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DRM Lite for Electronic Textbooks 293

bcrowell writes "The New York Times reports that textbook publishers are backing off somewhat on the level of DRM used in the electronic editions of their textbooks. They no longer become unreadable after a certain amount of time, as in RMS's famous essay The Right to Read. Even so, most students aren't interested, because the books can't be sold back; the solution, however, may be to make it impossible to return printed books either. No mention in the NYT article of the steady progress being made by free books."
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DRM Lite for Electronic Textbooks

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  • Like New (Score:5, Insightful)

    by foundme ( 897346 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:36PM (#15186178) Homepage
    I think one of the reasons why publishers see ebooks as more threatening to their industry than the paper books is because ebooks will always be in "Like New" condition, thus it can be traded in the 2nd hand market at very close to the retail price.

    And even with a slight price difference, (poor) students will always be more inclined to purchase the used-but-as-good-as-new ebooks.
    • Re:Like New (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Wesley Felter ( 138342 ) <> on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:51PM (#15186230) Homepage
      In general, there is no secondary market for digital goods. Either it has DRM which disallows resale completely, or it has no DRM in which case people just copy it for $0. In theory there could be "friendly DRM' that allows resale, but if publishers feel threatened by it they can simply not use it.
      • Re:Like New (Score:3, Interesting)

        by TubeSteak ( 669689 )
        Modern OCR programs can pull out pictures and text with very little drama & some of them can handle science and math content just as easily.

        Other than a lack of motivation, what's stopping people from buying (or borrowing a laptop with) someone's e-book & running a screen scraper + OCR?

        Save the output to a PDF & you're done. You don't even have to try and crack their protection scheme... Or am I missing something here?
        • Re:Like New (Score:3, Interesting)

          No, basically that's like analog copying of audio content. Play it and re-rip it to an unencumbered data format.

          The downside is that you might lose some formatting, and the quality of images decreases (think original = SVG; your scanned copy = crappy png maybe). Maybe you have to manually recreate some sort of index, if you care about that.

          Of course for simple novels or other sequentially oriented textual stuff, screen scraping is just fine.
        • Modern OCR programs can pull out pictures and text with very little drama & some of them can handle science and math content just as easily.
          Got a link? I haven't yet been able to find any good (and easy to use) Free Software ones.
        • Re:Like New (Score:4, Funny)

          by CaptDeuce ( 84529 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @11:07PM (#15187598) Journal
          Modem OGR programs can put out plotters and text myth very lithe karma 6 sonny of them can hankie science and math content just as ea. sly. Otter than a lack of mili nation, what 1s slopping people from buying (or burrowing a leapt up with) someone's e-book & fuming a screen snapper tOCR? Save the out pull to a PDE 6 you ire do me. You don't even have to pry and cock their protest lion shorn en... Or am I missing smelling hero?

          Yep. Them OGR pro grams gork real food.

      • Re:Like New (Score:3, Interesting)

        by evilviper ( 135110 )

        Either it has DRM which disallows resale completely, or it has no DRM in which case people just copy it for $0.

        There's no reason for that to be the case. Music, for instance, is trivially easy to copy, and yet purchases continue.

        I can see a similar future for eBooks... Sell them for $5 a copy, making it so cheap and convenient that it's not worth doing something illegal to avoid paying. However, that inherently makes the "second hand" market just short of completely dead.

      • I agree - ebooks are fairly easy to find on Usenet and the Web. Any ebook will have its DRM cracked sooner or later and be fully available in both places.

        The textbook publishers are going the way of the music CD makers - they are charging too high a price for something to people who aren't willing to pay that price regardless of the value they see in the product.

        I've had textbooks in the last four years at City College of San Francisco that cost over $100! I don't care what the limited market is for a textb
    • Re:Like New (Score:3, Insightful)

      by badasscat ( 563442 )
      I think one of the reasons why publishers see ebooks as more threatening to their industry than the paper books is because ebooks will always be in "Like New" condition, thus it can be traded in the 2nd hand market at very close to the retail price.

      Someone has apparently never been to college! (At least not in the United States...)

      Most college students purposely buy used books not just because they're cheaper (though that is a reason) but also because all of the important passages have already been highlig
      • Re:Like New (Score:5, Insightful)

        by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:54PM (#15186458)
        Not true.l The reason I, and everyone I know, bought used books was price. Without price I prefered new ones, because they DIDN'T have markings- the previous owner tended to be a moron way more than not.
      • When I bought used textbooks, I always went for the least marked up. More times than not, passages are highlighted at random; some students seem to follow the theory that if you've highlighted a passage, you've read it. Buying a pre-highlighted text is not a viable shortcut.

        On the other hand, marginalia can be useful, not as a cheat, but to see what someone else might have been thinking while reading the text.
  • Sorry publishers. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <> on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:38PM (#15186185) Homepage Journal
    Sorry publishers, the future of education is free.

    (at least you have entertainment to fall back on)
    • Whoops - that should read:
      Sorry publishers, the future of education is free.

      (at least you have entertainment to fall back on for a while)
      • Yeah, screw the content companies. And the software companies. In the future all software and content will be free. And everything physical will be manufactured in China.

        We'll finally all be able to put our feet up and live a life of creative contemplation, tending our vegetable gardens, watched over by machines of loving grace.

