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With 'Access Codes,' Textbook Pricing More Complicated Than Ever 400

jyosim writes "Some see it as the latest ploy by textbook publishers to kill the used book market: 'access codes' for online supplements for course work. In some cases professors require students to purchase these codes in order to even see the required homework. One U. of Maine's student's struggle to find a reasonably priced textbook demonstrates the limits the new publisher practices put on students, but some argue that ultimately the era of digital course materials will be better for student learning."
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With 'Access Codes,' Textbook Pricing More Complicated Than Ever

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  • Businessmen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Tommy Bologna ( 2431404 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:31AM (#41222041)
    They hate that you have the advantages they did in school. Now that they've crossed the bridge, it must be burned.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by benjfowler ( 239527 )

      It's the baby boomers. They grew up in the drug-fucked 'free love' Sixties, got free education, raped and pillaged the environment, robbed their kids and grandkids in the asset bubble.

      The "bugger you Jack, I've got mine" Baby Boomer generation are the worst generation. We should take their pensions and health insurance off them, let them die in the gutter and use the pay to pay off the deficit.

      • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Jawnn ( 445279 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:46AM (#41222207)
        Jeez... Generalize much?
        • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Interesting)

          by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:57AM (#41222349) Homepage Journal

          Yes he does, but he also describes an actual measurable trend(which doesn't apply to individuals, only the groups in general). There has never been a greater wealth gap between the 55+ demographic and the 18-35 demographic in the history of the united states. And it's REALLY substantial: take a look here [pewresearch.org]. Now I'm not agreeing with the GP's Hitleresque means of addressing the problem, but it IS a problem.

          • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Interesting)

            by jellomizer ( 103300 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:10AM (#41222471)

            The Boomers was really a short sited generation. Their fight to stay young and relevant, created a situation where there was poor if any succession planning. Previous generations when they got into their 40's or 50's they realized they were getting old so they shifted their work from going further, to slowing down and teaching the next generation on how to take the helm. The Boomers were really the first youth culture, and they tried to keep it up as a generation of young go ambitious high energy people. Now their bodies are getting older and falling apart due to trying to keep the youth idea running. And not thinking towards the future generations but to themselves. So us Generation X and Y are fighting to take over, often overwhelming due to no training. We are making old mistakes over again, because we haven't been passed down any wisdom.

            It isn't about stupid politics, or how big a business is or how much taxes they pay... It is a culture where Me First was used. Now they are still in power and they don't realize how short sited the quick profit is.

            • by digitig ( 1056110 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:16AM (#41222523)

              The Boomers was really a short sited generation.

              But at least we learned spelling and grammar. :)

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by mcgrew ( 92797 ) *

              The Boomers was really a short sited generation.

              At least we can handle homophones.

            • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Insightful)

              by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @12:47PM (#41224295)

              As a tail-end "baby boomer", what has always struck me the most about successive generations is how incredibly passive they have been in the face of some really serious shit being done to them. This isn't about one generation screwing the next any more than it's ever been. It's about a war that's been waged in the U.S. against the middle and working classes (of all ages) for the past 30 years. Public education has been under attack, along with labor unions, Social Security, Medicare, etc. But instead of hitting the streets and demanding a better deal, all we've seen since then (except for OWS) is helpless whining and complaining, just like yours. And mine, too, for that matter, because times have changed and we've forgotten how to act.

              If your parents did you any disservice, maybe it was a failure to instill a sense of collective power and efficacy. But it seems that every generation through history has had to discover that on its own.

              • It's all demographics. The reason the boomers had a special "sense of collective power and efficacy" is because there were so many of them that they in fact had extra power and efficacy. It's not about having a collective realization; the fact is the boomers have the votes. Both parties are clamoring over who will better preserve medicare and social security, at least for today's seniors!
          • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

            by Anonymous Coward

            What is a 'wealth' gap? Who decides there is a certain amount of wealth that each age group is supposed to have, what are those numbers?

            Ok, so those in the 55+ demographic are the ones who started and built back in the 70's/80's many of the recognized companies that exist today and in doing so they made some good money. That is exactly what they intended to do. Wonder what their incomes looked like 20-30 years ago when they were building their businesses (either as early employees of founders)? I'd be wi

            • Re:Businessmen (Score:4, Insightful)

              by jythie ( 914043 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:38AM (#41222715)
              The point is that the ratio of income from the two age groups is further out of whack then it ever has been, so the older generation is holding on to more wealth rather then the younger one advancing like they normally would. In other words they are putting in the same years of hard work as the previous generation, but not getting the same amount of reward.


              I'd be willing to guess their incomes were not much different (in 70's/80's dollars) to today's youth, but their standards of living were probably lower.

              That is part of the point, their incomes WERE different. They were doing much better then people of similar age today.
            • Businessmen my ass (Score:5, Insightful)

              by luis_a_espinal ( 1810296 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:47AM (#41222797) Homepage

              What is a 'wealth' gap? Who decides there is a certain amount of wealth that each age group is supposed to have, what are those numbers?

              Nice strawman. It's not about "deciding" how much each group is supposed to have (in a moral/deontological ethical way). It's about the gap between the two groups that is measurable (and thus comparable/quantifiable) accross the decades. The gap is there, it's measurable, it's obvious, and it requires explaining. Yours is not an explanation by any stretch of the definition. Furthermore, you are asking "who" "decides" how much each group has. That same question begets the following one: who decided that the income gap must be greater than the ones in prior decades/generations?

