Tag Archives: textbooks

Don’t Cry for College Textbook Publishers

Anyone who’s attended college or has kids attending college will not likely shed a tear for the struggling textbook publishers out there. You’re not going to have warm, fuzzy feelings for any industry¬†that causes you to spend the equivalent of a month’s rent, or more, on¬†books that you know you’ll only use for four months and then not be able to re-sell because a new version is already in the works. And you have to do it twice a year for the four years you’re in college!

That’s why reading this story in the Wall Street Journal on the struggles of the textbook publishers brought on a wave of schadenfreude like none I’ve felt in years:

Some opt instead to download textbooks illegally. A report last month by the Book Industry Study Group, an industry trade group, found that 25% of students photocopied or scanned textbooks from other students, up from 17% in 2012. The number of students who acquired textbooks from a pirate website climbed to 19% from 11%.

Those trends come at a time of steadily rising textbook prices. The price of new printed textbooks has jumped an average of 6% a year over the past decade, triple the rate of overall inflation, government figures show, making textbooks among the fastest-growing consumer expenses in the U.S.

Rising prices and changing buying habits have taken a toll.

Sales of new printed textbooks made up 38% of McGraw-Hill Education’s higher-ed revenue in 2013, down from 71% in 2010, said Chief Executive and President David Levin.

This hits close to home because in our house we have three college students right now. Thankfully we’ve been able to control costs by renting books through the school bookstore or through Amazon, or buying used books when possible through Amazon. Every once in a while the book will only be available from the school, and generally those are the most expensive, but still we’re talking $100-150 per book versus the $250-350 list price for many of the books for which we found rental/used alternatives.

The cost is patently ridiculous when you consider what is freely available online. In fact we should find a way to give professors incentives to utilize the information in the public domain whenever possible. It’s surely more work for them, but imagine the savings it would provide their students and how much less debt most of those students will have when they graduate.

Teachers Paying Teachers

Contained in a blog post about the publishing industry is this eye-opening paragraph about what seems to be a possible paradigm shift in the textbook industry (one can only hope):

So lets take a deep breath and go back a step. The article on earning a million was sent to me by my daughter as a follow-up to both of us quoting the performance of the web service  www.teacherspayteachers.com. Here US teachers deposit their learning plans and receive royalties on their re-use. Deanna Jump, a kindergarten teacher from Georgia, has become the first teacher to earn a million dollars in royalties. The site has had 50 million page views in the last 30 days and teachers post over 800 resources a day. The site has a rival (not mentioned in the article) in the shape of the UK periodical Times Educational Supplement, which has adopted this business model and teamed up with the leading US teachers union in a jv, while exploiting a global market from London. As advertising retreats the TES has executed a wonderful transition: not migrating so much as re-inventing itself in close alignment to what its readers needed to be better teachers. Indeed, in some ways this is re-inventing the textbook as much as the magazine, but whatever it is the outcome is the same: understanding how users work and supplying (in this case user-generated) content in the right context and with the right interface is the new publishing.

Check out the "About" page for TeachersPayingTeachers and behold some pretty incredible numbers:

TpT by the Numbers

40,000+ Free Resources
250,000+ Products
1,100,000+ Registered Users
50,000,000+ Page Views/Month
$10,000,000+ Teacher Earnings

This kind of thing has been a long time coming. It's been baffling how the textbook companies have been able to keep a stranglehold on the school systems even as technology has reduced the cost of self-publishing and enabled peer-to-peer sharing. It will be interesting to see how this service plays out politically – it's hard to imagine school systems allowing teachers to take wholesale control of their curricula, or the textbook industry to go down without a huge fight – but in these days of austerity there might be a chance for some cost saving innovations like this to take hold.

Again, we can only hope.


I have a thing about textbooks.  As I've written before I think the textbook industry is basically a crock and that our school systems need to seriously consider blowing up the current system and looking at innovative ways to use technology to serve students rather than requiring them to carry around 50-pound backpacks filled with dead trees. As you might expect I'd love to attend the panel discussion on textbooks tomorrow (Thursday, November 17)at UNC, but sadly I won't be able to make it so I'm hoping they post video or a transcript of the session online.