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Education Books Media The Almighty Buck

For Americans, Imported Textbooks Can Be Cheaper 678

Posted by timothy
from the this-trumps-capitalism-how-exactly dept.
mblase writes "The NYTimes has an article (free reg required, someone'll post the Google link any minute now) about how the Internet has trumped capitalism yet again -- the very same college textbooks used in the United States sell for half price, or less, in England. One sophomore imported 30 biology books this fall and sold them outside his classroom for less than the campus-bookstore price, netting a $1,200 profit." Wait 'til they shuffle the problem sets.
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For Americans, Imported Textbooks Can Be Cheaper

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  • Not capitalism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pavon (30274) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:32PM (#7276876)
    ...about how the Internet has trumped capitalism yet again...

    No should be: how the free market internet has enabled capitalism to trump corporate price fixing.
    • Re:Not capitalism (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Otter (3800) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:49PM (#7277017) Journal
      I also liked "We think it's frightening, and it's wrong, that the same American textbooks our stores buy here for $100 can be shipped in from some other country for $50." in the article.

      Wrong, perhaps but isn't "frightening" a little over the top?

      • Re:Not capitalism (Score:3, Informative)

        by rnd() (118781)
        It's neither wrong or frightening. It's simply good for consumers. Nobody cares if you import digital watches or microchips, so why should anyone care about books?

        Plus, the college textbook market is a racket.
        • Re:Not capitalism (Score:5, Interesting)

          by DaveAtFraud (460127) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @11:01PM (#7278227) Homepage Journal
          Plus, the college textbook market is a racket.
          You probably have no idea how right you are. I used to work for a subsidiary of Times-Mirror Corporation. At a meeting of technical leads in the mid/late '90s the discussion from the subsidiary that published college text books was how to leverage technologies such as SGML/XML to create the ability for profs to customize the content of the text book they used in class each year. The motivation for this was not to allow the prof to select the best content for the course (this was just the marketing angle) but to destroy the market for used text books.

          I can just hear a prof saying something like, "Oh, by the way, don't buy a used copy of the text for this class. The content has changed significantly from last year."

          Time-Mirror got bought by Tribune Corporation a couple of years ago. Tribune sold off the subsidiaries that didn't fit with their core identity of news media so I have no idea where that particular subsidiary ended up. My guess is it doesn't matter. On the other hand, I know of at least one prof who required his own text book and then refunded to the class what he made on them buying it. Some people are fair but don't count on it.

          • Re:Not capitalism (Score:3, Interesting)

            by adrianbaugh (696007)
            At Oxford it was unheard of for a prof to require their own textbook; they generally provided a reading list of about 30 or so books for their courses, most of which could be found in the college libraries or the Radcliffe Science library. Occasionally they listed their own books, but again these were readily available in the libraries. And for the rare cases where books were either so hard to find in the libraries or so useful that every student pretty much needed one there was a thriving second-hand marke
    • No should be: how the free market internet has enabled capitalism to trump corporate price fixing.

      Very true, what I would be interested in is how much import duty the bloke had to pay. It is one thing that I sometimes forget when importing to the UK.
    • by Atario (673917) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:02PM (#7277111) Homepage
      And the Internet teams up with it again. "Leveling markets here there and everywhere! Let's ride, trusty chum!"
  • by winkydink (650484) * <sv.dude@gmail.com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:32PM (#7276879) Homepage Journal
    It often takes a couple of months for the duty bill to show up. Ask me how I know. :(
  • by Flounder (42112) * on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:33PM (#7276885)
    This is capitalism at it's pure form. Finding a product in demand, selling it at a price that undercuts the competition, and making a healthy profit.

    At least until he's trumped by the powers of communism (lawsuits by the school or the textbook becoming illegal to import under the DMCA)

    • by Triskele (711795) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:47PM (#7277002)
      I'm sorry but this has nothing to do with capitalism. I know that for some of you capitalism == free market but they are quite separable concepts. Capitalism is to do with capital, the integral of money (i.e., the derivative of capital is money originally in the form of a dividend). What you are seeing here is the triumph of an international free market. It might help if some of you lot had actually read Marx rather than ranting on about "oh this would never have happened with communism". The founder of communism had quite a lot to say about this. "Das Capital" is still the root of much modern economic theory.
      • "Das Capital" is still the root of much modern economic theory.

