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Education

We Rent Movies, So Why Not Textbooks? 398

Posted by Soulskill
from the or-food dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "Using Netflix as a business model, Osman Rashid and Aayush Phumbhra founded Chegg, shorthand for 'chicken and egg,' to gather books from sellers at the end of a semester and renting — or sometimes selling — them to other students at the start of a new one. Chegg began renting books in 2007, before it owned any, so when an order came in, its employees would surf the Web to find a cheap copy. They would buy the book using Rashid's American Express card and have it shipped to the student. Eventually, Chegg automated the system. 'People thought we were crazy,' Rashid said. Now, as Chegg prepares for its third academic year in the textbook rental business, the business is growing rapidly. Jim Safka, a former chief executive of Match.com and Ask.com who was recently recruited to run Chegg, said the company's revenue in 2008 was more than $10 million, and this year, Chegg surpassed that in January alone."
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We Rent Movies, So Why Not Textbooks?

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  • Editions (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:32PM (#28586825)

    Editions.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday July 05, 2009 @01:03PM (#28587013)

      The whole textbook market is a scam to rip off students. The vendors keep churning the book versions simply just to keep saturation low (why do we need 17 editions of an algebra book?).

      At one point, I had purchased a marketing book only to find that a new version had come out right at the beginning of the semester. The prof apologized for the problem and handed out an addendum for the students with the early edition. The only changes were to the end-of-chapter quiz questions. And most of those questions remained the same - just with the question numbering changed slightly.

      They weren't even trying to be creative with the fact that they were screwing the students. Everyone knew this to be the case and accepted it. I think that I was the only person who was upset by this obvious racket.

      Is this what we should expect for everything from now on? If schools really cared about anything but profits, then we'd have a mandatory open-source textbook market where academia would be free to create and modify textbooks. These textbooks would cost nothing. Certainly, there would still be a need for private market textbooks (on arcane and/or rapidly changing subjects) but I can see a substantial portion of textbook requirements displaced by an open system.

      • by TheVelvetFlamebait (986083) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @01:42PM (#28587243) Journal

        If schools really cared about anything but profits, then we'd have a mandatory open-source textbook market where academia would be free to create and modify textbooks.

        It doesn't work that way. We can't just simply "force" a product to exist. If it doesn't exist already, then that typically means there isn't a happy medium between the cost of providing such a service and the cost to the users of the service. That's the way that free market works; if it can be done, and people want it, then it usually is done. If it doesn't exist, especially if it is a service in high demand, like free knowledge, then it means that, most probably, it can't exist without massive subsidies, or slave labour.

        • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @02:32PM (#28587561) Homepage

          If it doesn't exist, especially if it is a service in high demand, like free knowledge, then it means that, most probably, it can't exist without massive subsidies

          That might be true of an actual free market, but we don't have a free market. Not in textbooks, and not in a lot of things.

          For one thing, the existence of copyright already makes this a market in which the government has intervened and set rules. Besides that, schools often require that students use a specific edition of a specific textbook, so students aren't free to shop around for a better textbook product.

          Given that the vendors of textbooks are completely dependent on schools to require specific textbooks, the schools absolutely can "force" a product to exist. Whatever requirements they put on textbooks in order to use them, those are the requirements that publishers will meet. They're already forcing a sort of product to exist as it is.

          Now it's possible for them to set requirements so unreasonable that no one will be able to meet them, but there's no evidence that open source textbooks are impossible.

          • by Weaselmancer (533834) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @07:22PM (#28589367)

            there's no evidence that open source textbooks are impossible.

            That was my first thought too - why not have open source textbooks? Solves the problem completely.

            But then I remembered "teacher's editions".

            Each textbook has a teacher's edition that has all the answers in it. Any open source book would logically have to have the same, if it as a product is to provide the same utility. And if it's available to the teacher, by the definition of open source it would be available to the students as well. Suddenly you'd see a lot of people getting 100% on their homework - they'd just copy it out of the teacher's edition.

            I'm trying to figure out a way around this but I think that textbooks may be in that rare class of problems that open source and full disclosure doesn't solve.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by WillDraven (760005)

              If the teacher needs the answer handed to them they shouldn't be teaching the class. Forcing the teachers to read the textbook and solve the problems at least once will go a long way towards making sure there are no glaring errors in the text (or our teacher selection). And if the book is open source, then they can simply submit a patch and everybody benefits.

