Economics Professor Self-Publishes Textbook To Subvert Overpriced Publishing Industry

R. Preston McAfee, a Cal Tech economics professor, is annoyed at how overpriced textbooks are. “‘The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,’ he said. ‘There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.'” To fight back, he’s foregone the potential six-figure advance traditional publishing would have granted, and published his textbook online for free.

You can also buy print versions through Lulu and Flat World Knowledge for anywhere from $11 to $60, but it’s free to download in Word and PDF formats. (Note: unless you plan on downloading it, you may want to skip the link to avoid wasting the professor’s bandwidth—here’s a screencap of the otherwise unremarkable page for the curious.) The New York Time says that it’s not a widely used text yet, but Harvard is among the colleges using it.

The article also takes a look at Connexions, an open source textbook project that allows users to mix and match existing content according to CC licenses and sees 850,000 unique users a month.

And then there’s CourseSmart, an online service backed by five dead tree publishers that sells limited access to printed textbooks for a discount of up to 50% over the print version. We haven’t tried CourseSmart ourselves, but the Times’ description of it makes it sound like a deliberately constrained “service” dreamed up by companies that don’t want to hurt their $200-a-copy golden goose, but want to take advantage of the market they created in the first place when they priced their books so high. Which, okay, sounds like good business, but we still think they suck.

“Don’t Buy That Textbook, Download It Free “ [New York Times]


Edit Your Comment

  1. TechnoDestructo says:

    Later on I encountered an accounting professor (who was a great teacher, regardless) who was using a text written by a personal friend of his. I didn’t see the text, but I did have to install throughout the lab, and support, the accompanying software. If the text was as bad as the program that came with it, it had no business in any classroom.

    And then there was the woefully inadequate Simmons calc text that helped me fail Calc II. 50 percent heavier and 50 percent more expensive than the far superior Thomas & Finney it had just replaced at my school. I suspect it was selected for the little sidebar history lessons rather than its actual instructional qualities.

    There is no market in textbooks. A book would have to devote a chapter to personally insulting every academic in its field in order to be rejected, even if it had no value whatsoever as an instructional aid.

  2. TechnoDestructo says:

    oops…edited that down and forgot to fix the beginning.

  3. socalrob of the 24 and a half century says:

    I wish this was my instructor. We just had a discussion regarding our textbook last night, which is 5 years old, and insted of publishing a new edition you are forced to buy the $75 dollar text book plus a suppliment to it. The instructor said he could not find any better text book and hates the book himself.

    Besides being old, it lacks even the basic information that should be in this book. It is a network security class by the way.

  4. I wish my professors had done that. Some of them even wrote the books that we had to buy… greedy bastards.

    • AdvocatesDevil says:

      @OolongCaloophid: I always wonder about people who say this… if you professor is supposed to know his field, and he writes a textbook about that field, and then he uses SOMEONE ELSE’S textbook… what does that say about his knowledge of the field???

      • azntg says:

        Thankfully, most professors in my college truly understands the (inflated) cost of textbooks.

        One of my Chem professors put up his well-written, Chem reader as a supplement for us to download on Blackboard. Other professors go out of their way to put books on reserve at the bare minimum, to give us equivalent problems on older editions of textbooks, etc.

        I suppose they are well in-tune and sensitive, especially since they have to budget around tight funding that CUNY gives them. Either that, or they’re young enough to remember how much textbooks cost themselves.

        In any case, my salute to you Professor McAfee and the other professors all around the world doing their part to aid learning on a budget. Double props if they can lecture well and provide effective help during office hours too!

        @AdvocatesDevil: That professor just might be one who actually cares about his/her quality of teaching. Sometimes, others can simply explain concepts/examples/etc. much better than you can.

    • suzy-q says:

      @OolongCaloophid: I work at a college bookstore and (most unfortunately) I see this all the time. The worst example I’ve seen of this was some kind of statistical analysis book, which was literally about the size of your average novel, written by the professor teaching the course. The price: $250.00

      I felt so sorry for the girl buying the book.

    • TWinter says:

      @OolongCaloophid: Just because your professor wrote the book doesn’t mean he/she was earning money off of you. Many universities require faculty authors to give up royalties for texts sold at that campus, the money often gets donated to a scholarship fund or something of that sort at the university.

