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The Second Coming of the Textbook Wars

31 January 2015

From Flavorwire:

It may not happen today, or tomorrow, but the coming textbook wars will be massive, if quietly so. Why? The world of educational publishing is enormous; it is much bigger than you might imagine. It dwarfs, for example, the feeble trade publishing market. At the turn of the last decade, Pearson’s educational arm alone brought in more revenue than all other publishers, with the exception of education-driven Reed Elsevier. That’s just the arm that produces textbooks and other educational material. Frankly, when we talk about publishing as a whole, what we say makes little sense unless we’re talking about textbooks and educational publishing.

Enter Amazon. It announced this week that it will launch a new arm of its Kindle Direct Publishing service, one that will “help educators and authors easily prepare, publish, and promote eTextbooks and other educational content for students to access on a broad range of devices.”

. . . .

Amazon and Apple’s sought-after “democratization” of textbook production could alter education irrevocably in the coming years. And these developments may affect academic publishing more rapidly, as it’s an industry whose strengths are also its market weaknesses. The peer review process that lends academic publishing much of its prestige also requires slow, painstaking analysis. Add to this the brute fact that many university presses are run primarily to mitigate losses: this means they pay little to authors and sometimes fail to keep up with developments in a given field. You can see the appeal, in theory, of Amazon’s DIY platform.

Link to the rest at Flavorwire


19 Comments to “The Second Coming of the Textbook Wars”

  1. Oh, yes. Please! Let it all be eTextbooks and lower prices by seven years from now. Our accounts would very much appreciate it, as would oldest child’s back and arms.

  2. Heh, expect certain parties to try to get laws passed to stop this, much as a certain electric car company is for not going through dealerships …

  3. Time for Amazon to develop a Peer Review site similar to Goodreads or Wattpad. It has been well documented that many (though certainly not all) academic journals are just money making scams. Even many of the legitimate journal are questionable in how they pay their authors. Don’t just stop at upturning the Textbook cart, go for the whole corrupt system and do it fast (or face the attempts to stop you through new laws, as Allen F suggested in his comments)

    • What journals pay their authors? All the ones I’m familiar with and have published in required publication fees.

    • i think if it’s amz doing it, they are bridled and saddled to fight any lawsuits [as they have for gain or loss re state tax collection fights]… thing is publishing and writing and tenure and etc are all scrambled together at many a uni, so that ‘peer reviewed’ can be fraught with jealousies, obstructionism, passes, high praise for blah work, low praise for brilliant work. I’d love for profs to be able via amz or other to bypass completely the uni press system [i’ve for years given brief seminars at unis in an effort to inform profs of their IP rights that are NOT honored by the uni presses. Similar situ of entrapping authors as big pubs use. Not sure how a prof would be able to jump the fence and use his/her own work in their own classes as the system for vetting is so dense at uni and tied hard to uni press being ‘more prestigous’ than even big ny pubs in the eyes of many. I just hope for all writers to be free to write and to publish in their own time and timing, for their own good intentions.

  4. The constant new editions make them virtually unresalable, even with well-constructed indices it can take forever to find informant in them, they weigh a ton… Textbooks should have been the first types of books to go electronic, especially since their target audience typically has something to read an ebook on. That instead they’re among the last is ridiculous.

  5. Self-publishing textbooks by university professors makes excellent sense. They are ultimately the ones who lecture and teach the subject. Except in cases where you need secondary sources to work with in the class room this is an excellent way to cut back on college costs for future generations.
    However, the burden of qualifying teacher and textbook does fall on the university, and peer review isn’t always feasible when the prof is the resident expert.

    • No. Oh, you mean well, but no. Set aside the issue of the professor’s breadth vs depth. Set aside the question of being out of date or biased. No, let’s stay with a simple point every writer here knows.

      If you write a textbook and you teach, which is the part time job?

      • Never mind that there are more than a few professors that like raking in the dough from the books they make and then force the kids to buy in order to take their class …

        • That’s true, but most of those are going through publishers and publishers set the prices. Besides, self-pubbed e-books can be sold for much less and still offer some profit. Ultimately it depends on who can do it cheaper. It won’t work for every course, but it will work for some. The system already allows and rewards professors who write their own textbooks. I can see this going through a departmental standards committee for oversight.

          • In my department, I coauthored the introductory lab manuals. I received a stipend since this was done in the summer. The department policy is that I don’t get royalties for sales to students at my institution but if another school adopted our manuals, I would get royalties for those sales.

          • Keith if you can see this comment [there isnt a reply button under your comment for some reason] can you tell me who owns the copyright to your book pub’d through your u press? Also, is there reversion of rights?

    • I had two experiences with profs who wrote their own texts.

      1) My undergrad Latin prof wrote the book on Latin. Published through a publishing house. I bought the book at the campus bookstore. No used copies were available. We spent the first day of class going through the book making corrections to the text.

      2) In law school, in one class I took the prof sent us to the law school printer to buy his textbook. (UT School of Law has its own print shop in the basement.) The print shop printed one copy for each student enrolled in the course. Three-hole drilled because it was too thick to punch. 8 1/2 x 11 and soft-bound, but with 3-hole anyway (go figure).

      $75 plus sales tax.

      My take is that all universities and most colleges have the resources to print their own textbooks. (The University of Oklahoma has a famous press.) When they do, their distribution is limited to that campus. The reason they seek to publish with big houses is to get wider distribution.


  6. Until recently I was a freelance typesetter for the educational imprint of a big-5 pub. Over many years I worked on a series of ancillaries (instructors’ resource manuals, test banks, student workbooks) for a college English course. Every winter I would update the previous year’s books and I was appalled at how little changed from one year to the next. In particular was a book of essays by well-known writers, with questions and articles pertaining to each essay. Most of the time, my work involved moving essays and questions from one chapter to another, deleting a few, and inserting a couple of new ones.

    And that was it.

    A new book the students had to buy that was only slightly different from the previous year’s edition.

    • That’s a fact and I encountered it also. It’s been going on for years. The reason you were asked to move things about is that that meant students could not use the previous text because the page numbers wouldn’t match.

  7. I have three kids in college now. Yes, three…Oldest is now a 5 year student with a double major. Anyway, after making the mistake of buying every book advised in her freshmen year, we learned to wait to see if the book was actually needed. Also, on the advice here and from my two ‘experienced’ college kids, we did not buy the newest version for my youngest entering college. Bought last years edition for one of his classes and we rent either hard covers or ebooks now. Yet, we still spend a lot on books and sad to say my kids will be long out of school before prices drop.

    • Jo Ellen, I bow at your feet. THREE kids in college. You are amazing. They are too. College is often a business rather than an educational institution with salaries of the very tops through the roof. May your kids have all success. May their kids when the time comes have textbooks that can be rented for $5 a year..

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