              Ok, so those in the 55+ demographic are the ones who started and built back in the 70's/80's many of the recognized companies that exist today and in doing so they made some good money. That is exactly what they intended to do.

              This would be nice and dandy if these were the very first folks in the history of the US who made up companies that made money. Alas, they were not. There were businesses and businessmen before them, quite successful and their companies still exist today. And yet, the generational income gap present at the times preceeding the Baby Boomers was never the way it is now. Hand waving is not a valid argument.

              Wonder what their incomes looked like 20-30 years ago when they were building their businesses (either as early employees of founders)? I'd be willing to guess

              Why guess? Verify.

              their incomes were not much different (in 70's/80's dollars) to today's youth, but their standards of living were probably lower.

              So if their income weren't that different from today's youth (which is not true), and their standards of living were lower (they were), then the income gap as measured today is greater than what it was in the past, say, as a function of the decade in which the measurements took place.

              So to the 18-35 crowd who hasn't made as much money I'd ask, where are the companies that you started?

              Red herring. Not every Baby Boomer was an enterpreneur, and yet the gap between the average Boomer and the average Gen X/Y is greater than the gap that same Boomer experienced with respect to his then senior. Ergo, enterpreneurship is not a factor. It is if you want to present a fallacy as a logical argument, though.

              Where are the years of hard work you put in building wealth?

              Where were the years of hard work the Baby Boomers put when they were young that resulted in a narrower income gap with relation to their then seniors, narrower with respect to the currently observed income gap?

      • Re:Businessmen (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:49AM (#41222247)
        That's what I don't get. Somewhere along the way the "help everyone achieve anything," free-love, equality and peace messages turned into "Fuck you. I made my money and now that I have to pay in, we need to remove the social safety nets. OH, and not just that, but I'm going to make it that much harder for you to make as much money as I did."

        I understand that it's cliche and all-too circular to blame the generation before you for the world's problems, but the baby-boomers really fucked us. Raw.

        • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Insightful)

          by characterZer0 ( 138196 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:12AM (#41222483)

          This happens with every generation. The self-centered jerks reveal themselves as time goes on. The politicians are businessmen are mostly self-centered jerks.

          • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Insightful)

            by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @12:02PM (#41223659) Journal

            I don't think so, as the generation that went through the depression and WWII tried to work together, not constantly stab each other in the backs.

            My grandma talked about how the neighbors and her would get together to make "hobo soup" so that those traveling the rails would have a bite to eat when they stopped in their little town, and in return, without asking mind you, she never had to split a single rick of wood and every chore that needed doing would be done by a hobo. The entire town looked after each other and if someone got sick or hurt the others would come round to help them get back on their feet again.

            It went from that to a serious "Fuck you I'm entitled and you're not" attitude which i truly believe came from being spoiled rotten. The previous generation had suffered and struggled and during the boom years of the 50s was generous to a fault with their kids, only the kids just took the cash and not the lessons to appreciate what they had and help those who had less. If you'd have pushed a Gordon Gecko style character in the 40s and 50s he'd have been looked down on as a piece of self centered trash, their kids looked at him as a hero and a perfect example of their ethos.

            Sad really but that's just how it turned out and now as they get old they scream and whine and demand million dollar treatments to keep their asses from the grave just a few more months.

            • "My grandma talked about how the neighbors and her would get together to make "hobo soup" so that those traveling the rails would have a bite to eat when they stopped in their little town, and in return, without asking mind you, she never had to split a single rick of wood and every chore that needed doing would be done by a hobo. "

              There were no meth heads to speak of back then, and massive institutionalization of the mentally ill kept many of them off the streets. (Those old Kirkbride buildings popular wit

        • Re:Businessmen (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Chris Mattern ( 191822 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:41AM (#41222735)

          Personally, I put it down to the Boomers deciding that Rules Are Bad(tm). Yes, the powerful can manipulate the rules to their own ends. Yes, rules sometimes prevent you from doing what you want. But sometimes, rules are all that prevent the powerful from simply taking everything they want. Sometimes, rules are the only thing preventing a person from acting like a self-centered asshole. Rules are necessary; they just need to be *good* rules.

          • Yes by all means, the Boomers were the first Americans to "break the rules", like those rules preventing unions from occupying factories as was done early in the 20th century, and hundreds of other examples anyone could name. For fucks sake...civil disobedience is breaking the rules and frankly we could use more of it right now. Where is this fantasy land were everything would be OK if only the Boomers didn't rock the boat??

            As others have pointed out here...do you really think that, for example, the scum

        • No, you're fucking yourselves raw by not standing up in unity and saying "no". Society is a competitive game and it's played without honor on a slanted field. If your only response to the raw deal you're getting is whiny helplessness, I will guaran-fucking-tee you that you'll be getting an even rawer deal than that. It's a vicious cycle that leads all the way to the bottom, and unless you're in "the 1%" you're on the express elevator down. Start pressing some buttons.

      • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Insightful)

        by mcgrew ( 92797 ) * on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:26AM (#41222611) Homepage Journal

        It's the baby boomers. They grew up in the drug-fucked 'free love' Sixties,


        got free education,

        So did my kids. So did you. College? Nope, we had to pay, too.

        raped and pillaged the environment,

        We were the generation that got the Clean Air and Clean Water acts passed. It was our parents and grandparents' generations that raped the environment; actually, not OUR parents but the rich kids' parents... who are now fighting for the end of the environmental regs we fought for.