      The biggest villains in this are the textbook publishers. They are the ones who really push the constant updates and new editions. I have a friend who wrote a successful textbook and she is to some degree a slave of her publisher – she has to do a new edition when the publisher demands one or she forfeits her rights to the book.

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        Couldn’t the professors just list the topics covered in more detail and say buy a text that covers these subjects.Isn’t that sort of the idea of education anyway:the study of different ideas on the same subject.

        I also heard that high school text books have gotten so out of hand the many school districts are not aload to buy books with engraved or embossed covers-basically nothing but text and pictures.

        @TWinter: And many publishers are corporate owned.It makes you wonder if these schools choose certain books because certain corporations make big donations or have alumni on the school staff.

        • TWinter says:

          @u1itn0w2day: No, I don’t think corporate donations play a role. At my university it’s individual faculty and departments that choose textbooks and I have no idea who’s giving money to the school.

          I teach one course that uses an expensive textbook – it’s $190 new from the bookstore. I feel sorry for the students in my course and encourage students to shop online for better prices, but I have few other choices. We really do use the book -they are assigned to read almost every page and there’s no way they are passing the course without the book. There are about 10 similar textbooks on the market, but they are published by only three textbook publishers and they all cost about the same. The publishers really don’t compete with each other on price. I’m not economist, but I do suspect price collusion is at play.

  5. My state resident tuition cost: $2175 per semester
    My book costs: ~$400 per semester
    Average salary for a Comp Sci major after graduating from my university: ~$70000

    I agree that text book prices are out of control, but I think I’ll be able to live with it in the long run.

    • radiochief says:

      @thnkwhatyouthnk: Huh? Your semester book cost is only $400. That is nothing to complain about..

      Back in the days of finger and telnet , when I was in school (late 80’s) my book costs were $300 per semester.

    • @thnkwhatyouthnk:
      $400 for books a semster!?!? Holy crap. I’m going to a Community College for my basics, and they run around $800 a semester. I’d love to know where you get your books. Please, enlighten us D:

      Every year, someone rewrites maybe a few words in a book, moves around the pages and makes this a new edition. The bookstores stop selling the older ones because they’re “out of date”. I don’t understand how laptop manufacturers can put out new laptops every month, yet though I feel I live under a rock, I have yet to see some kind of portable, light weight (less than 3 lbs.) electronic textbook that updates itself. The textbook publishers scam us students and there is absolutely nothing we can do unless a prof. like McAfee speaks up or we drop out of college altogether. And the government sure as hell isn’t going to do a thing either. Our education system is shot in Texas and the only way to learn is to read books outside class. I don’t know about the rest of the country, but the combined weight of the apathy and the money toilet that is sports here stymies educational progress. Not many want to learn here in this “great state” and the publishers make it worse.

      There’s my rant of the week. Thank you Consumerist for the channels that my rant pervades.

    • rockasocky says:

      @thnkwhatyouthnk: Some of us are unfortunately paying almost 10x as much in tuition. It makes the textbook prices sting a bit more :-(

    • Lo-fi says:

      Are you responding to something in particular, or just gloating?

    • dcaslin says:

      @thnkwhatyouthnk: Just keep in mind that Computer Science in particular has a huge number of cheap and practical books available that the rest of the non college world uses. In a way it’s more horrifying that you have to buy those overpriced textbooks since there is such an obvious alternative.

    • Veeber says:

      @thnkwhatyouthnk: Wow, I’m paying almost $250 in textbooks per class.

      The most annoying part is when you are “required” to get a textbook and it is only used for 1 chapter of material.

  6. Hooray for Professor McAfee!

  7. I just wonder what the textbook publishers are going to do to make this guy miserable.

    Probably attack the quality of his book, I assume? Get some people they have paid handsomely to say only the big publishers have the resources to [blah blah blah].

  8. teh says:

    Good for Prof. McAfee, but I’d like to point out that he’s far from alone in this quest. It is becoming increasingly common for textbook authors to negotiate for free online access in addition to printed books. More freely available books by Caltech authors are at []

  9. Marshfield says:

    Are the days gone when you could take Economics 101 and use the Samuelson textbook edition from 3 yrs ago and it would still get you through the class?

  10. Micromegas says:

    This professor is awesome.