        And "Das Capital" was just a warmed over restatement of "The Wealth of Nations", with some political diatribe thrown in to keep the reader's interest.
      • Das Kapital? Free market? In the same breath?

        The Wealth of Nations [adamsmith.org] might be a more appropriate work to point to as "the root of much modern economic theory," as opposed to that polemic, "Das Kapital [reference.com]."

        Unless you're an unrepentant Marxist, of course.

        • Nations might be a more appropriate work to point to as "the root of much modern economic theory,"

          After all, nobody would listen to Marx if he wrote this [classicreader.com]:

          In civilized society, it is only among the inferior ranks of people that the scantiness of subsistence can set limits to the further multiplication of the human species ; and it can do so in no other way than by destroying a great part of the children which their fruitful marriages produce.... It is in this manner that the demand for men, like that fo

      • by rnd() (118781)
        Generally, when people refer to capitalism (at least in the US) they are referring to some kind of free market capitalism. Capitalism is quite separable from a free market, as in nations like Korea. Free market capitalism is the economic system that maximizes individual freedom. Any other system, including non-free market capitalism, does not maximize individual freedom. The individual who imported the books did so because he is free to do so, hence the concept of freedom behind the idea of free markets
    • by leoaugust (665240) <leoaugust&gmail,com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:54PM (#7277058) Journal

      In the latest news, since the PMCA (Printed Millenium Copyright Act) has passed in the last few hours, the BIAA (Book-ing Industry Association of America) has started printing on books that "books printed in other regions of the world are not to be imported in the USA. First offence is punishable with a reprimand letter, and if the felony is repeated, the crime is punishable with 10 years in prison."

      The guidelines for one relevant section invoking Non-Patriotic Book-ing Transactions in the drafting the PMCA had been lifted from the MPAA strategy of dividing the world into "regions" so that products were deliberately crippled to work in only one region out of many that had been drawn up by the MPAA. In addition, the redrawing of the printed-book regions drew upon the recent legislative successes in the re-districting of Texas, also called Xtreme GerryMandering.

      In an other related development, the Patriot Act has been invoked to open and check all book packages coming into the US. Additionally, the Ashcroftian-Feds have started entering public libraries and private libraries (i.e. book collections in the homes or dorms) to enforce these laws. As they do not have to intimate the suspects before and after the act, most people are unaware that the feds have been rummaging thru their books. Some private diaries have been exposed, and a clique of people referring themselves as /.'s (WTF) have especially been targeted for subversive reading of "filtered" news that has been the special target of the POTUS.

      • He is only selling the books to people who are capable of 'region-free' reading. Those who can only read Region 1 books are out of luck!
      • You think this is funny, but this sort of case has actually already been litigated, and some courts HAVE found that importing legitimate copyrighted material for resale IS a violation of copyright. The US Supreme Court disagrees, and as a result the US is in violation of some international agreement or another. Naturally the govt (legislature and executive) is working on ways to bring the US into compliance.
    • by Watts Martin (3616) <layotl@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:46PM (#7277424) Homepage

      I think "trumping capitalism" was a silly description, but I also think your analysis is a little too glib.

      Neither of these (the original price, or the re-importation) are examples of a pure free market system. Copyright ensures that the textbook is only available from one producer (the publisher); there's no competition in production at all, therefore, but only among distributors. And, as someone else pointed out, the problem being solved by the text-book reimporting is essentially a problem of price-fixing. The producer is able to set baseline prices differently in different countries in a manner completely independent of demand. (If a course requires book X, you don't get book Y on the same subject that's 15% less, you get book X.) It hardly requires anything that smacks of "communism" for the reimportation to be stopped; it just requires the producers to raise prices in other countries to make this no longer cost-effective.

      This kind of end-run is a makeshift way to address the problem, but the real problem is addressed only by radical deregulation (removing the monopoly power of copyright) or greater regulation (imposed price controls on the market). Both of those would get different sets of people highly outraged, of course, and the former one is becoming a classic neolibertarian dilemma: "intellectual property" is arguably a form of property right, the virtual foundation of capitalism, yet also arguably a form of government-granted monopoly.