        You sound like an unemployed white racist who blames blacks for his troubles and the black who blames whites for his poverty, when it's the rich of both races that are to blame. It's not my generation, it's the rich of all generations. Mitt Romney's "I like to fire people" isn't an opinion held by many boomers.

        The "bugger you Jack, I've got mine" isn't my generation's attitude, that's Mitt Romney and Donald Trump's income level's attitude.

        You're fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong war.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          To rephrase what you wrote, "your sweeping generalizations are wrong because my sweeping generalizations are correct."

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          The oldest boomers were born in 1943. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1963. This puts the oldest boomer at 20 years old. The 26th amendment was passed in 1971. Hence, all boomers were younger than the voting age when the Clean Air Act was passed. Fuck you, boomer.

          • Re:Businessmen (Score:4, Interesting)

            by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @12:14PM (#41223789) Journal

            Actually if they are a "boomer" then they were born between 45-49 since the "boom" being referred to was all the GIs coming back from the war and having kids at almost the exact same instant, hence the boom. While there were a few vets that got to come home early from injuries and such if you look at the birthrate of previous years and then at 45-49 it does a hockey stick thanks to so many vets having a couple of kids a piece.

            Not that I'm blaming them mind you, if I survived the kind of shit my grandfather and great uncle survived in WWII, like the banzai charges and seeing my buddies turn into red mist by a PAK-88? Damned right I'd be wanting to screw my brains out and look on the positives of life like family instead of being reminded of the horror.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by rhsanborn ( 773855 )
          The state college's you paid for generally had taxes pay for between 60% and 90% of their operating income. Today, most state institutions are something between 10% and 20% funded by taxes. Students are paying a much higher share of college.

          Similarly, it's the people entering the medicare and social security roles that are supporting things like a medicare voucher program but only for people who aren't about to retire. i.e. I can get medicare, but cut my taxes so I can keep my money and the next guy can ge
    • Re:Businessmen (Score:5, Interesting)

      by jehan60188 ( 2535020 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:38AM (#41222115)

      criminals. textbook publishers are criminals
      schools have already put into the cost of my tuition fees for maintaining blackboard. now the publisher turns around, and creates a similar site, with less functionality, and less support, and they expect me to pay for it. professors don't mind- they get free access, and the publisher will go ahead and put together a syllabus/homework/etc, so they have less work to do at the cost of the students already taxed pocket book

      • Re:Businessmen (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:56AM (#41222337)

        It is Ohm's law applied to social dynamics: Whenever there is something you are internally compelled to do, the processes will arise that will force you to pay to do it. Even if you just happy for no reason, your happiness will be deconstructed and you will be offered to restore it in some buying way. Therefore, during the course of your life, you will see many of your rights, as well as Good Things In General, swept away from your hands in one way or another and placed behind the walls with restricted access. Governments will tax them or ban them, or highwayman^Wbusinesspeople will captivate and privatize them and sell them (or surrogates) back to you. If we were all to abandon our pur(cha)suit for happiness and just sit and meditate, it would have been claimed antisocial and dangerous activity.

      • Re:Businessmen (Score:4, Informative)

        by Turken ( 139591 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @11:41AM (#41223397)

        dirty criminals indeed.

        Check out the last couple paragraphs of the article linked in the original post:

        She recently took an economics course that required paying about $110 for a printed book and access code to a digital system ... She could have purchased just the access code without the book, for about $90

        So, by the publisher's own admission, the durable goods -- the printed book itself -- is only worth *at most* $20. While the remaining $90 is purely profit going back to the publisher for access to some canned system that cost significantly less per-student to develop and deploy.

        Soooo glad I'm not in school anymore and having to deal with this sort of racket. But if I was, the first time I ran into a professor insisting that we pay up some arbitrary amount of money just to submit homework for grading, I'd be really tempted to go all Martin Luther on 'em and staple my dead-tree submission to their door/desk/face just to protest the ridiculousness of the whole thing.

      • Action? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:24PM (#41224805)

        I've read most of the comments here, and what's depressing to me is that amidst all of the complaining and finger-pointing, I haven't seen anyone suggest even the possibility that there might be some collective action that could be taken to fight the problem and those whose greed is responsible for it.

        What if every student in a class refused to buy the assigned textbook, and instead agreed on free or low-cost textbooks and resources? What if the instructors who are getting kickbacks at the cost of their students were publicly held accountable? There are probably dozens of things that could be done, if students could only find their common ground and act.

    • by jythie ( 914043 )
      As the saying goes, beware the advice of successful people, for they do not wish company....

      Much of the rhetoric I have seen lately (which oddly enough seems to be branded as 'pro-entrepreneur".. then again the small business community has traditionally been a political sucker ) seems to be focusing on shutting down things that help people advance by people who have already benefited from it.

      But that is part of a hyper-capitalistic mindset...personal gain is what one optimizes for, not advancement of the
  • I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, but I'm fairly confident it's better than when the professor writes the book you use for class.