    He’s also the exact opposite of the professors I had in law school, who self-published their books in flimsy spiral-bound form and then charged upwards of $100 per copy, making sure to shuffle around the chapters each year so the page numbers would be off for anyone who didn’t buy that year’s edition.

  11. Quilt says:

    I’m lucky that the college I attend self-publishes modules for nearly every course. $30 for module tops. Usually it’s only around $10. There are the occasional classes where there’s an over-priced text, but they’re rare, and they’re either easy to sell, or the kind of text that you WILL actually use.

  12. Zulujines says:

    Textbook prices are so frustrating. Especially when the publishers come out with new editions every year, so you’re forced to upgrade instead of buying an older, cheaper edition. I even had one professor tell me that the college encourages them to change the book every year to generate more revenue.

    I made up my mind to just stop thinking about the prices, because it just drives you crazy to think about all the money you’re wasting for information you could probably get for free online.

    I had a professor who didn’t require a textbook, just gave you notes and tested you on that. I learned more from those classes than any other. There’s too much information in textbooks anyway.

  13. emilymarion333 says:

    I wish I had a professor who did this! I remember a few quarters that I spent over $700 on books that I never used again. They also changed additions the next quarter so the bookstore would not buy it back.

    Its a good way to rip off poor college students money..

    • DallasPath says:


      I could NOT stand the changing editions/no buyback thing. It seemed like every single book I bought went through that…Had to buy it new because it was a new edition and then at the end of the semester suddenly ANOTHER new edition was coming out.

      Guess what textbook publishers…things like general chemistry, calculus, and the Revolutionary War pretty much don’t change AT ALL.

  14. magic8ball says:

    The whole college textbook market is such a scam. The professors know it, the students know it, the university bookstore knows it. In some cases the professors and/or the universities are colluding with the publishers. And the students don’t have the leverage to force a change. “I didn’t think it was physically possible, but this both sucks and blows.”

    Yeah, I’m bitter about how much I pay for textbooks.

  15. smallestmills says:

    I have a professor who requires us to buy an eBook this year. My only complaint is that the book is browser based (probably so we couldn’t re-use a PDF) and it’s killing ME! It’s only $30 for one semester of access but I’d gladly pay more for a dead-tree book that isn’t a pain in the ass to use. Plus, it’s an early accounting class, so I’m sure I’d re-use the info.

  16. Shadowfire says:

    Attention Mr. McAfee:

    I have read your news article. I am interested in your
    [ ] Product
    [X] Line of thinking
    [ ] Class

    and would like to subscribe to your
    [X] Newsletter
    [ ] Forum
    [ ] Podcast
    [ ] Magazine

  17. shanoaravendare says:

    I had a physics class in college where the professor had published the text that we were using. Copies were available at the bookstore for average text prices, but we weren’t required to buy them, the professor kept several copies in his office for students to use during the course.

    The bookstore at my college was HORRIBLE. They would publish lists of the required books for each course on their website during the summer before classes began in the fall, but would intentionally put the wrong ISBN #s with them making it almost impossible to purchase the books for cheaper through another source. Half the time the books they put up weren’t even the ones you needed. People would show up to classes on the first day and the professor would hand out a list of texts that looked nothing like the one on the website, of course that meant that we had to wait several weeks usually to buy our books because what the bookstore had in stock was what they listed online.

    Someone needs to regulate the prices on textbooks, or something. It’s getting to be ridiculous.

    • battra92 says:

      @shanoaravendare: Someone needs to regulate the prices on textbooks, or something. It’s getting to be ridiculous.

      Don’t know that I’d say regulate the price but if professors would just be smart about what they assign and if many stores could sell them the price would go down.

      I mean honestly, how much has Calculus changed in the last couple hundred years?

      • SinisterMatt says:


        “I mean honestly, how much has Calculus changed in the last couple hundred years? “

        I’m not defending the textbook publishers here (I think they charge exhorbitant prices too), but the state of any given field does change continuously. In the case of history (which I’m a grad student in), the trend has been towards a more “regional” or “global” kind of history. For example, a more recent Revolutionary War text will still have the familiar battles and involvement of the French, but it might also examine how the Revolution changed things for the British colonies in the Caribbean, or the Dutch involvement in the war. It’s important that books reflect the current scholarship.

        When I start teaching classes I am going to follow this guy’s example and use a few PDFs that I found on the State Departments website. Maybe make a print version available for a cost at the bookstore, but otherwise free.