        Well either that or compete viciously with each other for meaningless service jobs that will suck away our free time.
    • by Ozwald ( 83516 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:45PM (#15186424)
      Dude, free education is today. Sure, not here, but just a short raft ride from Forida and you don't pay a cent! No tuition! Free books! Even living is cheap, just pennies a day!

      The thread is insane. It's like that spouse swap where they take two disfunctional families and swap the mother. Both families are screwed up but somewhere in the center is a happy median that's not so bad. But if you think that publishers will eventually say "you're right, we should give it away for free", you're absolutely mad. If writers had to work for free, I'm sure they'd prefer fishing.

      On the other side of disfunctional is the professors who insist we buy $100 books that they don't even use. The first couple years of school is always about learning to wait a week to find out what books are actually required and hunt the used book store when they are. But telling the poorest population of a school to squeeze out that extra couple hundred bucks for crap is just cruel.

      In the middle is somewhere normal. That's the key to this problem, not the overgeneralized ignorant comments like above.
      • no, writers will not work for free, however many actual experts and professors are willing and do contribute to free textbooks.

        the future is not publishers deciding to give it all away, but rather them being cut out of the loop altogether. for books which require a lot of editing groups of colleges will get together to pay editors to clean up the language and styling from many contributors. electronic textbooks are trivial to update and errata can be inserted on the fly when mistakes are discovered.
    • Sorry publishers, the future of education is free.

      Tell that to the students whose tuition helps subsidize the cost of MIT's "free" course ware.

      Similarly, MIT's one-laptop-per child assumes massive state funding (taxation) for the machines, the infrastructure and, ultimately, the software.

      In the states, selecting textbooks for grades K-12 is the product of heated negotiations among various interest groups. In which "Intelligent Design" is simply one flashpoint among many.

      Navigating these mindfields is n

      • "Tell that to the students whose tuition helps subsidize the cost of MIT's "free" course ware."

        The issue is whether it makes sense to limit something that has a fixed cost to a small population able to pay arbitrary distribution costs (physical books, salaried instructors, physical classrooms) or to allow it to scale indefinately for no additional (or little) cost by using digital distribution.

        The fixed costs don't change (authors, editors, layout), so is it worth it to have that fixed cost bourne by say a
  • Used book store (Score:4, Informative)

    by nuggz ( 69912 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:39PM (#15186191) Homepage
    The used bookstore at my school seemed to function just fine.

    Personally I held onto most of my textbooks, they contain a lot of useful information that I actually refer to.

    Many of my profs would make allowances for people using older versions of the textbook when the changes were small. Fortunately most of the new editions were significant improvements and worth it.

    At the same time people complained about the ancient thermodynamics book we used.
    • Re:Used book store (Score:3, Informative)

      by smallfries ( 601545 )
      It sounds like an education is expensive in the states.

      Over here in the UK there are two types of textbooks; those that are specific to some course, becoming useless after you've finished it, and those that are more general and retain use as a reference after you graduate. The latter kind are quite expensive (£60-£100), but the money is generally worth it for the good ones. For the former I think there is only one set that does the rounds. Each year the outgoing year sells them to the incoming y
      • Here in the States there are two kinds of textbooks also: the specific one the professor requires for the course (that you have to have because it's used for the homework), and any other textbook.

        One of these is almost always current-edition and expensive, and the other is almost always cheaper but just as good at conveying the concepts anyway. I'll leave it to you to figure out which is which.
  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) * on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:40PM (#15186195)
    ...I refuse to buy electronic textbooks until they have zero DRM whatsoever. In addition, I don't even buy regular textbooks unless the professor actually uses them for graded assignments. They're just too damn expensive to do otherwise!

    More universities need to make things like MIT's OpenCourseWare [], or better yet, work together to make one big system.

    Also, The Right to Read is a great story -- and is becoming more real every day. Everyone ought to read it, because it doesn't just apply to textbooks, it applies to music, movies, and other media too. Pay special attention to the notes at the end; the summary of the current trends towards DRM is downright scary!
    • Professors are a big part of the problem. Why do they keep requiring new editions when there are plenty of old ones on the used market? The main difference between an older and newer edition is the homework problems, so students can't use the old book when the new one is adopted for the class. I think there are payoffs between profs and book publishers.
      • by Harmonious Botch ( 921977 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:54PM (#15186239) Homepage Journal
        The worst that I ever saw was when the prof wrote the book, which contained a tear-out sheet of problems, and refused to accept copies of the sheet - only the original. The on-campus bookstore then refused to buy back the book because it was incomplete.
        • I've been a faculty member for twenty-five years and I've never heard of such a practice. The professor has no business doing that. You should have filed a complaint with the administration.