    Seriously though, what programs require crap like this? I never had textbooks with such insane restrictions in any of the science courses. The closest it came was a CD-ROM filled with microphotographs and a few animations that came with my sophomore-year microbiology textbook.
    • Re:Better or worse? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Wandering Voice ( 2267950 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:45AM (#41222193)
      I'm back in school again after nearly 15 years and almost every book sold at the school bookstore was shrink wrapped with an access code. The worst offender I have encountered so far is my Math 060 book for Pre-Alg - after tax $233 (Pearson Learning Solutions). Alone, the access code was $120 about on the shelf behind the counter. This code and computer access is required to get our class notes and do our homework assignments. Thankfully, I didn't have to buy the iClicker remote for another $40. Still for a basic class like Pre-Algebra, I find this disgusting.
      • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:56AM (#41222333)

        I always tell my students to NEVER buy from the bookstore. Always go to Amazon or an online textbook reseller. You will save a TON of money. It's my experience that you can generally save 50% or better by shopping anywhere else. That $120 code you bought at the bookstore goes for about $80 at Amazon.

        • Wish every prof was like you. My gf is now taking a class where the professor requires them to take notes in the book. And the kicker? He also checks beforehand to make sure there aren't any notes written already. Which means she has to spend $120 to buy a new one at the book store, instead of the .50c (+ $5 shipping) to get the same textbook, same edition from Amazon. Complete bullshit.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Anonymous Coward

            Your gf's professor is scum. Nothing more or less.

            Let me counter with an example from my physics degree at a top-ranked UK university. There were no books "required" for any course. Each lecture course came with a list of recommended text books - they were books that the lecturer found to have a good presentation for part of the syllabus. In most subjects, they were 20-30 years old - sometimes older. Electromagnetism hasn't changed in that time, nor has classical optics, or statistical mechanics, or undergr

          • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @11:47AM (#41223501) Homepage

            My wife has one of those scumbag profs.

            What she did, went to the book store before class and bough a new book, let him look, returned it after class and used the amazon.com 1/4 price used book instead.

            Scumbag professors are easily outsmarted.

          • If I had a professor that banned us from having used books (i.e. notes already in them), and required we take notes direct to the books instead of whereever we choose, I'd be introducing him to Consumer Protection Laws and a lawsuit.

            No company (the college) or employee of a company (the lecturer) has the authority to order customers how they should "absorb" the product being sold. *I* paid the money, and *I* decide where I will write my damn notes (on lined paper in my open-leaf notebook).

            If the professor

        • by sjames ( 1099 )

          That's still OUTRAGEOUS. There is no reason on Earth a pre-algebra book should be more than $20 for a soft cover in new condition AT ALL. It's certainly not a fast paced ever changing subject and knowledge of it is far from rare. If public schools are being robbed like that it's no wonder we spend so much on education and get so little in return. As for the access code, it sounds like a really good business case for the school itself to set up a simple website to take care of it. Perhaps it could go in with

        • by TFAFalcon ( 1839122 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @12:04PM (#41223681)

          One of our professors went a step further. He told us which chapters from a textbook we were going to need, and mentioned that he left his copy of the book at the local photocopy place (wink wink).

          • One of my profs -- nearly 20 years ago, mind you -- went so far as to write a text book, have it bound at the local copy place, and sold it in class at materials cost.

            He had originally planned to have them sold at the school's bookstore, but when he found out they were making a substantial profit on each copy, he decided that they could use a little competition.

        • by niiler ( 716140 )
          Yeah... I did this too, but then got brought onto the carpet by an administrator for undermining bookstore profits. The book cost $140 new and $8.99 used and was for a class of non-majors. Considering the huge costs of education these days, especially at big schools, it is unconscionable to require students to spend this amount of money. I've started switching students in my calc level physics classes over to MIT's Open Course Ware and students in my algebra level classes to the OpenStax College Physics [openstaxcollege.org]
      • The worst offender I have encountered so far is my Math 060 book for Pre-Alg - after tax $233 (Pearson Learning Solutions).

        Wow, that's almost tragic. That would make textbooks for one and a half or two years of study during my studies. The college did its own publishing, no fancy glossy paper, but the contents was there (and some of the textbooks were top-notch - some weren't, but really, nobody expects anyone to write a better local textbook for Calculus when Jarnik reigns supreme around here).

    • by jonwil ( 467024 )

      None of the dead tree computer science textbooks I used had any of this crap. (some of them are still sitting on my bookshelf even today)

    • Re:Better or worse? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by schroedingers_hat ( 2449186 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:51AM (#41222269)
      I had a prof who used one of these as part of a package deal type thing they got along with some (arguably very good) other resources. When people from the class told him about the issues involved (buying used books, strange deadlines, OS/screen size/browser requirements etc) he removed it at the first opportunity (sadly not during that course, as once something is set in the paperwork as part of the course assessment it cannot be changed here).
      Sometimes treating your prof as a human being works, try it some time.
    • by xaxa ( 988988 )

      What stops the students from sharing an access code?

      I didn't have to buy *any* books for university. There were plenty of copies of anything "important" in the library (with a portion of them not available for loan), and most lecturers just gave a list of 10 or so books, only a few recommended one book over all others. One lecturer once set questions from a book, about half an hour later a student sent an email to the discussion list for the course with a scan of the relevant page. The lecturer forwarded

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by cjb909 ( 838363 )

        The access code typically allows you to create an account, and may be necessary to submit the homework. You can't share the codes because each student needs to submit their own assignments.

    • Just had to buy my wife a book book for basic biology. The book itself is readily available on the internet, but the text that the professor requires is the SAME(page for page) book just an edition for her school that has the professors name as the author and a $140 online access code. The biggest kicker though is that her schools edition is a loose-leaf in a binder so the students can't sell it back at the end of the year
  • All our math courses at my university require this now. While the software is good, I do feel sorry for the students--in that it makes it very difficult to buy a used book. At the bookstore all the codes and books are packaged together. To buy them separately, you have to go somewhere like Amazon.