  18. Ben_Q2 says:

    I took this one class, the teacher said this is the book but get into one of my groups. He did not teach from the book but gave tests from the book. Long story short if you where in his group, you had the answers.

  19. battra92 says:

    Sweet. I had a Math professor who once assigned us just a $10 workbook. In a computer science class we used the free Java Docs from Sun. Those classes were nice on my budget.

  20. bangbangbonnie says:

    I had one English professor for two semesters that never used the books that were mandatory to purchase. I mean, she CHECKED to see if everyone had a copy of the book each class period and then NEVER used them. I was out about $300 just because of those stupid classes, and, of course, the new editions came out so I couldn’t sell them back to the bookstore.

    Better yet, this semester, the campus bookstore forgot to order latin textbooks for al of the latin classes on campus. Wtg, guys.

  21. randomangela47 says:

    I WISH I could find a resource like that in my field. Upper level courses can usually get away with mostly pdfs that are available on the databases our university subscribes to… That doesn’t work so well when you’re teaching a 225 person intro level survey course.

    Some instructors/professors do take cost into consideration. For the class I’m teaching this semester, I went with a bare-bones textbook that was $65 on amazon (more like $75 at the university bookstore). Realizing that most of these kids are only in there to fill a gen ed requirement, I think that is way too much, but it’s still half the price of the ones the pushy textbook salesperson was pushing at me.

    On the other hand, some profs are more focused on what they can get for themselves. If I had played nice (I HATE pushy salespeople so avoided him like the plague) with the salesperson, I could have gotten several free books for myself to “evaluate” if I wanted to assign his more expensive text. One of my colleagues did just that in choosing a text for this term.

    Luckily, online services like amazon,, etc. are helping somewhat… In many cases, bookstores won’t buy back the book because it’s not being used the following semester — not because everyone is switching to a new edition, but because a new prof is teaching and chose a different book. Now you can just hop online and sell it (often for a better price) to someone far far away who will be using that text…

  22. dtmoore says:

    I had a professor who wrote his own book, on the first day of class he asked “Who here went to the bookstore and picked up a copy of the text?” The people that had raised their hands and he said something like “here is your first lesson, I know this an e-commerce class but here is a free economics lesson, return it this week while you can still get all of your money back, then buy it on for 25% of the price; we won’t be using the book for 3 weeks so you have plenty of time”. Consequently he was by far the best professor I had in college.

  23. ludwigk says:

    Should look at Dover press. Those guys print textbooks that cost like $20-30, which is very reasonable for an academic text. My Topology (kind of like geometry, but infinitely “squishy”) professor wrote the book we used, and it was dirt cheap:


  24. sandwichismymiddlename says:

    At my college, the student government (which I was a part of) had this awesome plan–set up a buyback program in which all students could “sell” their books to the buyback program, pocketing a hundred percent of the profits, and the program would turn around and “sell” (for no profit) them back to other students. It was just a middle man, a way to get all twenty-five thousand or so students to collaborate.

    I’ve heard that they’ve since started charging a small fee, something like three or four percent of the cost of the text, to cover costs of renting a space to facilitate the exchange, but it still seems like a good deal to me.

  25. Boulderite says:

    So far I’ve been able to buy all of my texts online for a fraction of the cost of the bookstore. I talked to a girl today who recieves financial aid and she told me that the aid money goes straight to the bookstore after tuition is paid and she has to buy her texts from the school bookstore. I think it is such crap that they do this. I’m not sure why it is set up this way. The way it is set up the policy benefits the school more than it benefits the student.

  26. edrebber says:

    How can you trust an university with your education, that crams these new text books down your throat at prices that are confiscatory? Haver there been any significant advances in undergraduate study in the past 100 years? Computer Science comes to mind. Anything else?

  27. TechnoDestructo says:

    Oh, I just remembered this video I watched for my marketing class. It was a propaganda piece put together by the textbook industry, attempting to defend their prices and related practices.

    It went on about the cost of producing a textbook, and all the places where the money goes. They mentioned the cost of graphics and photos. They showed a page with graphics and photos on screen.

    The only problem was, it was not from a textbook. It was from the April 1991 issue of Popular Science, the article on the YF22 vs YF23 competition. (The 2 dollar April 1991 issue of Popular Science, I might add.) I wonder if they actually paid to use it.