        • 1) enter a photocopy (or just the answers on filepaper) 2)a if it's accepted, no problem 2)b if it's rejected complain to exam board that you got zero marks on an assignment for not owning a specific textbook rather than not doing the work (hand a copy of your answers in to your tutor when you hand them in to the lecturer so they have a record that you did the work and did it by the deadline) 3)a if the exam board agrees watch your marks get reinstated and the lecturer get a rollocking 3)b if the exam boa
      • That might be true in some cases, but in others it's just that the professor doesn't realize how expensive the book is. For example, my statics prof last semester -- who didn't choose the book himself (it was chosen by a committe, so as to use the same one for all statics classes throughout the Institute) -- was complaining about the quality of the book to begin with, and then got even more angry about it (not to mention incredulous) when we pointed out that the stupid little paperback textbook cost us all
      • by L7_ ( 645377 )
        I once had a professor that required us to buy his book for the class. It was a specialized simulation and modelling text and instead of just printing out the homework problems to go along with his slides (which were better reading than the text of the book!) he had us use the problems listed in the text. It was a crappy way for him to force 10 new sales of his book every other year, knowing that he got at least 50% of the $130 price tag of the book. That was a direct case of the profs and publishers benefi
      • The big factors of the textbooks are as follows:
        1) Quite often, the book is chosen by a group of profs and not just that specific prof (as has been stated previously)
        2) Sometimes, it is a book that the professor (or another prof on campus) has written, so of course they want you to buy the new one because it means more sales for them.
        3) Professors usually have NO IDEA how much the books cost thier students. They (for the most part) all get free copies from the publishers. Some of my profs were shocked whe
        • Most of the problem with the prices on textbooks in my school (Univ. of MO-Columbia) is that the same professor rarely teaches the exact same class year after year after year. Different professors like to use different books, so for the two years that Prof. Smith is teaching Widget Design, we use his book of choice, and then when he teaches Widget Encoding II and Prof. Jenkins teaches Widget Design, we use her favorite book.

          It has mostly to do with the relative lack of structure in the department curriculum
      • by codegen ( 103601 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:26PM (#15186347) Journal
        Why do they keep requiring new editions when there are plenty of old ones on the used market? The main difference between an older and newer edition is the homework problems, so students can't use the old book when the new one is adopted for the class.

        There is considerably more difference between the books than just the homework problems. Part of the problem is the gratuitious shuffling of material within the text book. I'm a professor in Computer Engineering. For the past five years I've been using the 6th edition of one text book for my operating systems class. I have planned all of my lectures to more or less follow the text book so that the reading assignments for the students are clear. I make references to the examples in the text, and introduce new examples of my own.

        Last spring the publisher issued a 7th edition. I took one look at the book and realized I would have to completely revamp my course.Material was presented in an entirely different order, and in some cases the presentation of the material was substantially different. I requested the bookstore to order the previous version (buy out the old stock). Unfortunatey, the publisher only shipped the new edition. I had explicitly filled out the form for the book store to buy back the previous edition. So I ended up with a class with mixed old and new editions. It turned out the be a mess. I kept the same outline of classes since most of the students had the old edition and I updated the reading lists on my course web site to give the page numbers for each class in both old and new editions. Even so I constantly got complaints from the new students about how they were constantly confused because I kept skipping arround in the text (which, from their perspective, I was). So now I face a dilemma. Since the balance will shift to more new editions (7) over old editions (6th), I have to spend many hours this summer revamping the course to match the new textbook. This will benefit the new book students and the students who buy the older book will be disadvantaged because they will have to jump all over the book. If I require the new book, then I get students like you who claim that the only reason I do this is because I'm in bed with the text book representative. If I allow the old book, then students will complain that I don't follow the textbook and that there is no point in buying it at all because it is too confusing. I'm damned if I do, and damned if I don't.

        I think there are payoffs between profs and book publishers.

        Absolutely not. I have never recieved any benefit from a publishing company other than the free copy of the book that they send when it first comes out. That free copy then becomes my reference copy if I choose to adopt the book. There is some revenue if the prof is the author of the book, but since my research area is not Operating Systems, it is unlikely that I will ever write an OS book. I would advise you to think before you make such claims, it makes you look like you really don't know what you are talking about.

      • Why do they keep requiring new editions when there are plenty of old ones on the used market?

        I read all the replies to your question and no one mentioned this: Publishers give out the teacher's edition for free.

        My understanding of the process is that the publisher sends professors a free copy of the new edition during the year, the prof looks at it, decides it isn't worse than the old version and when the time comes, the prof tells the bookstore what to order for the next year.

        Alternatively, the teacher's e

      • I think there are payoffs between profs and book publishers.

        LOL - only if your prof wrote the book!

        As others have mentioned, often professors (especially for classes with more than one section a year) don't get to choose the textbook, they're just told which one to use.

        I've had the opposite problem, btw - a professor didn't realize that the text had been updated *twice* in the two years since she last taught the class. She was going from the old edition, but most of us could only find the new edition

      • "Why do they keep requiring new editions when there are plenty of old ones on the used market?"

        I taught for a couple of quarters and some of the reasons are:

        Availability-everyone is able to get the current edition
        Quality- sometimes the current edition IS better. Often more "current" information.
        Consistancy- I can tell you where X is in the current book. Kind of useful when giving reading assignments or referring to charts/figures/pictures. If that isn't a problem for you, then I didn't have a problem with u
      • Why do they keep requiring new editions when there are plenty of old ones on the used market?
        Apparently the accredidation agencies are stupid about that. They supposedly want universities to have a lot of new editions instead of old ones. But they won't tell anyone exactly how much of which and what.
  • by awkScooby ( 741257 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:54PM (#15186241)
    They've already got a pretty good solution to deal with the "problem" of students returning books -- it's called new editions. There are some texts that have a new edition every single year. Sure, the publishers are "getting screwed" out of one semesters worth of money, but that just means they need to release a new edition every semester instead of every year. It's not as if there are significant changes between editions as is, so that shouldn't be a problem.
  • Stupid. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by deep44 ( 891922 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @04:58PM (#15186258)
    Ebook publishers should have their heads examined for going to such great lengths to inconvenience potential customers like this.. with books, the "analog hole" is a very easy and viable workaround for just about any form of DRM they can dream up. I know the article says they are backing off a bit.. but even so - it's pure lunacy.