    • by truesaer ( 135079 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:45AM (#41222191) Homepage

      My Chemistry professor last year told me each year the faculty votes on which book to use. The book publishers all come in, give a pitch, bribe them with gifts, and also provide canned lectures slides and assignments for the professors who don't want to prepare on their own. Thats how they get professors and universities to agree to this shit. I wouldn't be surprise if there is a full on kickback to the universities too...

      Whenever I see this "you need to have this special software provided only by the book company to do assignments for [extremely basic course]," that's a sign your university and/or professors sold you out.

      • This is true, but it has funny results sometimes. I used to run the computer labs at PSU and the English Language Program bought a disk called "Focus on Grammar" by Pearson Thompson. The thing used SecuROM and required admin privileges (and the manifest was in the EXE "requireAdministrator")

        One thing you learn when you have 1200 or so odd Windows machines to manage is no-one gets admin privs. They ended up having to send it all back because the courseware it came with violated basic Windows security rights.

    • I recently had to put up with this for a nonsense "speech" course. I bought a used book, then found out about the access codes on the first day of class. You could buy access codes separately, but the teacher announced on the third day that all codes had a problem, that she would circulate a single code to the entire class, but in order for any work to count, students had to being in a receipt from the college book store. No other choice was given. It was pure extortion.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:39AM (#41222127) Homepage Journal

    Hey Kids!

    If your instructor is doing something like this to you, he/she is an asshole. If you can run FAR away or, if you can't avoid the person teaching, be cautious at every turn. If a prof is inflicting this type of B.S. on students then they another jerk you need to avoid in getting your education.

    The unis that I have worked at are trying to avoid this every chance they get by developing their own online course system or (ugh) using Blackboard. Most profs I personally know do things to try to avoid extra costs to their students. This type of behavior is the mark of a jerk.

    • Oh.. and if the DEPARTMENT is requiring this (like we see in other comments here) I double down and say the whole DEPARTMENT is shitty.

    • At the survey level, individual professors and instructors don't always pick the books/codes themselves. Most 100- and 200-level classes have set textbooks and requirements for certain courses. An individual professor can only choose supplementary materials for these courses (at least at my university).

    • by __aaeihw9960 ( 2531696 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:53AM (#41222299)
      I've found that in most cases, the instructor isn't the one to blame, it's the university/college. In my experience, the instructors genuinely want to keep costs down, but an administrator has AN EXCITING NEW PROGRAM for your students to try. So, they mandate that all intro-level X classes use Y book with Z code. Now, obviously this doesn't stand in your higher level courses, but I have yet to see a higher level course that uses these codes.
      • by sjames ( 1099 )

        In that case, I'll see Micky TheIdiot's double down and double down again, that means the whole school is rotten at the core.

        • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @12:55PM (#41224411)

          I'm going to take it to the 4th power and suggest that society is rotten at the core.

          Charging for an education is the instrument of a society that wants a debt-shackled workforce.

          When started my medical degree 20 years ago, my biggest expense was rent. By working summer jobs, living modestly, taking the government student loan, and with a small parental stipend, I was able to finish my course with a debt of less than £10,000 - and this was a 5 year course. I took advantage of the interest rate on the student loan being lower than the level of inflation and took my time paying it off - but I could have cleared it in my first year of work since a junior doctors job came with a rent-free apartment for a year, at the time (which is no longer the case, which amounts to a 20% pay cut) Even though I was only earning £21,000 [1]

          The tuition fees per year are now £9,000 ; I pity the younger generation.

          For programming jobs I wouldn't even bother with a university education now. Previous education was NOT a factor in my decision on any of my recent hires, just ability and experience.

          [1] The junior doctors salary of £21,000 (about $33,000) was a 1998 salary ; while working conditions have improved, largely through a reduction in the absurd number of hours you were expected to work (I used to clock > 80 hour weeks on a regular basis), the salary is now a mere £22,412, when inflation would suggest it should be around £32,000 ; while my hours were much higher than the current crop of doctors, for overtime I was paid a measly 1/3rd of my contracted hourly rate, which means a mere £5,250 of my wage was earned from overtime, despite it being more than half my working hours. Adjusted for this, the base salary should be £24,000, without overtime. If you try to convince me that junior doctors in the NHS are doing no overtime, I'll laugh at you. Cruelly.

      • Eh, I found the opposite. I had one graduate level engineering class where the professor insisted we get a book that had to be ordered overseas from the UK. High cost book plus a criminal shipping fee. The WWW hadn't really gotten started yet (I'm pathetically old), so I was making expensive phone calls to get the thing, had to arrange a money order, etc. Just an all around pain in the ass.

        The professor never cracked open the book during the class or referred to it once.

        I filed a complaint with the college

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Actually, I was forced to this kind of thing by my department (MyITLab). I hated it. The simulations are god awful (if a behavior isn't programmed in, it isn't recognized as valid, even if it works in MS Excel) and the website only works in MSIE and Safari. (I'm in Linux, so I have to launch Windows in a virtual machine just to access the course.)

      However, I've come around to it a little bit due to student feedback. These types of websites give students the opportunity to resubmit assignments multiple times

  • by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:39AM (#41222133) Journal

    Digital course materials will be better for student learning, but only if they are free (as in speech).