    I can understand a graduate level textbook in an obscure subject with a print run of a few hundred copies costing hundreds of dollars. But that’s pretty much it.

  28. Altdotweb says:

    Our campus library has most books available to borrow for two hours or (ahem..) make evaluation copies of the pages.

    If I need to have certain pages on file, I just snap a picture of them and store them on my computer.

  29. u1itn0w2day says:

    I’d be happy with something along the lines of a paperback type military field manual.They are smaller,lighter and tend to get right to the point-especially in math or science.I don’t need glossy pictures or fancy graphs.Look at all the subjects covered in the commercial or trade paperback market,why not use that format for academics.

    I think alot of professors and administrators are as bad as the consumer who always want the latest and greatest.Some people hear the word old or older and they think useless.If they don’t see a new book every year they’re in panic mode.

    • TechnoDestructo says:


      They want the latest and greatest…AND THEY AREN’T THE ONES PAYING FOR IT!

      You want textbooks to come down in price? Make the instructors responsible for the cost. Give them a budget, and have THEM buy the books for the students out of it. Don’t give them incentives to cheap out too much, but make sure that if they want to assign 10 different books (I had a professor who did that…we used 4 or 5 of them), they’re paying for anything beyond what they can get within the budget.

    • fizzyg says:

      @u1itn0w2day: That’s not exactly why it’s working that way. If you don’t get the newer versions you automatically can’t get the newer ancillary materials. That means no test banks, no videos, no online access to course sites, etc. It’s difficult to not want to have all the bells and whistles to use in your class.

      @Veeber: If you’re ‘required’ to get the textbook that basically means that the professor is going to hold you responsible for the material in that book and/or that you will have to bring that book to class. That doesn’t mean you can’t get that material in some other way, share the book, etc.

      As a prof, I can say that sometimes the newer texts are better. Perhaps they’re arranged better, the info is up to date, etc., but it varies by topic. I teach psych & law, and there’s no way I would use the 5 year old text because major legal decisions had changed many facts of the book. However, in personality psychology much of what is learned is historical, and so I went with an older text for that course.

      • u1itn0w2day says:

        @fizzyg: That’s the bait-the extras.But if you buy into that being the school or student you minus well not have a professor teaching the course.If you are using one source of criteria and supplies that much,why not just have a correspondence or online course.

        It should be the instructor’s course and not the text book company’s or publisher’s course.Relying on one source like that opens up the course to a very biased view,especially in the social sciences and literature type courses.

        It sounds like the publishers are selling technology and not the actual course content.

  30. AlexDitto says:

    I used to be outraged at the price of textbooks, too. Then I started emailing my professors, asking what books we’d be using, and buying them online as soon as the previous semester was out. Now I spend ~$100 for five or six text books. You can’t get paperbacks at B&N this cheap!

    To anyone complaining about textbook prices: they’re out there, even for obscure courses. There are book exchanges, online auctions, used retailers… go look for them! The thing that will really put the heat on the textbook industry to lower prices is the internet’s used book market.

    And if they change editions, talk with the professor, ask if you can compare their copy to the old edition. Look up tables of contents, compare them. If they’re the same, and the old edition is less than 5 years old, chances are good there’s nothing new in there. I’ve saved several hundred dollars buying one edition back. Usually, once there’s a new edition, prices for the old ones fall to the $5 level. A steal!

    I once had a high school chemistry teacher who recommended a textbook to use instead of the crap ones he was forced to have by the State. It was Brown & Lemay, 5th Edition. They’re up to the 9th edition, but he insisted on the oldest version. Said it had less crap in it. Dirt cheap, too.

  31. dewsipper says:

    I had a professor use her own book for a proofs (math) class. The book was all of 87 pages and was $60. Fortunately, the bookstore didn’t have the book in until after the first week of class. Needless to say, we got together and bought one book, photocopied it, then returned it.

    The other thing I loved is that at UAkron, a professor cannot use a book for an undergrad class that a grad level class is using that semester. So even though there was an awesome (and reasonable) International Accounting book available that the professor adored and uses personally as reference, we could not use that book since the grad level class was using the book (albeit only the last 8 chapters). Makes sense to me….

  32. Jaynor says:

    You could always do what I did at the University of Illinois – check the course books out of the library.