    Personally, I won't pay a dime for an ebook in any format other than PDF (or an alternative that I can view/print/copy in Linux). If they insist on using a format that can only be viewed in Windows, I'll hang on to my money and snag a "cracked" version online (even if that means downloading a jpeg image of each page; I have a couple books like that!).

    Bottom line: the people who don't want to pay will find a way not to. The people who do pay will start thinking twice before their next purchase, since they're basically paying to be inconvenienced.
  • by scolby ( 838499 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:00PM (#15186262) Journal
    I graduated college last August, and I don't remember returning text books to the bookstore as a particularly exciting time - more often than not, I'd only get maybe $10-20 back on a book that cost me $100 at the beginning of the semester - and then a semester later, I'd see that same title on the shelf, being sold used for $80. The only people excited about book buybacks are the bookstores that can exploit them.

    So I don't really see how the ability to return books is a big reason why readers prefer physical books over ebooks.
    • by honkycat ( 249849 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:29PM (#15186358) Homepage Journal
      You can also sell them directly to someone else, you don't have to go through the book store. MIT had a book swap at the beginning of each year where you could drop off books and ask whatever price you wanted. They'd keep them on display for a few days and collect the money for you. It worked pretty well for everyone -- you got better than the joke of a price from the bookstores and the buyer got better than the jacked up used price as well.
    • Selling it back to the bookstore is a ripoff.

      What I would do is try to sell my books to another student, so they'd get it cheaper than buying it used from the bookstore, and I'd get more for it than selling it back to the bookstore.

      I aced one math class using a twenty-year-old textbook. Luckily the prof didn't require graded assignments from the book.

      Except for certain computer-based classes like Numerical Analysis, undergrad-level math hasn't changed in the past 100 years, so there really is no need to ha
      • Except for certain computer-based classes like Numerical Analysis, undergrad-level math hasn't changed in the past 100 years

        Even that has not changed much in 30 years. Fortran 77 is still used and the techniques are the same as they were when Newton and then Coates thought them up. The thing that has changed is the maturation of GNU tools and the availability of great numerical packages like the Fastest Fourier Transforms in the West []. A text on the subject should contain a chapter of practical free comp

    • by assassinator42 ( 844848 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:41PM (#15186413)
      I've gotten more back for a book than I'd payed for it at least once. It was one I bought used off Amazon, I believe. I did that with some crappy Xbox game as well, payed $5 and got $10 or so for selling it used, plus I used it in some deal they had.
    • a lot of schools have some sort of book exchange where the sell gets a lot more and the buyer pays less because it's not a for profit operation running with less overhead.
    • My University has a student-run Co-op bookshop [] that sells stationery and resells textbooks (and fiction, and other books) for students. If you want to sell a book, you set your own price. If your institution has a problem with overpriced textbooks, and a student organization, consider setting up a similar system -- it works really well here.

  • by Biolermaker ( 864282 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:01PM (#15186264)
    It is harder to lay back and read my laptop than a traditional text book. Until an electronic form comes out that is easy to lay in bed with and read for 30 minutes with shining a light in a face I will never use ebooks.
    • You should invest in a better laptop.

      I've been completely paperless for a couple years, and haven't looked back. In fact, I read so much on my laptop that it feels weird when I have to read a printed book for whatever reason (it probably wouldn't be hard to re-adjust; I just have no desire to do so).
      • What I want is a laptop (or rather, really, really lightweight tablet) with a high-resolution (i.e. several hundred DPI, instead of ~90 like most laptops have now) electronic-ink display. That would be good to read text on!
      • I just don't like reading things, especially reference material, on a laptop. I typically jump back and forth between a few places in the book, and I find it a lot easier to keep track of what info is where using physical book marks on a physical book than I do using the electronic equivalents. Additionally, for making my own notes, I find it much easier to write on a piece of scrap paper or in a notebook, or on my printout of the original material.
      • You're just trying to be 'totally modern.' Here's a hint:

        There are and always will be just scads and scads of good material published in the past that nobody takes the time to digitize.

        Most of the 'paperless office' flakes in business have dried up and blown away. Thank goodness, though I do hate the chore of swamping out all the paper debris from my cubicle. I'd hate it more if the IT 'tards could discard important stuff at will because it was 'captive' on their lousy Windows servers.
    • It is harder to lay back and read my laptop than a traditional text book. Until an electronic form comes out that is easy to lay in bed with and read for 30 minutes with shining a light in a face I will never use ebooks.

      There is about three of four of those coming out from Eink. Pick your manufacturer and price. Im hoping Sony's product will not be a crapfest of DRM and allow .pdfs to be read. It plays mp3s oddly enough without DRM and will support SD cards. I really don't care if I have to convert the

  • by MichaelPenne ( 605299 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:02PM (#15186269) Homepage
    From the UK's Open University. These folks spend over 1 million pounds on a course, with textbook, video, multimedia, etc.

