My experience began in 1973 with a book that continues to sell, now in its 11th Edition (and a McGuffey awardee). I also have a series in its 9th Edition and have watched its prices over a period of 25 years.
The issue is complex. Publishers do not really set a price based on a business model. They will typically watch their competition and, when a competitor raises prices, they follow suit. Some have a model that raises prices 2% or so twice a year. When the publisher sets a price, it is a list price. This is the price a bookstore will pay for the book. Now up until about 20 years ago, bookstores were run as independent ventures on campus. The mark-up that was typically applied to the list price was 25%. College administrations decided to outsource their bookstores to Barnes and Noble, Follett's, etc. in return for some remuneration. These large booksellers today have a markup of list at an average of 35%. Presumably the extra 10 points go to the university. So publishers are not the only culprit in this drama.
What could be done? Universities could take back their bookstores and sell books at a 10% markup over list, being content to make their money off sweatshirts and so on. Publishers could sell directly to students at list, much like the airlines did with direct sales to consumers. Notice that the publishers currently sell directly, but they sell at the same price as the bookstore does. Why?
Best regards to each of you.
We must see the big picture. High textbook prices are bad for society.
Quickly I'll say we're all familiar with the current failed model. Then I'll move to my "John's Model."
The failed model is Dire Straits Pricing, whereby gross revenue, being down, causes sellers to push prices up. This knee-jerk reaction never works for long; it encourages black markets.
Our grant-writing whiz in TAA, Kenneth Henson, has been on a more righteous path all along, and thanks, Ken, for being there. My "John's Model" calls for us to align tighter with government and philanthropic sources of funding.
Please realize that writing, albeit important, ought not be the focus. Actually, even teaching is not the proper focus; learning is.
So if, say, screencastings prove to be more effective for students than static books, let's produce screencastings. In addition, many disciplines, where screencastings don't suffice, need meticulously accurate tables and charts. Other alternatives abound.
The talents of good editing/proofing/grammar-usage will prove crucial to the screencasting-etcetera industry. Again, don't argue about "paying me for my talent." Focus on the end-user, i.e. learning.
I do not digress in jumping from funding to "what to fund." My "what to fund" argument is simply embracing new technologies, and these two facets sum up my "John's Model."
By coincidence this "John's Model" aligns well with other countries' models. Only in the USA do students bear such a huge portion of education costs. We must let the common good come to the fore, seeing textbook-publishing contracts slowly replaced by "Dot Org" contracts.
The sources of monies would meet certain rules, rules already defined in internet parlance to distinguish "Dot Organization" from "Dot Commerce." As one who values the private sector, business, above all others, I ask fellow capitalists to re-read the above for its wisdom.
John, a.k.a. J. Anomdeplume
American Courseware: Les liaisons dangereuses, 2nd or 3rd-year French
A reminder to all textbook authors:
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for students, they are flexible for instructors. Open-licensed textbooks
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