    I would go to the book stores (the school didn’t publish book lists online – only released them to the campus bookstores) the day that they received the reading lists for the class. I would write down the titles then bike over to the University Library and check them all out. With the generous renewal policies at college libraries I could keep them out all semester. The school usually had a few copies of any required course books available this way if you were quick on your feet (or pedals).

  33. kbrook says:

    I’m lucky. LUCKY, I tell you. The bill for my books was something like $800 this semester. Thanks to No Worker Left Behind, that’s paid for. It only covers classes and books, but I wouldn’t otherwise be able to go to school.

  34. picardia says:

    Textbooks are one of the biggest rip-off markets out there. I left college more than a decade ago, and even then the prices were already outrageous.

  35. Xerloq says:

    My econ prof did a self published with a unique code to a website so the book couldn’t be resold. $5 total cost for printing – except he charged $85 for the book. It was a huge lecture class, being a 101 course, and there were literally 2,000 students. $85 * 2,000 = $160,000 – $10,000 printing costs = $150,000 profit per semester.

    That’s what I learned in Econ.

  36. Good43 says:

    “To fight back, he’s foregone the potential six-figure advance traditional publishing would have granted, and published his textbook online for free.”

    Six figure advances in academic publishing are almost unheard of. Mid five figures are rare. Think more in terms of $20k. The advance is just that, an advance against future royalties. They are not guaranteed. Royalties are typically 5-10% of the wholesale price of the book.

    Very few academics are getting rich off of text book sales.

  37. Japheaux says:

    I went to West Texas A&M University and had this guy as an economics professor: []

    The first day of class he shocked us all by stating, “Here’s your first economics lesson, take that $150 textbook back and get your money back while you can. I will pass out handouts for everything you will need to know.”

    The guy was a genius and taught in a way using analogies that made a textbook obsolete. This may sound sick, but I actually liked taking the class.

    Screw the textbooks…extortion and it’s finest. So now I just paid $120 for my 16-year old to pay for an ‘online’ textbook to use for a college class he is taking. How exactly does this work? Holy crap…now they don’t even provide you with paper pages and charge you just as much.

    I am in the wrong line of work.

  38. I would like to take a moment to brag that I got permission from my department to teach a “History of Western Ideas” class TEXTBOOK FREE next semester!!! The textbook we’d been using is $85, and ALMOST every selection in the book is available in English and out-of-copyright. Because people have been putting Plato into English for ages now.

    When we get to the modern guys, I may put together a modest coursepack or have them buy a couple of trade paperbacks, but my goal is to keep total book costs under $20 maximum. Ideally under $10. (I have to get with the library and the copyright gurus and see how much of what articles I can post on a blackboard site, etc., to make final determinations about coursepacks.)

    I’m determined to knock this out of the park, to show it CAN be done and hopefully get more interest from my colleagues and the school. I’m at a CC, so many of my students pay more in textbook costs than in tuition!

  39. SuperSnackTime says:

    Check out Flat World Knowledge, I think this business model has the opportunity to be a win-win for students, instructors, and textbook writers…


  40. jlamont007 says:

    I am a professor at a private college in Michigan. We have campuses throughout the state. About five years ago we made it policy that one book would be chosen for each class taught at the university. We are all asked to choose books and they go through committee. This way we know what is being taught, that the book is being used in the class, and we can at least get an idea of the cost of the book. We were told it would bring down the cost of books. I don’t think this happened. We do try to choose books that are relevant to the subject at hand. Unfortunately we have no choice in when new editions are released. In the math class I teach, the textbook is “updated” every few years. I have no idea what this “update” does. There are no new problems, just different numbers. Nothing spectacular. I think they do it to make money on new editions. Not fair to the students. A computer text would need more updates than a math or English text.

  41. RockLobsterNet says:

    In one of my into econ classes, the professor didn’t require a book, but said if we wanted a text book, he would be pulling from one specific book and any version would be fine…it actually kept the price for it pretty low.

  42. SableHemlock says:

    I wish all my books were like this. My textbooks for my engineering class run like $100 used, it’s ridiculous. And some of them are terrible books that aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Granted, I’ll get paid well once I graduate so it’s not really a big deal, but seriously, how do you justify paying that much for a book? Is it made out of gold?