    They're working to release this as courses in Moodle format (which exports to IMS-LD) over the next year. Since these are "battleship"* lower division, high enrollment courses with top quality content, this may dramatically change the market of educational conten.

    More: []
    Britain's Open University has just announced an ambitious program spend £5.65 million putting its courseware on the Internet under a Creative Commons license

    * Dr. Jason Cole, Keynote, Moodle Moot Savannah 2006
  • I can personally attest to the fact that many textbooks are now impossible to return.

    I go to UCF (Orlando, FL) and I am required to buy a new textbook for nearly every one of my classes now. Even in the past three years it has been harder to find a class that does not demand a new edition.

    One class I took this semester required a bundled package, which included a main course text, two useless reference books (the kind you see at the checkout at Borders or B&N, except it was neither clever nor useful). I
  • by Catbeller ( 118204 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:03PM (#15186276) Homepage
    Basic textbooks for K-12 courses should be electronic and free. Mathematics, reading primers, languages... such things don't need new books every year. Schools are bankrupting themselves trying to keep up with buying uselessly new books.

    And I am aware there are open source style e-textbooks becoming available, and more power to them.

    People always ask why there should be cheap, low power ebook readers. This is why. The world needs them to teach its children without popping for several thousands of dollars per student to enrich paper mills and book publishers. And there's the small matter of losing our forests to this idiocy. Global warming is caused by an overabundance of CO2; the solution is TREES, as many as we can plant. That, and not killing the microplants living on the surface of the world's oceans, which produce half of the photsynthesis activity, but I digress.

    But we're cutting more down every year. More parking lots, more gated communities, more cattle grazing lands, nore and more books and newspapers and magazines and laser printer paper. We need green growing things, STAT. And ebooks. Screw the market, some things are more important than making Bill Gates or whomever is used to making money even richer. Mandate the things by law. We need to start making a lot of things mandatory by law with a view to surviving the upcoming weather changes.

    We've no problem with volunteering our troops or people in other countries to die as a sacrifice. Will we even volunteer a small a thing as giving up our paper books to save the world, or is that too much for our hidebound conservative asses?
    • People always ask why there should be cheap, low power ebook readers.
      Imagine an 8x10", 0.5lb, 300dpi, e-ink ebook reader with a writable screen (to store annotations and notes for later reference and handwriting recognition on a real computer). Wouldn't that be awesome?!
      • not quite up to the specs you want, but Jinke is Releasing this in may [] and so far for ~$350 is is the best deal i have seen for a modern eReader. I love my REB 1100 but creating compatable files for it is a serious pain in the ass and the screen is a bit too low res for most people.
        • Actually, I was just reading Wikipedia's "Electronic Ink" article, and it just happened to mention this []. The thing you link to is pretty good, but this is even better: 390 grams, about 6"x8"x0.5", 1024x768 pixel screen with 16 levels of gray, 160dpi, 400Mhz Xscale, more built-in RAM and Flash (64MB and 224MB respectively), Wi-Fi, possible USB host(!) (because it says it supports USB flash drives), SD and CF slots (I don't know if it supports non-disk things like modems or not). The only thing that the Jinke
    • Basic textbooks for K-12 courses should be electronic and free.

      Cars should be free, too. Too bad no one is going to build free cars. If you want your kids to learn from textbooks written by volunteers a decade ago, then maybe free books will do. If you want current textbooks written recently by someone motivated to actually get their shit straight, then someone is going to pay for it. Around here, the public schools provide the textbooks for the kids, but that doesn't mean they are free.
      • elementary and highschool learning material has not changed a great deal in the past 50 years. other than biology and a little chemestry the facts are all the same though the presentation has changed many times. Biology is the only class i can see new textbooks being needed for since chemestry updates to the periodic table aren't particularly important since knowing how to look up the atomic mass is far more important than using a modern and more precise measurement of atomic mass.
    • Wow, what an absolutely ignorant post. As someone who has worked with schools adopting textbooks, let me set somethings straight.

      1) Schools do not buy new books every year. They are generally multiyear cycles--5 in my states case.
      2) New books are bought to replace the old ones falling apart, and to match curriculums, which change as well. That has nothing to do with publishers/anything, it's got to do with politics and changing educational standards.
      3) You want elementary school kids reading textbooks onlin
  • by unassimilatible ( 225662 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:21PM (#15186330) Journal
    Professors (at least those with the academic freedom to chose, like myself) would be smart to just make up their own notes and self-publish them for half the cost (or less) of commercially-published books. Skip the middleman. The professors can make money, and the students pay less. Win-win. That would also be comuppance for the publishers charging more in America.

    Oh, and this idea that selling revew copies raises prices? Nice try publishers (cheaper alternatives should lower prices, not raise them). Don't send out unsolicited review copies and then tell me how to use them if you don't like what it does to your profits. Because I will sell them at a big discount online.

  • by Realistic_Dragon ( 655151 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:36PM (#15186384) Homepage
    I made it through a masters degree in engineering without buying a single textbook. Maybe twice a semester I had to go to the library to get out a course text to find something I needed that was only in a set text.

    The rest of the time general texts, internet resources and lecture materials covered the gap... so what's the big problem elsewhere?
    • I made it through a masters degree in engineering without buying a single textbook.

