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An Idea For Higher Education


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#1 locally pwned

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 01:33 AM

I am going back to school to finish a degree in computer information systems.

One of my online classes provides a PDF file for the entire text. So you have the option: buy the book for 60-100 dollars or simply read the PDF file for free. This got me thinking: why not provide a PDF of every book for every class?

Even further, why not make it law?

Think about it. Like health care, the cost of education continues to soar. Why? Simple economics: it all comes down to price elasticity of demand. Since education is ever-more important to the attainment of gainful employment, the cost can continue to rise and we have no choice but to pay. I won't get into the details of this, as it's worth it's own thread.

The point of this thread is that students pay hundreds of dollars a term on books. Hundreds. This is not due to the real cost of the books; the publishers generally don't allow text books used in classes to be sold at retail stores. Thus, books are several times more expensive than they would otherwise be if sold in a competitive market. This is nothing but blatant gouging. Young people are paying back loans for years while publishers can get fat along the way.

Another part of the problem is the constant reprinting of books. Remember, until grad school, math and physics books don't deal with material that changes much. Undergraduate students are learning the lessons of Newton and Leibniz. When publishers produce a new science book, the only thing that is different is the order in which the practice questions are listed...so you can't use the old book for assigned homework problems!

There are few easy solutions for the ever-rising cost of education. But here's one: a law requiring all textbooks used in accredited colleges to be available in PDF format free of charge.

Think about it; this would ease the burden for all students. It would save resources and reduce waste. Ultimately it would also prevent student loans from subsidizing publisher profits.
"The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking." - Albert Einstein

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands." - Douglas Adams

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#2 groovicus

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 05:21 AM

If it becomes law to provide text to students for free, then why on earth would an author waste their time writing a textbook then? Unless someone would be willing to pony up a buttload of cash for my textbook, then it wouldn't be worth my time to write the book in the first place. Besides, as a student, I want the book. I want to mark it up, I want to make notes in the margins, I want to make it my own. That is sort of hard to do with a book in PDF format.

#3 Guest_Abacus 7_*

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 06:00 AM

:flowers:

Thank God, I never went to school in America.

Edit? In this Country People get Government Grants to come up with their Ideas and print this, not to make Money out of it with Kids?

It should be the same in America?

Here most Text Boks are viabable for Free!
Ether online or in Libraries

:thumbsup:

Edited by Abacus 7, 08 January 2010 - 06:25 AM.


#4 locally pwned

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Posted 08 January 2010 - 12:43 PM

Groovicus:

It's a fair argument, but from what I can tell (correct me if I am wrong) it based on the idea that the price publishers fetch for text books are fair market prices. They are not.

I did a bit of reading to see if I could find any logical arguments for the cost of text books, besides that of gouging. On the government's website there was some interesting information.

Quoted from An Economic Analysis of Textbook Pricing and Textbook Markets by Dr. James V. Koch from the site:

"Between 1986 and 2004, textbook prices rose 186 percent in the United States, or slightly more than six percent per year (GAO, 2005). Meanwhile, other prices rose only about three percent per year (GAO, 2005)."

"CALPIRG (2005) found that students at California public universities spent an average of $898 on textbooks in the 2004-2005 academic year. If textbook prices have continued to rise at six percent per year, then this expenditure will rise to $1,009 in the 2006-2007 academic year and constitute 6.1 percent of the estimated annual cost of education for a resident student at a four-year public university (College Board, 2005)."



So yeah, we know the prices are rising fast. Too fast to be "natural" based on free market forces. But apparently this is true only in the United States:


"For example, in mid-July 2006, Barnes and Noble’s (U.S.) website offered to sell a new copy of Krugman and Wells’ Economics textbook for $126.75, whereas Blackwell’s in Great Britain advertised the same book on its web site at $76.31. Needless to say, it does not cost $50.44 to send the book from Oxford to the United States."

As rare as it is to find a text book sold by another vendor, it's even more rare to see it sold for a market price rather than the inflated contractual price publishers require.