              • by PachmanP (881352) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @08:53PM (#28589845)

                If the teacher needs the answer handed to them they shouldn't be teaching the class...

                That might work for some subjects, but there are plenty out there that a teacher would appreciate a sanity check. Especially, the teachers who haven't taught the course before, or TA's that come up with solutions but aren't really that confident that they aren't 90% solutions.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by T Murphy (1054674)
              My professors give zeros to people using the teacher's manual solution verbatim. Usually it is easy to spot since people format the solution the same way. I'm talking about engineering courses here so YMMV on gen. ed. courses. At least at my school this would not be a problem.
            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Yoozer (1055188)

              Each textbook has a teacher's edition that has all the answers in it. Any open source book would logically have to have the same, if it as a product is to provide the same utility.

              You split it up in 2 books and then forbid the students to own the answering book. You can have a good time convincing a 6-year old that they shouldn't peek without figuring out themselves; it's the same with an 18-year old. They will have a hard time understanding that figuring things out by themselves is exactly what education

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by AP31R0N (723649)

              i'd say, leave the answers in there. If it's a math class they still have to show their work. If it isn't a math class, ding them for copying out of the book. Or, don't have questions in the book.

              Let the teacher make questions. Have homework be something other than "answer 1-15 on page 142". i always hated busy work like that.

              Or, we simply have the OS Textbook include a link to another document called The Answers.

              Or... have a teacher's edition. There's no reason to NOT. Books aren't software and don't

      • by JWSmythe (446288) <(moc.ehtymswj) (ta) (ehtymswj)> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @01:46PM (#28587269) Homepage Journal

            You shouldn't have posted AC, you were actually insightful.

            You did forget to mention when the instructor requires that you buy HIS book as required reading for the class, regardless of what ego-fluffing crap he had written. Most, but not all, instructors are teaching because they can't hack it in the real world of their chosen field. I've gotten this both from the instructors and from the idiots who are churned out of various universities who glow over their degree, but can't handle simple functions of their chosen profession. How can you spend years studying something and not have a clue of what you're doing?

            For IT work, I'd hire someone who spent 2 years exploring their chosen field at home or at a lower level job and can explain topics in detail, rather than a graduate of a 4 year institution with their warm fuzzy diploma and no clue of how to really do the work.

            Honestly, I've hired both, and found it to be more than abundantly true. 2 years of tech school, 4 years of university, or the guy who's installed every distro available just to see how they work?

            The self-trained explorer at home turned out to be the best. They'll be more willing to honestly tell me where their weaknesses are, so I can tutor them as problems happen, and they will learn. For example, one guy told me, "Well, I don't know sendmail that well." Fine. It was a webhosting gig, but I generally managed the mail servers. I'd send him notes on my changes, and he'd ask questions. It wasn't long before I'd get notes in saying "I made this change, for this reason" to a primary mail server, and the changes would be correct.

            The 2 year tech school grads came in with resumes listing all of our technologies, and telling me they knew their stuff. It was all regular industry stuff. We didn't reinvent the wheel, we simply used the existing technologies to their fullest. I asked about Cisco, and they both said "I successfully passed the Cisco class, I know how to work our equipment". Great. I needed an IP and password set on a new switch, and installed in a DC. I was going to make the rest of the changes before it was really used. It sat on the bench for a week until the first told me "I don't know how." {sigh}. I gave it to the second, who did the same thing. What? If you aren't guided through it by an instructor, you have no clue of how to operate it? It wasn't urgent, but it didn't need to sit idle on the bench for 2 weeks. I never liked leaving equipment in the office, when it could be in the DC ready to use in a pinch. They were trained to pass the tests, not how to practically operate anything. They wasted 2 years of their lives, the tuition money, and two months of my office space.

            I handed it off to a guy that said "Well, I never used it, but I'll try.". It took him about an hour, but he did it right and asked me questions on preconfiguring ports for me. Above and beyond. I like that. I didn't want the ports done, I had my own config to lay over it for that. I just needed to be able to access it from the office. :)

            Now, when I get to a position where I'm hiring again, my same rules will apply. Great if you have a degree, but you'd better have the practical application of the required technology before I'll consider you. So, a guy sitting at home for 2 years messing with it will always have preference over a guy who sat at a university for 4 years, unless the university guy can also show me that he's had a couple years of hands-on work with it.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ceoyoyo (59147)

          "Most, but not all, instructors are teaching because they can't hack it in the real world of their chosen field."