      I presume you were an undergraduate somewhere and know the ways you are forced to buy new texts. Minor revisions marketed as new editions, rotating question sets, etc.

      It's nice of the publishers to announce their intentions up front now, but their excuses won't win them any sympathy. The existence of cheaper distribution methods should drive prices down. If publishers chose to make paper even more inflexible and difficu

      • I presume you were an undergraduate somewhere and know the ways you are forced to buy new texts. Minor revisions marketed as new editions, rotating question sets, etc.

        from the looks of his homepage url it looks like he is here in the uk. We don't seem to have anything like the issues with textboooks that you yanks do.

        this idea of forcing students to buy lots of expensive textbooks seems like a US anomoly not a general thing accross the world.
  • by vnvenkat ( 970252 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:41PM (#15186416)
    And for teaching a course on Compilers, I used the now-classic /qid=1145828128/ref=pd_bbs_1/103-6472017-6203054?_ encoding=UTF8 []dragon book. The advertisement said that the new edition was revised, but not in the print copy; the new chapters were available online as an electronic book for anyone who purchases the book. The additional cost for this e-book was about $40 (not optional). To my horrid disappointment, when I went online (much later, after I started teaching the class), I found that the digital copy could only be viewed with some Macromedia-Flash like software on the browser, which would only allow you to view it page by page, no search, and no printing or saving the entire file either locally. There were no options to increase the font sizes for viewing the document comfortably either. I felt sorry for my students and apologized to them, and after the semester gets over, am planning to write to the authors of the text book to look into the matter.
    • My own horror story. (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      We had a text for one of our more obscure courses that wasn't very good but it was fit our needs better than anything else. It went out of print. The publisher made what was basically a photo-copied version available to us as a paperback. The price to the students was $150 and many of the pictures and graphs were illegible. I cancelled that text because I couldn't stomach seeing the students ripped off like that. We're working on an on-line text which the students can use for free. So, the greed of th
      • by wk633 ( 442820 )
        I know a college prof who self publishes all his own course texts, and sells them at cost. For many of the subjects he teaches, the material simply isn't out there in a single text. The binding isn't fancy, but the content is great, and the price is right.
        • If all of the material a professor is teaching is available in a single textbook, that means one of two things:

          1) The subject is very straightforward (ie math)
          2) The professor is teaching the textbook and nothing more.

          I've had one, exactly one professor produce his own notes and sell them at cost. I believe it was about 80 pages of text and cost about $9.
    • Was it usable to blind students? If not, and if your school receives any federal funds (very probably) then you (your school) is subject to Section 504. Include that in your feedback to the publisher.

      Another point- does that software work on Mac? Linux? *BSD?
    • after the semester gets over, am planning to write to the authors of the text book to look into the matter.

      I recently had words with one of the publishers reps that come around every so often (I assume they do for you as well). My issue was edition churn (e.g. Lewis & Loftus' Java text is in its third edition in ~3 years). I made it very clear that I didn't appreciate them squeezing my students for every cent and making me be the bad guy (by telling them they had to buy the book).

      The rep did seem

  • by mack knife ( 96580 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:49PM (#15186442)
    The article suggests students are slow to adopt digital textbooks because they can't resell them at the end of the semester.

    But why should students do this at all? As one law school textbook author has suggested, [] why not include the price of textbooks in tuition? As he notes, "It's easy for prices to drift upward when the person choosing the product doesn't really care how much it costs."

    Yes, tuition would have to go up accordingly, but once the textbooks came out of the school's funds instead of the students', professors would have to justify their textbook recommendations, instead of putting down a bunch of "required texts" that they refer to only lightly, if at all. Perhaps if such a scheme was in place, schools would find that it is in their interest to push digital textbooks more aggressively to keep down the costs of maintaining an inventory of textbooks from semester to semester.
  • by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @05:59PM (#15186478) Homepage Journal
    First, I really wonder why everyone complians that books cost too much. A general audience hardback book is $20. A DVD, which has a much lower cost to press, is $15. Is the book really that expensive?

    Second, when one thinks of a text or referece book, this represents an incredible amount of effort on the part of the writers and editors. Gettting everything right is hard. For examples, the cheaper computer books are full of significant errors and misprints. Even reilly has a tough time getting it perfect, and these are often mid priced books. I am just now reading a Ruby book from them and in the first few pages is a passage that is either awkwardly presented, or an example is missing. Sure, if I am just reading it for fun that is acceptable, but since I tend to be somewhat serious in my computer stuff, I want the real things. So I have little problem paying more for something that is correct. When I was working computers, $80 for a good book was nothing compared to what is saved me on my jobs.

    Now as far as school is concerned there are three issues. First, the writers have to be paid. These are often proffesors that have a skill of writing things down in such a way that a student has a good chance of understanding what is going on. They also provide relevent problem sets with solutions. The publisher has to be paid, without whom we would not have a book, as someone probably had to front some money. We also need a store, so publishers can ship limited quantities of books to certain well known locations for students to buy.

    Now, here is the rub. College textbooks are not neccesarily that expensive. As has mentioned, at least some of the books can be bought used and sold, whcih means that any one book, at least at the lower levels, is unlikely going to cost more than $50. Second, books can be shared. Find someone in to go halfsies. And third, I had very few proffesors that actually demanded and checked we had the most recent version of the book.