  • by EvilStein (414640) <spam@@@pbp...net> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:33PM (#7276886) Homepage
    Average college tuition is up 40%
    Textbook prices have gone up as well.

    My paycheck, however, has most certainly *not* gone up 40%. Sad to say that average CEO compensation has gone up 17% over the past year.

    No wonder people are importing books.. they can't afford to buy the stuff here!
    • Universities/colleges enforce professors to use the latest edition of books every 2 years. No buys the 5th edition if 6th edition is available because a) problem numbers are different b) chapters are shuffled around /w missing chapters

      Although some profs are nice and give problem sets using old and new edition of text books.

      So text-books have an EOL of 2 years.
  • by BigDish (636009) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:35PM (#7276900)
    I imported my math book for my freshman math class last year from England. I bought it from a big UK bookstore (I think it was Allwell) and I paid something like $45 shipped for it to the US. Same edition as the one the bookstore had. Same ISBN number. Hardcover, etc...all in all, identicle to the one I would have bought at the bookstore on campus. The bookstore (and all US bookstores) sell that book for $120 or so, even used it's $80 at the bookstore.
    I hate textbooks....99% of the time they are total ripoffs. The only textbooks I own that I think are useful I saw in the college bookstore, and bought used on half.com for my own personal use-not needed for any class.
  • by muon1183 (587316) <muon1183NO@SPAMgmail.com> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:35PM (#7276901) Homepage
    This semester, I purchased several of my books online from sellers in other countries. One of the books, which came from Hong Kong, arrived the morning after I had purchased it. I purchased the book for less than 1/3 of the US price, and the seller was still making enough profit to be able to overnight the textbook to me. If this isn't a sure sign of an overpriced book, then I don't know what is.
  • In New Zealand... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:35PM (#7276902)
    I live in New Zealand, and textbooks here cost about half price in retail shops than they would to import them from the US. In one of my papers a couple of years ago, the lecturer's recommended textbook was only available in the US and cost around $NZ230. Typically, a textbook here will be around $NZ100. Because of this huge cost, hardly anyone bought the textbook, even though the lecturer had arranged a deal where we wouldn't have to pay for shipping. Most of us were very surprised to hear that the situation was the same for most textbooks (ie, about twice the price in the US for exactly the same book).
  • Yeah (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blackmonday (607916) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:36PM (#7276905) Homepage
    First medicine for the sick and elderly, now college textbooks. Why are Americans pushing profit margins up for these companies by paying higher prices than other prosperous countries?

    • Re:Yeah (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HBI (604924)
      The trade barriers that exist based upon national borders allow companies to practice alternative pricing schemes. Obviously, people are willing to pay the higher book prices in the US.

      Those who are smart enough to figure out a way to evade it just won. Those who don't, lose.
    • It's not just the U.S. For instance in New Zealand, there is a 12% tax on books. (or at least that is what I was told when considering purchasing them here or there)

  • by eap (91469) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:36PM (#7276915) Journal
    How can we be sure textbooks imported from other countries have the same strict safety guidelines as those bought in the U.S.?

    We must enact strict legilation to protect American citizens from this threat.

  • Not just the books (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BenjyD (316700)

    For example, tuition alone for undergraduates at Harvard is currently $26,066 a year as compared with $1,840 at Oxford University.

    I guess we British students should stop moaning so much.

    • by EverDense (575518) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:29PM (#7277296) Homepage
      I guess we British students should stop moaning so much.

      No, you've still got shithouse weather.
    • by heli0 (659560)
      Harvard is a private university, Oxford is a government-funded university. In the U.S. government universities are funded by the individual states and tuition ranges from $1,500-4,000/yr, while many states such as Texas and Georgia waive the tuition fees for students who keep their grades above a certain level.

      Oxford weighs funding changes [boston.com]
      "despite Oxford's proud history and its impressive architecture, it is losing its competitive footing to America's top-tier colleges and universities, such as Harvard
  • by DeepDarkSky (111382) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:39PM (#7276930)
    The Internet, if anything, empowers capitalism even more precisely because of this kind of thing. The Internet enlarges the market, making it possible to compete at a level like never before by eliminating geographic boundaries (to an extent) and reduce localization of markets.

    Why do these kinds of exclamations make it into the story anyway? I thought there were editors for these things....oh wait, this is slashdot, nevermind.