          That depends very much on the field. I'm sure there are some where that is the case. In many, many fields the guys teaching are taking a couple hours of the day out from "doing it" in order to teach.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by EvanED (569694)

          Most, but not all, instructors are teaching because they can't hack it in the real world of their chosen field.

          I don't buy this for a second, especially not for science & engineering professors. First, have you looked at how hard it is to get a professorship somewhere recently? It's almost certainly a lot more competitive than your typical industry job. Second, you don't put yourself through a Ph.D. program unless you want to do research (or perhaps if you want to teach at a non-research institution), s

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        open-source textbook market where academia would be free to create and modify textbooks. These textbooks would cost nothing.

        This is one of those few times when the mod system has failed. We already have a free, open source, modifiable text for every topic. It's called Wikipedia and it's the living embodiment of why we have professional, accountable, paid editors for text books. Editions can be viewed as a scam, or they can be viewed as the one tool professional publishers have to continue to generate mone

      • by bcrowell (177657) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @03:23PM (#28587885) Homepage

        If schools really cared about anything but profits, then we'd have a mandatory open-source textbook market where academia would be free to create and modify textbooks. These textbooks would cost nothing. Certainly, there would still be a need for private market textbooks (on arcane and/or rapidly changing subjects) but I can see a substantial portion of textbook requirements displaced by an open system.

        The "mandatory" part doesn't make a lot of sense. You can't force authors to write books for free. And although a lot of free textbooks do exist already (see my sig), you can't guarantee that for a particular subject, the best book will always be a free book rather than a non-free.

        But other than that, what you're suggesting seems similar to something California is doing now. Motivated by the California state budget crisis, Governor Schwarzenegger has announced a Free Digital Textbook Initiative [clrn.org], which has gathered a list of free, online high school math and science textbooks that are aligned with state content standards. The intention is to have the books used in classrooms in fall 2009. This [arstechnica.com] article has some useful background, but it mistakenly suggests that the arduous state adoption process will be an obstacle to the FDTI; statewide adoption only applies to K-8, but FDTI is doing high-school books. There was a previous, unsuccessful effort called COSTP [opensourcetext.org], which tried to produce a history textbook using Wikibooks [wikibooks.org]. Here [bbc.co.uk] is a BBC article about the present effort, and here [mercurynews.com] is a newspaper opinion piece by the Governor. This [ca.gov] is a transcript of a speech by the Governor, with some interesting Q&A at the end. Twenty books were submitted (press release [ca.gov], links [edublogs.org]). The four books from traditional publisher Pearson are consumable workbooks, not actual textbooks.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Also if they want to ask "We Rent Movies, So Why Not Textbooks?" then why not also have public libraries of movies, as its worked for hundreds of years for books. The libraries buy the books and our taxes pay for the libraries so they can buy movies (and music) the same way. After all books don't earn their living from libraries as books are still also sold to fans of the books, so its not as if libraries are the only source of income for books.

      So that only leaves the film and music companies not wanting to

      • by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @01:26PM (#28587153) Homepage Journal

        then why not also have public libraries of movies

        The last time I checked Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, it had collections of movies on VHS and DVD for lending.

        Music especially doesn't cost so much more to produce that a book

        It's also much easier to copy ever since home taping. Unlike tape decks, photocopiers made by Xerox can't just copy an entire book by the user mounting the source and destination media and pushing Start.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by danking (1201931)
        Last time I checked (which was yesterday) my local library carried both a wide range of music and movies.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CastrTroy (595695)
          And half the movies and CDs we take home are scratched enough that they skip quite a bit. Of course the books aren't in great condition either, but due to the fact that the data density is so much smaller, a scratch doesn't seem to cause any problems in readability. I wonder what the legal ramifications of lending out a copy of the original CD/DVD from the library, so that they can make another copy to lend when the first becomes unreadable?
      • Also if they want to ask "We Rent Movies, So Why Not Textbooks?" then why not also have public libraries of movies, as its worked for hundreds of years for books. The libraries buy the books and our taxes pay for the libraries so they can buy movies (and music) the same way. After all books don't earn their living from libraries as books are still also sold to fans of the books, so its not as if libraries are the only source of income for books.