    So, what can be done. I think the publisher should sell electronic versions of the books that expire after one year. The books should be 1/3 the cost of the orignal book. Second, the univsersity should be able to buy an affordable site license to the book so that it can be read on any library computer. Finally, the reissuing of books for the purpose of stopping reselling must be halted, though this may not be such a big issue as with reselling no student will be stuck with more than half the cost.

    My gut feeling is that most of this has more to do with the expectation of the student rather than the cost of the books. Books represent an opportunity cost to most people, not an investment. I think when someone buys a book, they are thinking of the beer that they cannot afford. OTOH, when someone buy a bag of chips and a coke every day for a week, they do not think of the book they could have bought. School is about education, and sometimes we have to give something up to become educated. On problem I see with the modern compulsary public educational system is that they parent and kids expect everything to be given to them. Clothes, books, supplies, transportation. Now some of this is appropriate, and much is needded. However to be educated one needs to begin to take some responsibility and sacrifice at leat a little. If that measn that a student does not get a new clothes, or a car, or even prefered meal, perhaps at the college level that is ok.

    One last thing. Some of the increase in books relate to student needs. For instance when i was in college, the Physics textbook transitions from a simple black and white print with line drawing. This was a cheap book to produce, and for the amount of information was very reasonable priced. However, presumable due the MTV generation, it became a much more expensive book with color drawing, color photos, and the like. There was no more physics in it, no better teaching, just fancier and more expensive graphics. Go figure. Students paid more money and perhaps sacrificed education for glitz.

    • Cost to press isn't as important as cost to make. Your average Hollywood blockbuster costs a whole lot more to cast, shoot, edit, and distribute than a textbook, especally a tenth edition textbook that is 97% old material.

      When did you go to college? Most textbooks come out with new editions every 2-3 years. This means that, on average, two of my classes require a NEW $140 textbook every semester that will immediately drop to $70 resale the minute I leave the bookstore. Even if a class doesn't require a n
    • I'll second this, actually.

      When I was in college, the required textbooks for (for example) my physics classes were next to useless. On the other hand, I went ot the library and pulled out some 1950-1970 textbooks and learned a hell of a lot more. Why? It wasn't as distracting! And they didn't tone down the language to a 4th grade level!

      • Try reading Feynman's lectures. I love them and can't put them down! They are considered by many to be the best physics lectures ever to be written. I actually don't understand why they aren't used in every physics school. My personal suspicion is because then the publishers would have nothing left to do.
  • I am a student who is interested in electronic versions of my textbooks. I have a shoulder injury that prevents me from carrying much more than my laptop to class.

    I have fantastic PDF searchable (and legal) copies of my gaming books from Steve Jackson Games, and can't understand why similar versions aren't offered for text books.

    This quarter is the first time a 'hybrid' electronic version was even offered. This hybrid was $53, for a few paper pages, along with a code to get me into the online content
  • by wpegden ( 931091 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @06:49PM (#15186708)
    From the Right to Read article:
    He understood this situation; he himself had had to borrow to pay for all the research papers he read. (10% of those fees went to the researchers who wrote the papers; since Dan aimed for an academic career, he could hope that his own research papers, if frequently referenced, would bring in enough to repay this loan.)
    Since when do royalties get paid for Academic papers? They don't. In fact, scientists/mathematicians also volunteer their time to peer-review articles that appear in journals... did you think journals paid to get articles reviewed? They don't. They assume the copyright, and print copies of the journal which they sell to institutions for hundreds of dollars. They don't even really do much typesetting anymore, thanks to LATEX. Even before the takeover of DRM, the crisis has already begun []---simply because profits are the driving force between anything run by a business. And, like it or not, it is not always true that profits=progress.
  • by mikesd81 ( 518581 ) <> on Sunday April 23, 2006 @07:15PM (#15186813) Homepage
    When you get the e-book, then you have unlock it with a key and send it electronically. If for some reason you need to re-unlock it and you still own it you should have to confirm who you are somehow. Secret answer to a question or a secret hand shake whatever. Then when you re-sell the book to a new student, they call up and get a new key and their secret handshake, etc.
  • Impossible to sell (Score:4, Insightful)

    by .com b4 .storm ( 581701 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @07:49PM (#15186933)
    Hate to break it to you, but it's pretty much impossible to sell back printed books already. Between the departments and the publishers, they do a good job of making the books very difficult to sell back (either by obsoleting them rapidly, or by making the books degrade rapidly through even casual use, destroying their value). Even selling my books online only gets rid of around 25% of the books I've bought, and always at a huge loss.

    For example, I bought an art history text book for $120(!). This was a brand new book, and its first semester in use at my school. Partway through that semester, the department decided they did not want to use the book anymore. Not only did we not use the book for anything in class or for homework, but nobody wanted to buy it - the university bookstore would of course not take it, and nobody else seemed to want it. I finally sold the book 3 years later, at like-new condition, on for a whopping $10!

    It's only getting worse, as well. Publishers often make the textbooks incredibly flimsy, especially for classes with huge enrollment stats (read: 101 level electives in science and the like). My geology textbook, although uncharacteristically well-written and enjoyable to read, is very poorly constructed. The glossy pages get creased, folded, and torn with just the slightest page-flip, and the binding is already falling apart after light home use (I don't take it to campus). Very scary how much damage has been done to my book, considering how I go out of my way to treat all my books with care.