  43. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    I watched as a friend of mine in University, who couldn’t afford some of the books, would borrow other peoples textbooks and photocopy the relevant sections, inserting them highlighted directly into her course notes.

    After a while I realized she had not only saved herself some of the cost of the text but she had far more useful notes than the rest of us did.

    And the final kicker was she didn’t have to haul all the extra weight of the full book around with her.

  44. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    …follow up… of course that would be wrong for anyone to do as it breaks copyright. So don’t do it.

  45. leaves4chonies says:

    In one of my college courses my professor wrote the book we used for the class. He gave us all 25 bucks at the end of the semester, which is how much of a commission he received for each copy of the book that was sold.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      @leaves4chonies: Did he give the students who bought the book at another school a 25$ refund ?

      @chiieddy: A perfect example that the academics are not immuned to greed or profit at the cost of others under the guise of something like YOUR education . Sounds like a conflict of interest to me.How unique can his course be that you need their text ?

  46. chiieddy says:

    My profs used to do this in order to trap us into getting books and packets that could not be sold back to the college bookstore. In addition, you couldn’t get them used because there’d be a new required edition each semester with a key change in an article or chapter and you, of course, couldn’t get them through online retail outlets.

  47. Asmordean says:

    Not only are books overpriced, college/university bookstores overprice them even more.

    In my last two years I found out that all these books I have to buy can be found on $135 economics book at the university bookstore for $48 from Amazon. $155 chemistry book for $29.95 from Amazon.

    I told everyone in my econ class about the $48 deal. Not a single student bought one from the campus bookstore that semester. The bookstore sent an angry letter to the prof about ordering a book he wasn’t going to use.

    Another econ prof. just published his book and made it course material. He set the MSRP at $49.95. Bookstore marked it up to $119.95 so he took his book to Kinkos and came back with a pile of photocopies he sold for $8 each.

  48. bobosgirl says:

    I have 5 more classes to go to complete my associate’s and then on to PSU for my bachelors ( yeah,baby!) My first few terms of school, I bought everything at the bookstore. Now I’m smart. I re-sell all my books on Ebay, I start searching as early as possible for next terms textbooks on craigslist, Ebay,, bookbyte, and a few others. I got a $96 textbook off Craigs list today for $30, plus $4.80- for the Priority mail flat rate envelope. My class starts Tuesday, and it should arrive Monday. I also clean house for a college professor who turned me on to international textbooks. If you search online, you can get the “international” version from Amazon, Ebay,etc. for about half of even used here in the US. I bought a business text last term for $20 less than used here (even with shipping), and then sold it this summer for $18 more than I paid for it. The only difference with the international versions is that they are always softcover, and almost always black and white with kind of purpley pictures.

  49. HeyYouGuyss says:

    “The thing that will really put the heat on the textbook industry to lower prices is the internet’s used book market.”

    Wow, what a laugh that gave me, AlexDitto! That practice is actually what caused the price hike in the first place!

    How many times do I have to tell people that the used book market is the one and only thing pushing the prices up? Because the used market is so rampant, publishers have to make ALL of their profits off of the first semester. If everyone bought new books for two years, they pubs could make less a percentage on each book without making less money overall. Duh.

    Also – keep in mind the huge textbooks are a security blanket to some profs and TAs. I’ve personally offered cheaper alternatives, but they won’t change. It’s simply too much effort for them.

  50. Ninjanice says:

    One of the things I haed most about college (I went to a couple of colleges, but I’m speaking about the University of Michigan here) was that we had to buy texts that were written by the profs. Not very helpful when you want a different perspective on something. It made no sense to me that I’d sit in a lecture hall and listen to what I had just read the night before. We also had profs that would edit a book and would expect you to buy the edition that they edited, even if you owned a different edition already.

    • u1itn0w2day says:

      @blah,blah,blah: Again,how unique is the material or course that you must have YOUR professor’s book.Not only is that conflict of interest with the professor but the school as well for condoning it.

      I don’t know if it’s kickbacks or what but when they catch administrators in collaboration with the student loan companies I wouldn’t put it pass many administrators & professors doing something henky with publishers.

  51. ram0029 says:

    The cost of publishing a texbook has dropped by a huge margin. In 1994 we were publishing textbooks for 50% of the inflation adjusted cost of publishing a textbook in 1984. With productivity increases from better software/computers, I have little doubt that has dropped further. The argument from the publishers that it takes a lot of time and cost to do all those photos etc just does not hold water.