        This is already being done. Our local library has a large selection of VHS and DVD movies available for signing out, along with an even larger selection of CDs. And these aren't just ancient, crappy releases either, around half of the items are current releases.

    • Re:Editions (Score:5, Interesting)

      by DynaSoar (714234) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @01:28PM (#28587163) Journal

      Editions.

      To expand:

      I have to teach out of one edition or another. Different editions can have different material, or can have it in different places. I have to test. When I have 4 classes with 200+ students, half of them online (as I have recently), I have to automate the process in order to give grades and feedback in a timely manner. To do that I have to test on one edition, rather than trying to develop tests for several. I spend a great deal of time developing additional instructional material just for the one edition and don;t have time to keep developing tests.

      I tell my students that I don't care what edition they use, or indeed if they don't own a book at all. But they are responsible for covering the material in the chosen edition because that's what is tested in content and arrangement. A few take me up on it. Some manage to get an A (though not a perfect score) with a 'wrong' edition if they pay close attention to what's covered rather than just chapter numbers. Some gang up with others and compare books so they can copy the different material for each others' use. Most don't attempt this and go for the chosen edition. I'd make it easier on them all and teach from an older edition, but most sources don't redistribute older editions -- they often don't even buy them back. This one source might help in that respect, but it'll take many doing the same and doing it with older editions to make it possible for me to choose, teach and test from an older one.

  • by Banzai042 (948220) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:35PM (#28586833)
    In all reality, how is this all that different from a student buying a textbook at the start of a semester and selling it back at the end? I also think that the endless cycle of "new" editions of the book can put a crimp in the plans for this service, since schools will require the latest edition of a book, which will be impossible for this company to find cheaply online, meaning that they'll need to price to rental to pay for the full cost of the book in just a few semesters (before the new one comes out).

    Interesting idea, but I'm skeptical as to how well they can keep costs low enough to be a truly economical alternative to buying.
    • by tepples (727027) <{tepples} {at} {gmail.com}> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:40PM (#28586865) Homepage Journal

      schools will require the latest edition of a book

      How do schools justify requiring the latest edition of a book to their students?

      • by Banzai042 (948220) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:42PM (#28586879)
        When I was in school it was "Here are the homework assignments, they're only in the new version of the textbook". I'm not saying it's in any remote way logical, just that's what they do.
        • by Splab (574204)

          At DIKU they will often try to tell you how the newest version maps to the old one, but in the end most students end up just buying the new book rather than trying to keep up, often having to jump back and forth in the book.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by causality (777677)

          When I was in school it was "Here are the homework assignments, they're only in the new version of the textbook". I'm not saying it's in any remote way logical, just that's what they do.

          I assume you're talking about the college level.

          It's logical alright, it's just ugly. Much of the time, that professor is the person who wrote the textbook. The one they make mandatory for their class. The one they will sell to you, for the low, low price of several times the production costs.

          Sometimes what they teach is quite different from what they claim to teach. Yeah the syllabus might talk about physics, or English. The subject taught might be more like "Ok class, for today's lesson I will

          • Don't make the mistake of assuming that textbook authors get much money from the sales. They don't. If your professors are assigning you their own books, they may be getting a bit of an ego boost, but they're not doing it for financial reasons. (And more likely, it's for the good and sufficient reason that they know the textbook will be in accord with their lesson plans.) The publishers are the ones who make almost all the money from textbook sales, and they're the ones who are constantly pushing new ed

            • by causality (777677)

              Don't make the mistake of assuming that textbook authors get much money from the sales. They don't. If your professors are assigning you their own books, they may be getting a bit of an ego boost, but they're not doing it for financial reasons. (And more likely, it's for the good and sufficient reason that they know the textbook will be in accord with their lesson plans.) The publishers are the ones who make almost all the money from textbook sales, and they're the ones who are constantly pushing new editions for that reason.