  • buying from the US (Score:2, Informative)

    by rendermaniac (688883)
    Funny. I always find it the other way around. Admittedly my only experience is really with Amazon. The UK version often has less books on offer, at higher prices and longer delivery times. It's often been simpler for me to buy at the US store in US dollars and wait the extra 5 days than buy it here.
  • ...when e-books will be accepted as widespread classroom help. In this case, you buy a reader (a laptop?) at the start of the school and then, well, we all know how it's with all software and other data with students... :) No more paying for books!

    Ah well, if you're entitled to free education, why can't it be really free?
  • by u19925 (613350) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:40PM (#7276949)
    American publishers sell their books cheap in third world with the pretext that the students can't afford expensive text books. However, the truth is that they are doing dumping and hurting the local publishing industry. If you can get K & R C programming book for less than $2 in India, why would any Indian professor write another book on C? The only way to prevent such dumping is to send back these books back to US and that would teach a nice lesson to big publishers here

    I bought mine K&R C book and many other books from India and good to hear that others too are getting the word out.

    • American publishers sell their books cheap in third world with the pretext that the students can't afford expensive text books.

      This isn't a pretext. It is fact. Third World students literally (it's not a matter of not buying that iPod, but a matter of not eating) cannot afford American text book prices. In many areas, American books are necessities, not luxuries.

      The only way to prevent such dumping is to send back these books back to US and that would teach a nice lesson to big publishers here

      I'm a

  • example (Score:4, Informative)

    by Wakkow (52585) * on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:41PM (#7276958) Homepage
    Here's an example for a book I needed this quarter:

    Digital System Design Using VHDL [addall.com]

    $59 (shipping included) to get it from the UK shipped priority to me in California. $115 at amazon new, $65 or so used. Took only a few days, the same it'd take if I bought it in the US, and probably quicker than the Media Mail that amazon marketplace and half.com usually offer.

    Once there was an optional book I wanted to study from that went for about $50-$60 on half.com. Saw a used one on ebay for $15 that looked pretty much new when I got it.
  • Children in public schools in the US are given textbooks that are full of inaccuracy. It ranges from the misleading, to the incomplete, to the completely incorrect. There is no proper system to have the books reviewed by intelligent people with the interests of truly educating the students. Feynman tells an interesting story [redshift.com] in one of his books about what really goes on. Of course this isn't how they screw it up every time. The other half of the time they don't even pretend to have a review process.
  • by jrsimmons (469818) * on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:43PM (#7276973) Homepage Journal
    The only piece of this that really surprises me is that the kid was able to sell enough books to make up for the overhead of shipping. One would expect some guy selling books to be cheaper than the on-campus store. No rent, not utilities, and no customer service. What happens when, say, someone who bought from this kid finds that half of chapter 6 is missing? He's out of luck. Theoretically, at a book store (I know, I know, university books stores are reknowned for "you bought it, you deal with it" attitudes), you could return it for a whole book.

    This kid has become an active participant of our free market economy. Identify a product people want or need (the book), identify a way to cut the cost to that customer (resale and no guarantee), and do business where the customer already is (outside the class where the book is needed).
  • by markov_chain (202465) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:47PM (#7276999) Homepage
    A textbook was selling for $120 at my local college bookstore. This was the list price! I bet they would charge more if the list price let them. Anyway, I got the same book on Amazon for $60, free shipping, which was in the US. So it's not the foreign books that are cheaper-- the markup happens in the college bookstore.
    • Not every bookstore is like that. Amazon posts a price of $127 for my Systems Analysis book (Systems Analysis Design Methods by Whitten, Bentley, and Dittman), and I paid $131 in my bookstore for it. Thats average. Students at UMPI have looked on amazon, it doesnt help here. We have even had university and student senate committees dedicated to weather or not the bookstore is gouging and so far no book that the bookstore sells is marked up more then $5.

      Yes, the markup happens at the bookstore, but at the s
    • Its a catch-22 situation. Save money by buying used books when available, this drives up the cost of new books you have to buy.

      When I was in school I was able to witness the "birth" of a textbook. I learned that students are in part responsible for the high prices. Textbook publishers try to recoup their costs (advances, manufacturing, marketing, etc) in the first year since there is a severe dropoff in sales for later years even when the text is still in use. This is due to the sale of used books, the p
  • Great deal, but ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mfago (514801) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:48PM (#7277005)
    the printing and binding is often pretty bad.