Now, basic economics tells us that in order to attract vendors to sell wares, there has to be a market for said wares, which means there has to be demand for said wares. My suggestion of a PDF of every book will not kill demand for books; schools and students, such as yourself, will still want to purchase books. The PDF will simply give students a choice; this choice will break the monopoly publishers currently enjoy.

I personally agree with you; I like working with a hard copy. PDF's would force publishers to charge fair prices on the books they do sell so hard copies will be cheaper for those who want them. But then, if publishers asked market prices for books, say 50 bucks or so, we wouldn't be having this conversation in the first place.

----

I will finish up with a quick qualitative analysis. I bought a physics text book a few years ago for my calc-based physics sequence from the school book store (the only available place for the book). It was the better part of 200 dollars. I bought a book on astronomy a year ago for my own enjoyment at a retail establishment. Let's compare the two. The astronomy book is larger and has far more images and illustrations. It has a few less pages; only about 600 where as the text book has over 900. The astronomy book is roughly one inch square larger; they are both hard backs. The astronomy book was 25 dollars at Costco.

What's the difference? Is it the 300 extra pages? :flowers:

Is the physics book more costly because of the format...information followed by summary and practice tests? Well, explain this: my CompTIA A+ certification book is exactly the same format as the physics book (information in subject-specific chapters with reviews at the end of each) and is 1100 pages long. It cost about 60 at Barnes & Noble.

Back to the physics text book: this is not an issue of intellectual property; none of the information in the book is "owned." That is to say, book is filled with physics equations developed over the last few hundred years, calculus developed by Newton and others, and algebra that goes back much further still. Is it the images that makes it so expensive? This seems unlikely as the astronomy book I mentioned is filled with vast numbers of images in comparison with the physics book.

The answer I can't avoid is this: publishers charge what they can get away with. We let them get away with a lot.

One last note: perhaps the PDF requirement I am suggesting is too aggressive. But there are other options, such as some sort of rental system on books. You pay a deposit for the book at the beginning of the term, then return it and get your deposit back if the book is in order. Those who still want to own the book can make the purchase.


But I like my idea and I thought it was worth throwing out there. :thumbsup:

Edited by locally pwned, 08 January 2010 - 01:09 PM.

"The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking." - Albert Einstein

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands." - Douglas Adams

#5 mardek

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Posted 20 January 2010 - 06:47 PM

Perhaps there should be a movement toward open source textbooks - apart from Wikipedia, I mean... :thumbsup:

Fortunately, they don't have that kind of ridiculous prices for books over here (or I've just not needed a lot of textbooks.) But I've had to buy enough of them. And very often - what really, really, annoys me - they were books I needed for a paper/other project assigned by the same professor who had the library's only copy permanently checked out (the normal limits don't apply to them) and wouldn't return or even let us use it...

#6 gully786

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Posted 22 January 2010 - 04:30 PM

Look we live in a world of economics and nothing comes free. If you start making one thing free to such a large population like students you are causing the country to use up a lot of resources which will in turn build up debt, which in turn makes the currency weaker.

Very vague but i think you'll get the point. I don't really have time to write a long well thought out essay :thumbsup:.

#7 mardek

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Posted 22 January 2010 - 05:34 PM

Ah yes, because free education would be a terrible thing, wouldn't it? People might get uppity, better keep 'em stupid if they don't have money... They might go be productive or something!

(Glad I still live in a country where you don't pay an arm and a leg for an education. A thumb and a big toe, perhaps, which is bad enough.)

Books don't have to be free. But the prices Americans pay include ridiculously huge profit margins.

#8 gully786

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Posted 22 January 2010 - 05:53 PM

Lower the prices by all means but make them free would do more damage then good. Look at the long term not short term.

#9 BBlueize

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 12:30 AM

I totally get what both locally pwned and groovicus are saying. I love to read but have never thought of getting an ebook or whatever is available now to electronically read a book. I like a hard copy in hand with pages to turn but I think that if the PDF was offered it would lower the price of the hard copy of college text books. When my oldest child went to college I was so relieved that her father (my ex) was paying for college when she came home with her book list and prices. If something was offered in a PDF format for free I would still rather have the hard copy but if I couldn't pay for it at least I could still learn with the PDF. I guess what I'm trying to say with all my rambling is that I don't think offering a PDF would put hard copies out of business. I too think the result would be a more appropriately priced hard copy.