              That's not unlike the situation with recording artists and the average record label. Still, I've yet to hear of a band that said "nah, don't promote our music, we want to be unknown and unheard-of." Also, you say "bit of ego boost" as though it were a footnote when it was the very point of what I was saying. What do you think the money represents for a lot of these folks? There are some notable exceptions but speaking generally, professors are not known for their meekness.

              What you say about the publi

              • Ego can be measured in non-monetary terms; nobody goes into academia to get rich, and those who tie their egos directly to their paychecks find other, more lucrative careers. In academia, the real currency is publication, and on that scale journal articles count for much more than textbooks do. (Whether this makes sense or not is another debate entirely.) As for "professors are not known for their meekness," this is true, but it's also true that the most egotistical faculty are those who don't want to te

          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by subanark (937286)
            At least where I'm from, if a professor requires the use of his/her book in one of his/her own classes, (s)he will not get any money from the students buying the book (although the publisher will).
          • by funkatron (912521)

            Much of the time, that professor is the person who wrote the textbook. The one they make mandatory for their class. The one they will sell to you, for the low, low price of several times the production costs.

            I have only had this happen once. The book was recommended not mandatory and the professor had arranged for my department to sell it for £7

        • When I was in school it was "Here are the homework assignments, they're only in the new version of the textbook".

          Even if all professors in that school followed that policy inflexibly, there exist more than one school.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Typically, the publisher will stop selling the old edition, and the school's bookstore won't be able to assure supply of anything but the new one.

        On occasion, you'll hear stories of the professor who wrote the book doing sleazy stuff to the classes he teaches to bulk his royalties; but the pressure is mostly from the publisher side.
        • Typically, the publisher will stop selling the old edition

          In other words, the old "Disney vault" trick. Is there a reason why professors haven't led the way in switching to textbooks published as free [freedomdefined.org] cultural [creativecommons.org] works [educause.edu]?

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by selven (1556643)
            You forgot Wikibooks [wikibooks.org]
            • Wikibooks is a good example for anything that has a featured book. But a lot of books I see there, like the one on digital signal processing, are full of "25% done" modules. About how much of a typical undergraduate engineering or arts curriculum can WB featured books serve?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by djupedal (584558)
        >How do schools justify requiring the latest edition of a book to their students?

        Because it presents an additional revenue stream for the professors on staff that write them?
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Sir_Sri (199544)

        the same way programs require you have service pack 1, or service pack 2 etc. The course material was built around a particular version.

        If the student needs to buy a book, there's no reason to not recommend the newest version. New versions exist for a reason, error correction, new information, change in focus etc. all go into making new editions.

        Other reasons:
        The professor only has the new version. Profs get textbooks for free, usually many more than they will actually use, but publishers only send alon

      • by raaum (152451)

        It's the PUBLISHER! Neither the schools nor the professors have all that much control over the frequency of new editions.

        Furthermore, the publisher stops publishing past editions, so the bookstore cannot guarantee that they will be able to obtain enough copies of any older edition.

        • by tepples (727027)

          Furthermore, the publisher stops publishing past editions

          Of non-Free textbooks. So the obvious solution is to switch to Free textbooks, whose publisher cannot use the law to force other publishers to keep the book out of print.

    • by Swizec (978239)
      <quote>In all reality, how is this all that different from a student buying a textbook at the start of a semester and selling it back at the end? I also think that the endless cycle of "new" editions of the book can put a crimp in the plans for this service, since schools will require the latest edition of a book, which will be impossible for this company to find cheaply online, meaning that they'll need to price to rental to pay for the full cost of the book in just a few semesters (before the new o
    • Did you really have professors that required the newest books? Maybe my department (chemistry major) was a little different, but they didn't care. The semester usually started off with "here is the current book. If you don't have this one don't worry about it, just make copies of what you need." The same went for my math classes.

      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by dissy (172727)

        Did you really have professors that required the newest books? Maybe my department (chemistry major) was a little different, but they didn't care. The semester usually started off with "here is the current book. If you don't have this one don't worry about it, just make copies of what you need." The same went for my math classes.

        The problem is mainly with the professors who write the textbook for their own class, thus are the copyright holder, and make minor changes here and there (moving a keyword to another paragraph, swapping the titles of sections, renaming sections) so that an older book would cause more confusion as it didn't match up with the course work exactly.
        If you question them on this, they say it is your own fault for not having the newest $160 copy of the book.