    Most of the students from South America and Asia bring these books from home, and often they are essentially softcover photocopies. Still worth it to get a $120 book for $20, as long as you don't need it for a life-long reference.

    Both prescription drugs and books -- 10x the price in the USA than anywhere else.
    • I've used some pretty shoddy textbooks. Bindings that fall apart mostly. Heck, $100+ softcover editions are very common now. It's not like the expensive US version gets you much.
  • The UCSD Campus bookstore regularly has second-hand textbooks at a higher price than new versions from England.

    Looking at the shelf by my head, of the 26 books there, 18 were bought from England.

    (about half are technical books, they all came from England. 25% are extreme sport guides and 25% are travel guides, most of these came from the US, and the remainder are popular science books, these all came from England. Oh, and there is a book about brewing real ale which, ironically, came from the US.)
  • ... the very same college textbooks used in the United States sell for half price, or less, in England.

    The FDA has already warned everyone about low priced and "possibly dangerous" foreign drugs. We need a new government agency to prevent the terrible prospect of people getting their hands on this potentially hazardous foreign knowledge.

    I'd put it under the National Security Advisor and military - they've been pretty good about keeping any reliable foreign intelligence out of the White House...

  • I refer my students to addall.com [addall.com]. Instead of paying nearly $100 for one of the best CS books ever [mit.edu], they paid about $30 per copy. I hope the authors still get their share.
  • by Heghta' (246911) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:53PM (#7277050) Homepage
    "This is outrageous" was among the comments heard fom Jack Ripov, spokesman of the TBAA, the Text Book Association of America.

    He also stated that, "Selling those books at such low prices in America is obviously going to hurt quality. We spend a lot of money to make that our customers only receive top notch quality products. Now the market gets swamped with british textbooks that spell words like color or aluminun wrong, hurting the spelling of many students here, yes, very undermining what this country stands for. But we will not watch this idly!"

    This comment is obviously a reference to the soon to be introduced move to region-encoded textbooks.

    When asked how region-encoded textbooks would work, Mr Ripov was kind of enough to supply us with some basic details.
    "You see, everyone who wants to use a textbook will get a new device implanted into his brain ensuring that they only use textbooks from their Region. If you would start to read a textbook from another region, the device would simply tap into a neural interface and deactivate your eyes, effectively stopping you from violating our IP rights."
    When asked what about persons who would not have such a device implanted into their brains, Ripov replied: "Well, obviously we will have to deal with those unamerican IP-terrorists as well, but we have a strong case there that reading a textbook without a brain control device is in violation of the DMCA, and we will not hesitate to enfore our rights in court."
  • "This is a season when textbook publishers get kicked around a lot, and they're feeling vulnerable," Mr. Adler said. "The practice of selling U.S. products abroad at prices keyed to the local market is longstanding. It's not unusual, it doesn't violate public policy and it's certainly not illegal. But publishers are still coming to terms with the dramatic change in the law."

    It is longstanding, it makes economic sense, but it's not necessarily legal. More specifically, banning imported books in the US is

  • by neko the frog (94213) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @07:59PM (#7277094)
    This is a rather long essay I wrote a while back on the subject, so bear with me on this.

    Deep within downtown Seoul, on the bottom floor of one of the city's innumerable high-rises, is the Kyobo Bookstore, the largest of its kind in Asia. Along the West wall of this 2.3 million title shopping center is a selection of English books, and a selection of college textbooks larger than that many American campus stores. A visiting American student majoring in for example mathematics would be astounded upon browsing the selection, not because of the wide variety of books available, but because the exact same book which he or she spent over $120 on for the previous semester is available here for $30.

    Many of the business practices of the textbook industry are well known, if only subconsciously, to all college students. The nearly oligarchical cartel in the textbook industry drives the price of schoolbooks to unreasonable levels, between three to five times fair market value for equivalent non-scholastic texts in North American school bookstores (even though they can be purchased cheaply overseas), by means of a captive student population who does not have a choice in which textbooks they much purchase and price-control mechanisms such as frequent yet marginal revisions to short-circuit any used book market and "value-added" features such as subscription-based Internet site access, partly so as to satiate an expectation of high profits by textbook authors in an over-saturated industry.