    The reason textbooks have increased at 3 or 4 times the rate of inflation is publishers are now sending out hundreds (sometimes thousands) of “free” evaluation copies, usually unsolicited. On top of that, they bundle them with numerous, sometimes dozens of teaching aids that often accompany the free copies. The vast majority of the free copies and almost all of the free teaching aids are never used, but you pay for them all the same.

  52. andystep12 says:


  53. mayhem99 says:

    Hi. I work in the textbook publishing industry for one of the big publishers. My area is social sciences/humanities.

    1. I’ve never heard of authors getting six-figure advances on textbooks. Maybe in the hard sciences, but not here. The norm is more like very low five figures. Remember that advances must be earned out by sales. It is not free money. If you don’t earn back your advance, your publisher is unhappy, and you might not get to do another edition.

    2. Of course a professor who writes his/her own textbook is going to use it. Often, the professor has a particular way he/she wants the information presented. That is one of the reasons to write a textbook. Ethical professors do not keep what they earn from these classes. The one I know gives the money back to the school.

    3. Part of the feature creep of textbooks is due to students who want bling (pix, color, figures, etc.) and who will not read something that looks like an instruction manual and profs/TAs/etc who want “a course in a box.” They want the PowerPoints, instructor’s manual, student study guide, test bank, and any other supplements done for them. This is due, in part, to very large classes in the intro market. Some publishers are sending some of this supplemental material to the web now.

    4. It’s difficult for non-tenured profs to write free stuff. At many colleges, profs have to publish to keep their jobs. Publishing free textbooks online doesn’t count. No publishing = no contract. McAfee is probably secure in his job; therefore, he does not have to worry about publishing and can spend his time writing an online textbook.

    5. Some textbooks require new editions; some don’t. Here’s a tip: the ones in the higher editions (say, 11th ed.) typically have fewer changes. The book has been around so long, it’s as good as it can be. Books entering 2nd and 3rd editions will probably be substantially improved.

    6. I know I will be flamed for this, but I must point out that writing textbooks is work. Producing a 1st ed., is especially hard work. A lot of people are involved who must be paid. The intro I’m working on now requires the coordination of 20 or more people just to get the thing into print. McAfee’s text looks great. A *lot* of work went into that. He’s also the “J. Stanley Johnson Professor of Business, Economics & Management” which sounds like an endowed chair to me. Endowed chairs, to my knowledge, make huge $$$, far more than regular faculty since they are paid through a private endowment. He is also a business professor, and they command higher premiums than most because universities must pay them more to keep them (else they would go to private enterprise and make even more $$$). So Dr. McAfee is already making scads of dough, just not through publishing. He has the luxury of collecting a huge salary, then producing a textbook on the side for his “war against the publishers.”

    McAfee also appears to be a Yahoo VP (see []), among other things, so his earnings come from elsewhere in our pockets, just not the part allotted for textbooks. McAfee is not some academic warrior in the trenches martyring his publishing time to help impoverished students. He is wealthy, and as one who appears to earn much of his living from new media, has a point to make. I suspect his textbook is not strictly charity. However, he did donate some of his time to provide econ students with a quality free book, so good on him. However, don’t expect many such books from not-so-wealthy professors who depend on publishing to augment their salaries or vitae.

    Finally, generally, author royalties on textbooks are relatively inconsequential. Really, they’re tiny compared to what the publisher rakes in. (McAfee would laugh at the chicken feed authors make. He spends that much on his light bill.) In fact, what a text author makes is hardly worth writing the book unless the book is widely adopted. The author then might make a few bucks by the 6th or 7th ed. But profs who write textbooks are not lighting cigars with your student dollars.

    MacAfee might be with what he pulls down from Yahoo, though. (I kid.)

  54. u1itn0w2day says:

    WOW-10 paragraphs.I can see that you are from the text BOOK industry.

    Reguardless of his motives or situation the fact is that he did it,put his name to it and the other print media is telling us about it.

    I agree that many students WANT bells and whistles-but I don’t think that is important to them once they realize the costs.

    The original article said it best in the paragraph about coursesmart but can be used for publishers or even the education industry itself-‘take advantage of the market they helped create’