        To those types, teaching anyone is not their desire, only

    • The margin between the buyback price and the resell price is huge with textbook stores on campus. I noticed this during my college career and started building a site that would facilitate peer-to-peer reselling without the middleman. Since the margin was so large, it would be very easy for me to undercut the textbook stores and still make a large profit.

      Alas, it was eventually filed under my 'future ideas' folder along with 20 others and I was distracted by other things... like women and beer...

    • If implemented right - it saves first and foremost HUUUUGE amounts of time. Usually also money - while you could resale/etc. books yourself, there will also be those editions you have hard time reselling...

      Yes, the cause of the second problem are schools requiring latest editions. I can see the point in college/etc. level education (though even there only with some portion of books), but there's really not much point in highschool level education.

      And while schools are the cause of complications, they can be

    • by Cor-cor (1330671)

      I used to love Chegg. It started out working as essentially an online classified geared towards books, and since it started at Iowa State, the school I go to, there were plenty of people using it, and it wound up being a very good deal, taking the cost of books per semester down to almost nothing (except of course when they switched editions every few years).

      Now that they're pushing their rental service so hard, it's a lot harder to save as much money. I couldn't find any of my books used last semester, w

    • Because you buy it for $80 and sell it back for $5? It may as well be a rental, without all the hassle of trying to sell it back.
      Of course, in my dorm we'd just resell the books to other folks who were going to need them next semester. Buy for $80 new and resell to them for, say, $40. They get a good deal, and so did we.
  • you only get one or two semesters out of textbooks before the company releases a new edition. I don't see how this business model solves that problem.
  • by kulakovich (580584) <slashdot@noSpAm.bonfireproductions.com> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:37PM (#28586849)
    Given the following points:

    1. Student pay ridiculous prices for half-useful photo-laden authoritative textbooks, only to sell them back to the publisher-run book resale cartels for 10% of the price they paid.

    2. With the current trend of Big Copyright, every written work must have an owner/copyright holder. Therefore, you do not own the books you have copies of.

    I own my experience of the book, or the movie, and put forward that those experiences, being mine, grant me ownership of the work as my experience as much as the money I paid for the 400 pages of paper and ink.

    We will look back to the beginning of the 21st Century and laugh at this Information Prohibition.

    kulakovich
    • by causality (777677) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:46PM (#28586897)

      We will look back to the beginning of the 21st Century and laugh at this Information Prohibition.

      You mean just like we look now at drug/substance prohibition? The way we learned our lesson that it's never going to work no matter how hard we try because the very idea represents a total failure to comprehend the situation? The way it's a hypocritical position which has done a great deal of harm in the name of justice? I'm glad nothing like that goes on today... Oh.

  • Libraries anyone? During my 2nd year at uni (I didn't think of it for my first) I just got all the text books I needed from the library. Most of them were 4 week loans and could be renewed on the internet - so it wasn't really that much of a hassle.
  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:41PM (#28586869)

    College textbooks have limited re-use because the publishers make new editions strictly of the purpose of obsoleting them so people don't buy used books and are forced (or at least encouraged) to buy new ones instead.

    Renting something that only can be used 2-3 times means you end up paying a LOT to rent it. If the company who rents it is to make a profit, they have to charge a significant fraction of the price of the item to rent it.

    For example, in the article, $69 (including shipping) to rent a book that retails for $123. You can probably find it used for $85 and sell it again when you are done (for peanuts).

    • Renting something that only can be used 2-3 times means you end up paying a LOT to rent it. If the company who rents it is to make a profit, they have to charge a significant fraction of the price of the item to rent it.

      Reading the above reminds of a story I saw covered on TV not too long ago.

      I don't recall the exact details or the name of the company (maybe someone can chime in), but some enterprising individual decided to set up a Craigslist type of service where individuals who owned "stuff" could rent t

      • by xenocide2 (231786)

        Renting power tools isn't unusual. There's a place we have in town that rents out lots of stuff; we mostly go for the chainsaw and chipper, but they carry stuff big and small.

  • by rbrander (73222) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:47PM (#28586903) Homepage

    This is a business model that will be specifically forbidden with electronic books. And enforced by encryption or proprietary formats (which are, in a practical sense, the same thing), which in turn are protected by the DMCA.