    The fact that textbooks are extremely expensive is difficult to debate. A quick browse in Amazon.com's textbook section shows that the average price for the top five books in each of their categories, is currently $89.47. Only one book in their top Mathematics section is sold for less than $99--and that book is only available used (Amazon). Since it is not uncommon for professors to require more than one book for a class, the financial burden on students can easy top five hundred dollars per semester. Furthermore, the cost of textbooks severely outpaces inflation: the United States Department of Labor indicates that the wholesale price of textbooks has increased 65 percent in the past decade, nearly six times the average increase in producer prices on the whole (Hubbard). In contrast, it is quite rare to find a hardcover book online or at a physical bookstore, even technical in nature, that retails for over $45.

    The traditional method for students to offset these costs is the used book market, usually also facilitated by the campus bookstore. However, the industry has several methods of short-circuting this market. Most obvious is the frequent revisioning of textbooks, with as little as six months between versions, make previous versions economically worthless because even if the changes are as mundane as rearranged exercises (not uncommon in math and physics texts), publishers will stop printing the older edition, forcing professors to switch to ordering the new editions or risk alienating students who cannot find used copies of previous editions. or adding in "value-added" items such as CD-ROMs, magazines, or Internet Web Site access which are rarely used by instructors but serve to prevent used book sales.

    In an effort to get instructors, departments and school boards to adopt a text, publishers go to great lengths to entice faculty. Perhaps one of the most ridiculous instances of textbook publishers trying to win instructor favor was an attempt to woo Richard Feynman, one of the most prominent physicists of the 20th century and a professor at the California Institute of Technology. Mr. Feynman was offered some 300 pounds of textbooks to review and recommend, and the promise that "We'll get someone to help you read them." One book he was asked to review was blank ("We just need a recommendation"), and when he delayed for several days (allowing a bidding war which cost the publisher two million dollars), Feynman was offered gifts ranging from fruit baskets to an all-expense-paid tou
  • Standard Textbooks (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Detritus (11846) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:04PM (#7277129) Homepage
    Why should textbooks for standard subjects, say calculus and physics, cost more than a Dover paperback? These are subjects that change very little from year to year. Why not have a standard set of textbooks for these subjects and keep printing them for decades, without gratuitous changes to create new editions.

    I inherited a friend's old college textbooks from the 1960s and I was surprised at how small they were. They were the size of normal hardcover books, not the gargantuan monstrosities that I see in the local college bookstore.

  • All of the math is in metric units. Enjoy! ;)
  • Textbooks=$$$ (Score:5, Interesting)

    by christurkel (520220) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:08PM (#7277156) Homepage Journal
    My aunt used to be a managing editor for HBJ, which publishes a lot of textbooks. The whole thing is a scam. They make sure text books are "revised" every year, usually by changing one line (thats right) and calling it a new edition.

    Publishers like HBJ make money hand over fist on textbook sales.
  • by ljavelin (41345) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:11PM (#7277177)
    "The practice of selling U.S. products abroad at prices keyed to the local market is longstanding. It's not unusual, it doesn't violate public policy and it's certainly not illegal. But publishers are still coming to terms with the dramatic change in the law."

    Just you wait - I wager that new laws and publisher licensing rules will be created that manages to severely curb such importation. Heck, it works with prescription drugs: "oh, the drugs are unsafe in Canada!". Bullshit!

    Congress is all for screwing all of us. Freakin' fascism is back.
  • by Saint Stephen (19450) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:13PM (#7277189) Homepage Journal
    When I went to UNC in 1989, in-state tuition was something like $300/semester, plus maybe $100 worth of books. (Math books were expensive even then, maybe $250 for a semester of books by senior year).

    You guys today are getting totally raped by the Banks & Credit lenders -- they're the ones conspiring to launch you into life $100,000 in debt and spend the rest of your life that way. You bitch about Haliburton and the oil companies -- but it's the Equifax/Visa/&c.s of the world that are your true enemies.
  • Here we go again (Score:3, Informative)

    by mitchkeller (208117) <justice&gogeek,org> on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:17PM (#7277214) Homepage

    Before we all start blaming the bookstores for this, let me make it clear that I have worked with shipping/receiving/pricing textbooks, and I know that the publishers set the prices. My campus bookstore [ndsuvarsitymart.com] has about at 23% margin on textbooks, which basically covers paying rent to the Union, paying employees, and paying for the shipping costs to get the books. They are fortunate enough to be under the Division of Student Affairs, which means that they have a mandate to get as many used books as possible. They also pay well for used books that are needed.