    It's pretty obvious that many of these books are purposely designed to last barely the 16 weeks of one semester, to ensure that they are less appealing for second-hand sales.

    All in all, a very disgusting racket. The university and the publishers work together to screw students at every turn. No surprises here, but things are definitely not getting any better...
  • by petermgreen ( 876956 ) <> on Sunday April 23, 2006 @07:56PM (#15186973) Homepage
    as a british student i've never really understood it.

    can't your lecturers be bothered to provide sufficiant supporting rescources with thier courses?!

    i'm coming to the end of my second year doing electronic systems engineering in the uk and so far my textbook count stands at

    bought: 0
    borrowed from my tutor: 1
    borrowed from the library: about 4 or 5 not sure exactly
  • Suck suck suck.

    Take code examples. Reading through explanation of the code in a real book, I can keep a finger at the location where the code is and occasionally glance back at it.

    Scroll wheels, while a wonderful invention, do not offer near the usability.

    Oh and lets not mention that, unless I have a dual monitor setup (like I can afford that, not to mention find space for it, since square footage is always at a premium), working on code while looking at examples in a book is nearly impossible.

    Oddly enough, Unix man pages have none of these problems. :-D

    Oh, and ebooks suck for everything else academic in the world as well[1].

    Math? I hardly need a monitor clogging up my workspace. When I do math, I push my screen back and pull out the pencil/paper.

    Science? See notes about math. For higher level science classes that require working on a computer, see the notes about programming and e-books.

    You want the ultimate evidence that e-books suck? I can pirate almost ANY required textbook for my courses in e-book format for free, but I still BUY the textbook. Ebooks suck that much.

    Oh and lets not even mention accessibility. I have to be ON my computer? Or connected to the net and logged into a given website? Screw it. Give me a good ol' fashion bundle of dead paper.

    Ah, being a CS senior, it is not like I use books anymore anyways. Google and Wikipedia have most of what I need, and most Unix things I can grab from man pages.

    Given how textbook publishers (and school textbook stores) like screwing over the students, all of this DRM crud is not surprising though. Just this quarter, I found out that my university's book store is charging $80 for a book that Barnes and Noble has for $30.

    [1]Giant unsubstantiated statement.
  • by Crashmarik ( 635988 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @08:15PM (#15187054)
    You wan't to lower prices of textbooks, don't let professors teach the books they have written or edited. Or, if they want to use them they have to make them available to their students in electronic form for what their royalty on the individual sale would be.

    Ask yourself this how many chemistry 101 texts do you actually need ? Pascal plus data structures, algorithmic complexity ? Electricity and magnetism ? Strength of materials ? These are subjects that have been done to death !!! What you have is a captive market in students, and professors looking to supplement their income.

    Textbooks should be the cheapest books of a type you can by. The traditional markup on a paperback book is between 400 and 500 percent hardbacks are similar. The reason for this is that its hard to predict winners and books that dont sell are destroyed in mass. The process is called striping, the covers are removed from books and mailed back to the publisher. The reason books are stripped is because the publisher doesn't think it worth the shipping cost to have the book back.

    Textbooks don't have the problems of regular books. A publisher knows in advance exactly how many books to print within a few percent. The bookseller if they know the books are going to be used next term can just keep them and adjust their order accordingly.

    The only reason textbooks are pricey is that STUDENTS HAVE NO CHOICE BUT TO BUY THEM and that publishers are willing to bribe professors to get their books used.

    Just Compare the price of a schaums guide on a subject to the cost of the textbook.
  • by mako1138 ( 837520 ) on Sunday April 23, 2006 @09:41PM (#15187354)
    I had to buy a signals & systems book (Oppenheim). I didn't want to pay $120 for a new book or slightly less for a used one, so I got an international edition off eBay for $20ish. It's actually pretty good quality. But the kicker is the list price, which the seller of my book covered with nail polish. I scratched it off to find "300 Rs." Currently, $1 USD = 45 Rs.
  • by sanjoymahajan ( 851421 ) <> on Monday April 24, 2006 @01:53AM (#15188068) [] has a paper by me and a friend (who is also a physics professor) on how terrible introductory physics textbooks are. The paper itself is open source, by the way, and the source is available at the link above (click on "other formats").

    The paper includes prices and weights for most of the textbooks. For the first version of the paper, about a year ago, we checked the prices and shipping weights by hand at Amazon. For the revised version last month, we wanted to complete the table -- but the already-checked prices had mostly gone up, so we had to throw out all the old data. I therefore wrote the Python script included in the source; I'd include it below but the posting robot complains about junk characters. The script will extract ISBN numbers from stdin (which was our tex file), look them up at Amazon, and give you the prices and weights. I use it track the prices of my (least) favorite books. Not one has got less expensive.

    In our survey, the average book price was $152 (and average weight was 6.8 pounds): for boring and often incorrect, unphysical problems and explanations. It's no wonder so many people hate physics, and we have only ourselves to blame if we lose all our funding.

    Every physicist should put their (good) textbooks at [], where they would be available, sans DRM, to everyone in the world. We are supported by the public; why should the public have to pay twice, the second time in the form of royalties?

If a camel is a horse designed by a committee, then a consensus forecast is a camel's behind. -- Edgar R. Fiedler