The price of academic textbooks

My travails through THE over the past few weeks has identified the age old problem in academia. What’s a textbook worth?

When I was a student 20 years ago textbooks were around £25-30. Prices haven’t changed much. But in my day I lived on £30 a week, so buying the textbook recommended by a lecturer was a big commitment. And photocopier cards were £5 for 70 sheets, and I got through 2 a week.

In this day and age with the size of the loans on offer to students (students note: your loans are very generous and if you can’t live on them, then get rid of your mobile and Virgin TV package), this is not so much an issue.

But, are textbooks worth £30?

There are, of course, some absolutely invaluable ones that are thick weighty tomes in more ways than one.

But THE list some books that cost over £40 for less than 300 pages. E-versions are slightly less.

If, as an author, you have any hope of getting onto a reading list, then pricing your book this high is a big No No. I know I certainly take it into consideration.

And why can I buy a kindle book for about a quarter/fifth of the full price of the hard copy but e-versions of textbooks are only marginally cheaper? Probably because all the money at the publishing houses is being pumped into the e-versions. So, lots of middle managers’ wages!

I recently tried out my first ever e-version as an inspection copy. I was only given 180 days to view it, and the site was completely inaccessible. Tiny fonts, lots of scrolling right and left, down and up (if you’ve ever tried the e-version of Metro and found yourself in online hell, it is pretty similar).

I complained to the publisher that this version was unacceptable. No reply, but they sent me a hard copy instead.

Given the mega bucks that are being spent on e-versions I was most unimpressed.

We don’t want online versions, we want PDFs that we can download, chapter by chapter. The lecturers want this and I suspect that the students do to. This would be a much cheaper solution.

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