    To an economist, or public policy maker, that makes the new technology stand out like a sore thumb as not an improvement on the old.

    This is an example that has been lost in other media as the new format offers many benefits over the old - the ability to have a movie at home at ALL, the ability to copy music easily and with no lost fidelity. But about all that electronic books give you over the old is a reduction in volume and weight (search capability, much overrated - books always had indexes and tables-of-contents, and besides, you're supposed to be learning the whole textbook).

    The new media have only a few generations of history, most of it with shifting technologies - copying music at all was not possible for the general public until the cassette recorder in 1968.

    But with electronic books, book rental couldn't exist, used book stores couldn't exist, and believe me, they'll be gunning for libraries themselves.

    The dramatic contrast with centuries of tradition about how society does business with books might finally get it through politician's heads that enabling new, more restrictive copyrights is robbing the public.

    • With electronic textbooks, this model won't exist because publishers prefer selling subscriptions allowing access to their entire catalogue, rather than individual texts. They'd rather the institution buys one of the expensive subscriptions, which allows unlimited downloads of any eBooks. The value comes from a continual supply of new books being made available to subscribers, not from individual book sales.
    • "search capability, much overrated "

      I alarmingly disagree, I've found countless books via google search via google books, try doing THAT in a library, really fucking time consuming. Anyone who thinks e-books are not a godsend in many ways (easier to copy, edit, update, etc) over dead-tree have not thought about it hard enough.

      Wikibooks is a great example of the limitations of traditional books. Try mass collaboration on deadtree, going to be a lot less efficient.

    • by selven (1556643)

      search capability, much overrated - books always had indexes and tables-of-contents, and besides, you're supposed to be learning the whole textbook).

      I have to disagree with this. Tables of contents only cover general topics, and indexes cover only a few hundred terms (an exhaustive index is by definition as long as the book itself). But what if you're interested in looking back at something you saw once and don't remember clearly? What if you're looking for an exact, specific formula, statistic or quote? And this all ignores, of course, that electronic search takes 3 seconds and gets you exactly where the searched term is, but with paper books it takes

  • by aepervius (535155) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @12:53PM (#28586947)
    OK France is 1/5 of the size of the US so maybe it cannot be compared, but I know only France as education system. In the primary/secondary we got the book loaned and had only to pay up a fine if we scribled it or worsened its state. From high school (lycee) and especially university there were old book sold from student to the previous. Some shop even speciliazed into doing that (Gibert Jeune for example in Paris is where I got my expensive QM books...). Only around 1 year out of 4 to 6 years we had to buy new one because change in the programs. But all in one it came relatively cheap. And in case you are asking, that was 25 years ago.
    • by Zey (592528)

      In Australia, we were encouraged to buy textbooks in highschool and uni but not overly penalised if we bought second-hand. Assignment questions were handed out separately and not those from the book; the ones in the book we'd use during classes to revise with.

      I'm very glad not to have had American university lecturers, from the sound of things.

    • The college where I studied in India has a similar system. There is a college managed "Book Bank" which cost some two dollars per semester and allowed me to rent 5 books per semester. There was no guarantee of getting a recent edition of any book, but that was okay because the new content could be photocopied from someone in the hostel. The whole thing sort of worked, and of cousre the part I am forgetting to say is that it was funded by government aid.

      I could have afforded text books since most major publi

    • I don't really understand the American textbook system. Here in the UK, there are rarely any compulsory textbooks for any university lectures. The lecturer will present the material you need to know, and if you pay attention you will pass. If you want to do well, typically you are expected to read some things outside the lecture, but this can be from library books or other sources. There are typically a few recommended books for each module, and reading any one of these will benefit you. Lecturers prov

    • In the US the system works pretty much the same as you describe for France. The difference perhaps is that high school works the same as primary/secondary school.

  • 2nd hand book stores are common in poorer countries. At the university I attended, most students bought and sold their books at 2nd hand stores. It may be a new concept in the (formerly) rich USA...
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @01:18PM (#28587099) Homepage

    It doesn't matter how you slice it, the text book industry wants to get their $150/book/semester out of you. They don't really care how they get their income, as long as they get it. They'll either do it by making you buy a new book, which you can keep, or by charging you the same amount for a book that you can rent for the same amount of money, only now you have to turn it in when you're done, instead of having the option to keep it or sell it again.

