Used or New? Forget it!

As any college student can attest, there is a HUGE secondary market in textbooks. The average price of a textbook is between $100-$120, and many students sell their books at the end of the semester, or buy used ones at the start of one. So, what do you do? Buy used or new?

There are cost, quality and time trade-offs. Many students order books online and have to wait, often up to 2 weeks, to get their textbooks.(Some online sellers are based in India and China and mail economy editions.) To save money, you lose time and might have to hunt the book down in the library, or check it out for a 4-hour reserve for the first couple weeks. For this reason, a student wrote in the campus rag asking professors to make the list of textbooks available before courses actually started.

The publishers aren't twiddling their thumbs either. To add insult to the injury of high-priced textbooks, they bring out new editions every other year. Once a new edition is out, the price of the old one falls considerably, and there are no used books to go around for that semester at least. One commenter (see below) wrote, "Does calculus change so much that it needs a revised edition every other year?"

The Economist blog reports a new model of selling - FREE! For students, anything free is welcome. There are a number of additional benefits: It gives professors more options, and you can learn from a book that best suits you and not get stuck with the prescribed textbook that is too 'dry', or more plainly 'sucks'.

The question is, "Is this a viable business model? based on ads?" I don't think so. Since this is not YouTube, I would not visit the site again once I have downloaded my books for the semester. A better model would be to charge a fraction of the cost, say between $5-$10, to generate some revenue and give the author more money than he would make from royalties. The volume should compensate him enough since more people would be inclined to buy the book in the first place. Perhaps, this is what future textbook authors need - a low barrier to entry.

Blogs were laughed about when they first appeared as alternative media. Now they have been co-opted by every major company and publication. I cannot see why we don't have more of these textbooks download sites. Wouldn't you write one too? This is where market economics will best serve the purpose of giving more choices and options to both consumers and suppliers and sidestepping the middlemen - the publisher and the professor to some extent.

1 comment:

Kunal said...

I think it makes a lot more sense to allow downloads for free. If you charge $5-10 for downloads, whats to stop someone from downloading one copy and sharing the pdf with his whole class? Free downloads mean you have no incentive not to download the textbook from exactly where the author wants you to.