The course is over ... so is the book.


Textbooks are expensive. They also take up lots of room on bookshelves, and it's a good guess that students rarely glance at them once they've completed a course. Because of this, the used textbook market makes a great deal of sense. If you have to buy the book, buy it from someone who no longer needs it. And if you no longer need yours, sell it to someone else. Digital textbooks, however, don't work that way. Though they may be less expensive for purchasing as new, their resale value is pretty much nil, and that's because rather than purchasing them, students license their use, and that license expires when the course that they've been purchased for is over.

There's nothing new about this. Back in 2005, in CNet, John Borland noted that universities were offering digital textbooks at two thirds the price of the print edition, but added:
That's not a bad deal for a cash-strapped student facing book bills in the hundreds of dollars. But there are trade-offs. The new digital textbook program imposes strict guidelines on how the books can be used, including locking the downloaded books to a single computer and setting a five-month expiration date, after which the book can't be read.
In other words, not only couldn't you continue to use the book after the course, even during the course you couldn't lend out your copy of the book to another student, unless you loaned out your laptop as well. I haven't followed this issue over the years, and perhaps some of the problems have been resolved (though when it's a question of how to make more money, I have my doubts). But new digital possibilities seem to continually raise new problems. Digital textbooks may be less expensive, but some of them are now coming "equipped" with a course's homework, and this homework, though mandatory, is accessible to students only if they have the access code which comes with purchasing the textbook. As a BuzzFeed article from August of this year explains:
The codes which typically range in price from $80 to $155 per course give students online access to systems developed by education companies like McGraw Hill and Pearson. These companies, which long reaped big profits as textbook publishers, have boasted to investors that their new online offerings, when pushed to students through universities they partner with, represent the future of the industry.

But critics say the digital access codes represent the same price-gouging ethos of the textbook business, and are even harder for students to opt out of. While they could once buy second-hand textbooks, or share copies with friends, the digital systems are essentially impossible to avoid.
This isn't a case of Big Brother watching (though at its simplest level a teacher could easily check whether his or her students had really read the assigned material). It's more a case of Big Brother setting down the ground rules and making sure we play.



Go to: Ain't no need to hide, ain't no need to run.