  • When I was in college, during the Cretaceous period, we shared textbooks within our study groups. We then sold them to the next semester's students, if possible. Pissed off many published professors and the school bookstore.

    Of course, back then, they were fragile clay tablets. Highlighting was a bitch.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by omz13 (882548)

      Highlighting was a bitch.

      No chisels in the Cretaceous period then?

  • It can be a hassle. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by jrhawk42 (1028964)
    Though I finished school a couple years ago getting books anywhere besides the two authorized campus book stores was a huge hassle. First they were the only places that could find out what books are needed for classes. Second they didn't include the ISBN numbers in the print out. Third they wouldn't let you know what books were needed for what class until about a week before classes started. So basically if you wanted to buy your books somewhere else you need to print out a sheet w/ all the books needed
  • Give every child a netbook at their first school day, and let the textbook companies create a website. Then reproduction is practically free.
    I bet the whole netbook, the monthly rate that pays the texbook company people of your choice (or rather of the choice of the school you chose), and the WLAN will still cost less then a tenth of the price of the textbooks, over the whole school time.

    Then, some people invest into paying people to extend free textbooks (eg. wikibooks, but with more background checks),
    bas

  • by eggman9713 (714915) <{eggman97132007} {at} {mac.com}> on Sunday July 05, 2009 @02:15PM (#28587449)
    I would not want to rent my books, because I want to keep them for reference in the career that they are supposedly providing us! I mean, how are you going to remember EVERYTHING in those books beyond a semester or two after the class, let alone when you actually need it out in the professional world? I think the only books I sold back were for some of my freshman level stuff like anicent history, sociology, etc. I kept all the rest of my engineering books and even some other books I found interesting, like my American Literature anthology books. Plus they look really good on my shelf at work ;)
  • by edalytical (671270) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @02:17PM (#28587455)
    Everyone wants to save money on textbooks. We get it! However, when you really think about it what we really need is textbooks we're going to keep. The mentality of everyone from the publishers to the students (government, schools and book stores) needs to change. Textbooks should have lasting value. They should be an integral part of education and something a person would refer back to in their career. I wouldn't mind spending money on books if that were the case. Renting textbook or selling them back or trying to artificially cheapen them in some way only compounds the problem. Let's fix the root of the problem for once instead mending it with stupid schemes.
  • I was apparently one of the lucky few to never have to worry about this issue. My university ( Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville [siue.edu], not too far from St. Louis) rented out texts themselves. I knew we were in the minority but I was actually shocked to not see any other posters state their universities did the same. Each semester the weekend prior to the first week of classes I would stop by the Textbook Services building, print out a list of text books and search the aisles for whatever was on the lis
  • Scam... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by PhotoGuy (189467) on Sunday July 05, 2009 @03:09PM (#28587757) Homepage

    As others have pointed out, textbooks are quite the scam, with minor editions being updated to require purchase of new books each year.

    No one wants to take the chance that they're answering the wrong question on an assignment, or missing a factoid that is asked on a test, that happened not to be in their edition.

    For some subjects, evolving of the texts makes sense; for some established fundamentals, it's senseless.

    What would be interesting would be for some website to track differences between editions, to let students know where they stand; it would really call out the perpetrators of this "edition scam" and reduce their power greatly.

    Alternatively, I wouldn't be surprised to see a trend towards copying/pdf'ing (i.e. piracy) of texts to save money for students. Piracy often crops up in cases where there is inappropriately high pricing (most computer games, IMHO); I can't see an area more ripe for piracy than the textbook industry. (Not that I'd condone it, just that I think the prices are inflated, and the requirements for new texts are artificially and inappropriately imposed.)

    One thing that always seemed odd to me was that each year, in each course, the professors seemed surprised (or feigned surprise) at how expensive the book actually was, and indicated they wouldn't have chosen it had they known how expensive it was. Are their kickbacks or something?!?!? (I taught one year, and was given a big armload of texts to examine and choose between; I wasn't told prices, and simply picked the best one based upon its merit. So if there was a kickback scam, no one approached me; thankfully, for their sake :)

Never appeal to a man's "better nature." He may not have one. Invoking his self-interest gives you more leverage. -- Lazarus Long

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