  • Be merciless, there is always a kickback on deals like this.

    "Is the most incompetent clod I have every had a course with going back to Kindergarden..."

  • Textbook prices (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kwishot ( 453761 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:49AM (#41222241)

    The access codes are just one part of a bigger problem: textbook prices. For one class this semester, I was able to purchase a Kindle, the $50 lighted Kindle case, and the Kindle version of the textbook for a combined cost that is less than the price of the hardcover textbook.

    Also - it wouldn't be such an obvious scam if you could purchase only the access code and acquire your book from the secondary market. In all instances that I've seen, the access codes come only with new books.

    I'm always tempted to blame the professors for choosing course materials like this; however, on more than one occasion I've heard professors complaining about pressure to switch to the latest edition. Pressure from whom? I have no idea...

    • by durdur ( 252098 )

      It is ridiculous. Because they have a captive market, textbook publishers just gouge students. Professors don't pay the cost, so they don't have an incentive to choose a cheaper book - but also, the fact is, pretty much all the choices are expensive.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Sometimes that pressure comes from the campus bookstore, actually. If a book is on a new edition, it eventually becomes difficult to get used copies in sufficient quantities and quality for them to sell.

    • Also - it wouldn't be such an obvious scam if you could purchase only the access code and acquire your book from the secondary market. In all instances that I've seen, the access codes come only with new books.

      In all instances I've seen the online access codes are sold bundled with the new book, and separately alongside, so we the students are able to buy the book used, and buy an access code. Interesting that you haven't seen this.

      I'm always tempted to blame the professors for choosing course materials like this; however, on more than one occasion I've heard professors complaining about pressure to switch to the latest edition. Pressure from whom? I have no idea...

      All professors I've had share the sentiments of yours; they're apologetic about the book prices. But I'm at WSU Tri-Cities, the main Pullman campus makes the book decisions, so it's not up to the campus here which books to use; so posters above are likely correct in that the professors

  • college is becoming a cash grab and we need better and quicker ways to learn.

    Right now at some schools due to the way classes fill up and all the required classes what used to take 4 years can now take 5 years.

    We need more tech schools and apprenticeships to take the load off of the college so it can go back to 4 years also added 2-3 year core only plans can help as well.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:52AM (#41222287)

    some argue that ultimately the era of digital course materials will be better for student learning.

    And some say that The Stig has three testicles, but only uses one at a time in order to prevent sextuplet pregnancies. But, the statement has no basis in fact.

    The web is not the least bit short of 'some saying' that digital learning is better than anything prior and those that question this "wisdom" are old luddites that fear change, lack vision and want to stymy progress. But, simply saying that repeatedly does not make it a fact.

    I'd like to see some fact based scientific evidence that these new technologies and techniques do in fact provide better learning that before. Does the online material for Chemistry 201 genuinely provide better learning than the third-time-used and battered text book originally printed 10 years ago? I just can't see how it can. The actual course material hasn't changed and simply replacing a paper book with an ephemeral online copy of the same doesn't seem likely to improve learning.

    I can see that the new online material can make for more profits, greater ease for professors, greater portability provided you've got power and internet where ever you go, and even greater ease for quick look-ups by students. But, none of those benefits prove greater learning. None of them prove faster learning, better retention, deeper or easier understanding...

    But, despite the lack of proof; "iPads for all students" continues to be a daily headline where 'some say it greatly enhances education' and no proof is ever given.

    • by Woodmeister ( 7487 ) <woodford DOT jason AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @11:50AM (#41223533)

      Oh man, "better for student learning"... As a HS teacher for the last 10+ years, this phrase is what boils my frickin blood. Education seems to be the place where charlatans and quacks can gain a strong foothold and peddle nouveau nonsense every 10-15 years, claiming to be on the cutting edge of NewEd, but never once have I seen any real G*dD@mn evidence that any of it works. Yet we buy into such crap time and time again, with each successive step making education more expensive (first for the governments, then for individuals). As for the quality of education in the last 30-40 years? Left as an exercise for the reader.

      Some tech makes certain problems easier where they once were not (such as 3D visualization of molecular structure, spreadsheets, etc). I am no luddite. I love using tech when it makes total sense. What I _DON'T_ need is a layer of overpriced cruft that makes my job ultimately more difficult and diminishes the quality of education.

  • by v1 ( 525388 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:54AM (#41222309) Homepage Journal

    This sounds just like what the video game market occasionally pulls, with registration codes that come with the game that can only be used once, in an attempt to make resale of the product useless.

    "First Sale Doctrine" says once you buy physical goods you can resell them without permission or interference from the manufacturer... but codes, they'll try to call them licenses or something like that to which FSD does not apply. So you have the textbook but can't access the quizzes that the instructor is going to be assigning, nor the references, nor the updates/corrections that they posted online, etc etc. Forcing you to buy a new book from them at the typically insane prices, just to get a code so you can do your homework.

    Just another depressing bypass-consumer-protection-laws money-grab.

    • Yes. I've been told this by people working in academic publishing. It's a method to get around the used book market.
  • by Toam ( 1134401 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:57AM (#41222343)

    If the professors are requiring that the students log in to some part of the text book publishers website to actually view a homework assignment, then that is very much the professors fault.

    Writing assignments is not that hard. And I say that having just finished preparing the tutorial and assignment for the class I'm teaching tomorrow.

