Textbook Games

The article ‘Required reading’: As textbook prices soar, highlights triple-digit inflation and many other problems associated with the college textbook business.

Since becoming a professor in 1999, I have always sought to avoid textbooks for many of the reasons cited in the article. Most large publishers would gladly sell blank pages between a eye-catching cover if they could. Quality and especially affordability is far less interesting to them than meeting their own financial and sales volume goals. Hence, the churn in editions, bundling of media, over-contenting to give the appearance of greater value for the (high) price, etc.

Rather than be part of this crazy business, I prefer to prepare my own lecture notes, create assignments from scratch, and rely on low- or no-cost sources for high quality reading material. Doing things this way is certainly a lot more more work for me. But, the benefit makes it worth the effort. It requires me to think and be more thoughtful about what I hope to accomplish in each class and in each assignment. And it results in a more unique and interesting course that contains features customized to the times we live in, and always just-in-time.

I think students appreciate that the teacher has thought about whether or not a text book is actually necessary, rather than assign a textbook simply because that what most professors do. Students clearly appreciate the money saved, the up-to-date nature of the reading material and its relevancy, and not having to mess around selling another used book at the end of the semester.

While big publishers offer market reach, they absorb huge amounts of money in this and other high overhead process that they perform, resulting in high costs for a comparatively small amount of value-added. The distorted value proposition is bad for both publishers and students. My approach is to stick to the basics (of Lean thinking) and provide my students exactly what is needed in the quantity needed at the time needed.

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