    OK, so now we get to the blame part. I, too, have purchased several texts from the UK (usually Blackwell's [blackwell.co.uk], but I always search AddAll [addall.com] first to find the best price. I don't know why the publishers can afford to sell things for 50% of the US price overseas, but it's atrocious. There's a comment on here about International Editions, the cheap paperback reprints sold in the Asian market, and I should be clear that the ones from the UK are the same quality hardbacks (with the exact same content) as the US editions. However, publishers have started catching onto the fact that US students are importing the books, and now there are some books that they won't let UK retailers export (e.g., Haviland's Anthropology [blackwell.co.uk]). The publishers are a bunch of money-grubing bastards, and most of them aren't even US-owned, so it makes it even more fun.

    I've said it before, and I'll say it again. BLAME THE PUBLISHERS, not your campus bookstore. The best thing you can do is to search for these deals and take advantage of them. Be warned that the shipping time to the interior of the US (say, North Dakota) can be a little long, even with Air Mail, since it's no longer Air Mail when the USPS gets its hands on it.

  • by Dr. Spork (142693) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:19PM (#7277234)
    If you think overpriced textbooks are terrible from the student's perspective, things look even more dirty from the other side.

    I'm teaching some introductory humanities courses and every semester I receive a big pile of unsolicited desk copies of textbooks that would never consider using. It seems like our department mailboxes are stuffed full of mysterious FedEx packages from publishers whenever I show up at the department. The books are printed on crappy paper with terrible binding.

    But it gets worse. It's at the point where we have textbook pushers roaming the halls and crashing my office hours. I kid you not! Instead of watches lining their trenchcoat, they try to "hook me up" with desk copies of textbooks that I don't need.

    Of course, what they don't tell you in their pitch is how much the students are being charged for their books. The idea appears to be: Why should I care when they're free for me? Out of curiosity, I checked. A shoddy (both in content and construction) 140p small paperback textbook which was being offered to me would cost almost US$80 for each of my students. That's about $70 more than a paperback novel of comperable size and print quality. Of course, the cost of all the sleazy hard selling the publishers do gets passed on to the students.

    I imagine that people complained. I didn't formally (I did recently throw a pusher out of my office somewhat undiplomatically). To appease us, publishers have stopped imprinting desk copies as such, foregoing the familiar "evaluation copy, do not sell" markings. Colleagues of mine are just selling these things back to the bookstore where they reemerge as used textbooks for the following semester (apparently, some professors somewhere do teach from that crap). I think I will sell mine as well, but I initially felt dirty about it, because strictly speaking, all those unsolicited and unwelcome gifts were paid with the money of my students. So I decided that I will throw my students a "textbook feast" at the end of the semester. I'm serious, I'll be able to buy quite a few large pizzas.

    Another reaction to all this unpleasantness: for the first time, I'm teaching a class with no textbook at all. All the readings are "on reserve," which is handled through online PDF's that I encourage the students to print out. It's a lot of printing, but only of the stuff they have to read, and they would have to do some of it anyway, since there is no anthology that has all the readings I want to cover. It's worked out great, and I want to encourage others who are in my position and have this option to follow suit.

  • Region codes... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Dr. Mojura (584120)
    I compared one book [amazon.com] I needed for this quarter with the listing at the UK site [amazon.co.uk] and I noticed this [amazon.com].

    Pretty soon books will be like DVD's, and will have a region code to ensure they're only available where the corporations want them to be.
  • by saitoh (589746) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:37PM (#7277346) Homepage
    This was the topic of my Economics class this afternoon, and I've heard about it from other faculty. The professors at UMPI are considering buying (or have the bookstore buy for them, which is actually an option if we specifically request for the bookstore to order from another place) all of the books for a few classes from Britian as a test run to see how well it works. Even with VAT, shipping, and import taxes, the books generally work out to be aproximately $30 cheaper per book. One example that has been tossed arround is a Systems Design and Analysis class:

    Amazon.com (USA) = 127.10 USD

    Amazon.com (UK) = 37.99 BPS (british pounds sterling?)