Now what they've done in my other daughter's school is this...her Ancient Civ book is available to view online and you had the choice of bringing home a disk for your math book so you didn't have to carry the hard copy back and forth to school. Granted she's only 12 but maybe the disc idea could be a way to go for those who don't like the free PDF idea. If disc(s) for a book were available for less than a hard copy it could be a win win situation. The author still makes money but the student still saves money.

Either way, as a parent of an honor roll student; without the necessary funds to get her books when the time may come, never mind pay for college, I cringe at the mere mention of the words tuition and books.

God knows, even Angels fall.


Life is What Happens When You're Making Other Plans


#10 mardek

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 12:33 PM

Have you thought of letting her study abroad?

Ok, the euro is stronger than the dollar right now, but what you'll save on tuition and books alone should more than cover that. Also, by the time she comes back, she'll speak another language fluently, a definite asset in any career!

(The 75 people who started in my first year came from over 20 different countries. You really learn to appreciate other cultures too.)

#11 BBlueize

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 12:53 PM

To be honest the idea never crossed my mind. When it comes the time it's something to check into. She's talking about going to a trade school when she starts high school so she'll at least have a start at something.

Thank you for your comment but we better get back on topic before we cause this thread to be closed :thumbsup:

PS That is not meant at all as a brush off. Poking around last night when I should've been sleeping I saw a few threads that had a quick and quiet demise because of off topic. I shudder at the thought of being the cause of one of them. :flowers:

Thank you again.

God knows, even Angels fall.


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#12 locally pwned

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 07:54 PM

Gully786:
"Look we live in a world of economics and nothing comes free. If you start making one thing free to such a large population like students you are causing the country to use up a lot of resources which will in turn build up debt, which in turn makes the currency weaker."



My argument is not that students "deserve free books."

My argument is that publishers of university textbooks are exploiting students due to the monopolistic position they hold in the market. My suggestion of free PDF versions of all university textbooks is designed to weaken this monopoly by reducing the price elasticity of demand for textbooks. Monopoly is always more likely to occur in a situation where the price elasticity of demand for a given product is highly inelastic, as in the case of students who have no choice but to buy textbooks from a single source.

Edited by locally pwned, 25 January 2010 - 07:55 PM.

"The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking." - Albert Einstein

"The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren, and to do good is my religion." - Thomas Paine

"If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands." - Douglas Adams

#13 groovicus

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Posted 25 January 2010 - 08:30 PM

So here is my question. If I as a technical expert in my field with years of experience in my particular discipline are expected to give my knowledge away, what reason do I have to write a textbook? One can argue about the price of books being outlandishly high, but the simple fact is that there are years of experience and highly specialized knowledge that goes into a textbook. If you were an employer, and you wanted to hire someone with a certain amount of technical expertise, would you expect to pay them the same as a junior employee? Heck no. If you wanted their knowledge, you would pay them top dollar.

I'm not sure where the idea of a monopoly come from, because that sure isn't the case. There is no one publisher that has a monopoly. the faculty at my university are kind enough to share their review copies, and the faculty review tons of books from many different editors in order to find the textbook that they feel best represents their curriculum.

#14 mardek

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 05:52 AM

Do we have any data about which proportion of an average textbook's sale price actually goes to the author? That would help...

#15 jgweed

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Posted 26 January 2010 - 09:45 AM

The economic model of book publishing is beginning to change, especially in regard to on-line publishing. One suspects that the trend will find its way into academic publishing in a relatively short time. It is far cheaper for publishers to move to on-line content (immediate corrections, no physical inventory, no remainders of an outdated edition, a very small distribution cost). The economic benefit to the publisher (and most likely to the author as well) will achieve what such a federal law would do, and probably just as quickly with less intrusion into free speech.
Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one should be silent.




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