    • by mx+b ( 2078162 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:18AM (#41222537)

      Writing assignments is not that hard. And I say that having just finished preparing the tutorial and assignment for the class I'm teaching tomorrow.

      This is true. Professors that use online homework because they do not want to bother are incredibly lazy in my opinion. I write my own assignments to tailor them to our lecture discussions. I will even revise homeworks based on unique questions I get every semester. I applaud you for making your own tutorial for your class. I feel this is what everyone should really do... if they had the time.

      The lack of time is partly also due to the overcrowding of schools. I have known instructors to get overloaded during semesters because the university doesn't want to pay to hire another adjunct (or to make someone full-time, etc). Not condoning it, but I can sympathize, having had overloaded semesters myself. Not even necessarily overloaded with classes, but the class sizes have become so huge that maintaining your own assignments and grading them by hand is an all day affair and you simply run out of time. At some point, I just have to stop grading because I realize I haven't eaten all day, or the laundry needs done, or dishes washed, or hell, sometimes I just want to be a human and spend some time with the wife or the cats.

      I like being able to give direct feedback, and to know how my class is doing myself (in an online machine-graded course, all you have is statistics, but students can cheat or get the right answer by the wrong reasoning sometimes, and you cannot have any clue what they are truly thinking unless you sit and read their papers and grade by hand), but again I can sympathize with the lack of time to do such things. There's a lot of problem with this whole education system all the way up the chain, and while I am not happy with the proliferation of shitty textbooks and online testing systems, I think we should recognize that in many cases, this is not the sign of a lazy professor but an overworked professor. We need to overhaul everything, and I will be on record stating I do not mind paying more in taxes if it goes to fund professors directly to allow class sizes to be smaller, and instructional material to be more unique. Perhaps it will only begin to change if we all start to send statements to this effect to our congresscritters.

  • by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @09:58AM (#41222361)

    I've been going around and around with Follett on this one. Under federal US law [1], colleges that receive federal money are REQUIRED to disclose ISBN numbers for course textbooks. However, the law also states that the school has the option of disclosing the ISBN numbers online with course schedules. So guess what? You actually have to register for a class at some colleges before you can get the ISBN. (This is, in fact, the case at Dallas County Community College District campuses.)

    Except for Follett. Apparently, even after registering, Follett doesn't seem to want to disclose the ISBN. On top of that, if you call a Follett bookstore for an ISBN (or visit in person), the minimum-wage earning salesperson will politely tell you they are not ALLOWED to disclose the ISBN, you have to go online to get it.

    More and more college bookstores are now closing the shelves to casual student browsers, so you don't even have the option of just picking up the book and looking at it for the ISBN.


  • People in the textbook business should be ashamed. A reasonable profit and getting as many people textbooks that want to learn should be a goal.

    And from a monitory standpoint, education is the single biggest payback society can invest in.
  • It's not only the extra cost, but it's also a loss of control over private information of the students.
  • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:07AM (#41222439)

    I am getting ready to write a letter to my state and federal representatives over the current state of publishing in the US. This is clearly the same crap that game publishers are doing to inhibit the second hand game market. The most disgusting thing of all is what I am going to relate to you now about how the digital world is screwing over libraries:

    I just found out from a friend that you can check out eBooks from the county library. I was insanely excited. I hadn't gotten my library card renewed after it had last expired so I filled out an application and was excited to go to the library the next day. Well in my excitement I decided to look at all the interesting eBooks I was looking forward to checking out. Their entire collection consists of 30 books. All of them books I had never heard of, and had no interest in. I was disappointed.

    After a moment's consideration, I decided I would go to the library and offer to donate one of the following A) eBooks for them to lend out B) A few hundred dollars for them to buy new books. I talked to librarian about the donation. She wasn't sure that I could donate specifically for eBooks, so she grabbed the county employee responsible for eBook lending. I talked to her for about an hour and I am thoroughly disgusted with the publishing industry. Even more so than I was as a college student. Here is what I learned:

    • eBooks cost the library $800 per book.
    • Only 2 out of the 6 major publishers will sell libraries eBooks.
    • One of those two publishers only allows the library to check out an eBook 26 times before they must purchase the book again.
    • Every time a patron checks out an eBook, the library pays the publisher $5.

    I understand the importance of copyright, but this is ridiculous. The people who get their eBooks from libraries do so because they can't afford the books, or they want to try before they buy. If they want to limit the number of times an eBook can be loaned out, then they should charge a reasonable rate for the books. Forbes even had an article a few months ago about this: What Is Going On With Library E-Book Lending? [forbes.com] and again just a few weeks ago. It just makes me so angry that corporations are able to pull this kind of nonsense. I was born in the wrong generation, I think. I miss the days of customer service, and fostering loyalty amongst your consumers.

  • Some schools do have text books as part of the class costs so there is no added fee for them.

  • Don't any of you people cooperate?

    20 years ago trying to charge over 90 cents per page when a xerox was something like 4 cents resulted in one guy buying the book and everyone else carrying in stacks of photocopies. Traditionally the guy who bought the book and did the photocopying sold the copies for a six pack of beer, at least thats how we did it 20 years ago. Then he was obligated to host the "back to school party" using that beer. Anyway, as for homework, I would imagine one guy could print out the

    • actually having the tests and such be done via the Online part is a great convenience for a Teacher sinc eall he has to do is admin the stuff (unlock homework/quizes and such) and then dump the scores into the grade book.