    Sources:
    USA Amazon [amazon.com]

    UK Amazon [amazon.co.uk]

    I used the same ISBN number to get more acurate results, and this is based off of amazon's selling price, *NOT* some third party who you can get it from cheaper in the "New or used" section. granted, the American one is not availible at the moment, but the list price is still there.
  • My experience (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Quixote (154172) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @08:53PM (#7277464) Homepage Journal
    A long long time ago, when the algorithms bible CLR [mit.edu] was in its first edition (yes, that long ago), I went over to our campus bookstore [efollett.com] to buy it. It was listed at about $84 in the textbooks section. As I meandered around, I came to the general sci/math books section. And what do I see? The same CLR (exact same edition), listed at $76. Not a huge difference, but a difference nevertheless. I was dumbfounded: what kind of a person would mark up textbook prices for students??

  • by Xthlc (20317) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @09:04PM (#7277526)
    I was curious, so I did a bit of searching. And proceeded to be flabbergasted.

    American publishing houses seem to operate secondary arms in India specifically for English-language technology books.

    Check this out:

    Introduction to Algorithms, 2nd ed [amazon.com]: $79.95

    Introduction to Algorithms, 2nd ed [gobookshopping.com]: $5.73

    The C Programming Language [K&R] [amazon.com]: $40.00

    The C Programming Language [K&R] [fabmall.com]: $2.10

    Design Patterns [amazon.com]: $54.99

    Design Patterns [eswar.com]: $7.11

    Granted, you have to wait a while for them. And there's probably tariffs that you have to pay. But still, I know where my next book purchase is coming from. :)
  • by onomatomania (598947) on Tuesday October 21, 2003 @09:36PM (#7277732)
    They teach you this in econ101, it's called price discrimination. If you can judge exactly what each person is willing to pay and then set that as the price, you will maximize your profit. You can easily show this using some "area under the graph" explanation. The classic example is the movie theater ticket prices. The operators know that there are some people out there that would like to see the movie, but not for the full admission price. So they offer senior citizens a $2 discount, for example. They have realized that senior citizens, as a group are willing to pay less for things, and because it's easy to categorize people by age, it's easy to set prices that take advantage of this. The ultimate goal of discriminatory pricing is to be able to set each price for each ticket individually, based on some omniscient knowledge of what that person is willing to pay.

    Anyway, this applies to the textbook industry as well. The publishers have realized that they have two sets of customers that are easily segregated, and so they can set different prices for these different groups of people. They've discovered that Americans are willing to pay a lot more for books, perhaps because as a group the American college students tend to have a lot of money to throw around. (Note that I'm not saying that college kids are all rich, just that if you're going to college you likely have enough money to support the many thousands in tuition, or you have loans and financial aid... either way you are spending a lot of money on education.)

    Anyway, they've determined that as a group Americans are willing to pay more than people in those other countries, and therefore it makes perfect sense to charge more. Part of this I'm sure is due to different standards of living, and all the other stuff they use to justify it. But in the end it just boils down to the simple fact that if you can divide your customers into groups based on what they're willing to pay and then set prices accordingly, you will maximize your profits.
  • by Krellan (107440) <krellan@FORTRANk ... m minus language> on Wednesday October 22, 2003 @01:57AM (#7278921) Homepage Journal
    That's nothing compared to India. There, many publishers of standard textbooks publish the same book at a steeply discounted price. This is to match local standards of living (the same reason for the much-discussed salary gap).

    I saw such classic CS books as K&R and UNPv1, published as "Eastern Economy Edition". The Indian person who owned the books said that they were bought for the equivalent of around $5 each! They are softcover, printed on really cheap paper (thin and not pure white), and generally produced as cheaply as possible in order to meet the low price. The page size is also reduced.

    http://www.niyam.com/writing/iconoclasts/niyamac ma y2k.html
    http://people.csa.iisc.ernet.in/~siddu/b ib/cs.html
    http://www-scf.usc.edu/~india/newstudentletter.h tm

    I was jealous, and wished I had been able to get books at that price during school. The content is exactly the same! Too bad there isn't an Amazon.co.in....

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