Sunday, December 15, 2019

Textbook Prices

Columbia University professor Tim Wu published an interesting piece in The New York Times this week on textbook prices. I sent the following letter to the editor; The Times has not published it, so I'll post it here.
Tim Wu is absolutely right that many university textbook publishers have been ripping off students for years ("How Professors Help Rip Off Students: Textbooks Are Too Expensive," Dec. 12). Some large publishers in particular have long made a practice of setting hugely inflated prices for bound book textbooks—and then turning around and saying to academics—"but look! We can offer you digital products much more cheaply.” (What they don’t draw attention to is that these digital products increase their profit margins by killing off the used book market.)

But before concluding that the only choices are between overpriced bound book textbooks and digital options that often offer lower quality and less flexibility than they seem to promise, I would encourage academics not to tar all publishers with the same brush. Smaller and mid-sized independent publishers such as Hackett, Broadview, and Norton (as well as several university presses) have for many years offered high quality textbooks at reasonable prices in both bound book and e-book formats—and we continue to do so.

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