  • Can these types of deals be attacked because of the grading systems operated by the publishers? The publisher is not only grading but also maininting and reporting grades for students.

    Have any of these grading systems been vetted? Approved by the various education bodies? Surely, the schools have their own system and there is policy that allows for grades to be recorded by another system?

  • by OldSport ( 2677879 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @10:51AM (#41222829)

    "But the latest textbook enhancements, which require individual access codes to get to bonus materials online..."

    Yeah, just like you can get your "enhanced" DRM-crippled DVDs or e-books with "bonus" content. Throw in a little extra crap to take peoples' attention away from the fact that they're paying more for a crippled version of the same old product.

  • by Beeftopia ( 1846720 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @11:55AM (#41223589)

    Undergraduate material is not bleeding edge information. It's basic stuff that undergrads must grasp in order to give them some sort of understanding of their major subject area.

    Being able to uniquely identify individual and course and semester, creating an overall unique ID for that instance and preventing reuse of it is... diabolically efficient and profitable for the vendor.

    The problem is that the costs of university education are getting so high that the benefits to the individual are being outweighed by the costs. They tell us that you must go to college if you hope to ever make anything of yourself. In the past, for a minor fee, you could do this and leverage your earning power. Today however, they extract much of the value you might have gotten from college upfront. And that doesn't talk about the intangibles, like being able to live debt free and the options that provides the relatively thoughtful and motivated young person who does go to college to improve himself.

    This continues the hollowing out of the middle class.

    Ultimately, the core of this problem comes down to the easy availability of debt. Many of the world's problems come down to the easy availability of debt.

  • by Dcnjoe60 ( 682885 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @12:03PM (#41223675)

    We keep hearing about how expensive it is to publish a book for print and yet Lulu.com does a 100 page book for $6 ($4 to the printer, $2 for their service). The author in that example gets $8 and the book sells for $14. Using those same ratios, a 300 page text book should cost the printer $12 to print and the publisher would get $6, the author would get $24 and the book would sell for $42.

    Then why do textbooks cost five times that amount? You would think a textbook publisher is going to have greater economies of scale than somebody self-publishing, so the costs should be even less.

    Maybe the Justice Department should quit looking at kids downloading songs and focus on price fixing and collusion among text book publishers and universities. Sure seems fishy.

  • by cervesaebraciator ( 2352888 ) on Tuesday September 04, 2012 @01:06PM (#41224569)
    I can say the problem will not be addressed until the faculty address it. This will not happen so long as teaching loads increase because administration will not allocate new lines to replace retiring faculty.

    I say the former because I have addressed this problem in my own courses. Granted, I teach in the liberal arts rather than the sciences where the textbook prices are the most atrocious, but the liberal arts are trying desperately to catch up. Even so, when I build my classes I do so around primary texts which for texts up to the twentieth century are largely available in the public domain. My students simply access the material on their laptops or tablets even during class. I also give them a list of books upon request so they can buy paper versions on Amazon if they like. As for the role traditionally occupied by the survey textbook, in my way of thinking that is the purpose of a lecture. With well structured lectures and handouts, a textbook becomes superfluous. Using these methods, I have managed to get textbook costs down to $0 per semester. This has also led to interesting conversations with an incredulous university bookstore. As a historian I am able to focus on primary sources as I teach, but I do not see a reason a similar approach could not work in STEM (and my apologies if this is merely a consequence of my ignorance).

    I say the latter because the ability to do the former requires significant amounts of time. As our baby-boomer colleagues retire--and these make the bulk of faculty--departments are often denied funding to replace them. To cover basic course requirements, therefore, departments either have to pile extra teaching onto the remaining faculty or hire part time instructors. PTI's are becoming an ever larger part of faculties, but this is an unsustainable system. They're underpaid with no benefits and their situation has only been getting worse. At least at the universities I've worked at PTI positions pay no higher than they did more than a decade ago. As a PTI, I once calculated an hourly wage based upon what I put into a class and came out around $4/hour. This cannot last because even young, talented, and dedicated teachers have bills to pay.

    As for piling extra work on present faculty, this is how we end up with the textbook situation. Faculty at state schools often must teach 4/4 course loads, and sometimes more, in addition to committee, service, and research requirements. Under such time restraints, they tend to be rather open minded toward time saving short cuts. Enter the textbook publisher's sales representative. For those who're familiar with the sitcom Scrubs, this is essentially the same character as Julie Keaton, played by Heather Locklear, who pushed the side-effects ridden Plomox [youtube.com]. Often a young woman who is all smiles, she offers copies of all their wares, course and lectures outlines, and sometimes even free lunch. "Now here's something," thinks the faculty member, "that will allow me actually to make it home in the evening to see my spouse, my children, and maybe even watch an episode of Scrubs or post on Slashdot. Besides, look at the big glossy pictures. I got complaints last semesters that the text did not have enough pictures." (And yes, the pictures are used as a sales point.) And thus the prof will receive a free copy of the textbook for which his students will pay $200, and he builds his entire syllabus around it. Then when the next edition comes out, and the online content ends, there's another turn of the knife. In the liberal arts, the texts are largely the same but for a few small changes the knock the pages numbers off. Old syllabi must be abandoned and old editions of the book will not line up with the new syllabi. Thus the system perpetuates itself.

    I am glad to work in a field where I can use the internet to make life a little more convenient on my students. I prefer to focus on primary sources anyway. For those in other fields, and indeed my own, I would propose this solution t

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.