Anyone who has been a college student in the past decade has experienced exploitation at the hands of an increasingly unethical textbook industry. Despite the reality that, for many subjects and studies, there has been no meaningful development in the subject matter being taught, the prices of these books have skyrocketed since the early 2000s. Many of the required books, such as Herodotus’ Histories, do not represent any significant effort on the part of the publisher as they are ancient and require no creative effort to market, but required editions for classes can still be expensive. Perhaps the most offensive practice is that of teachers who produce their own textbooks, release yearly revisions which are fundamentally worthless, and then require the purchase of the ‘new’ text for their classes. This practice has rightfully enraged the students who are exploited through the collaborative effort of the publishers and their own schools. The Washington Post references a blog focused on the issue:
“A year ago a student wrote on a Tumblr blog called “Children of the Stars” complaining about a professor who insisted that students buy an online version of a specific paperback sociology book for more than $200 — which the professor wrote himself — and would not allow them to purchase “an older, paperback edition of the same book for $5.” The student continued: “This is why we download,” and “Don’t ever, EVER buy the newest edition of a book,” which is followed by a list of Web sites with pirated books. As of 2:20 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, the post had 780,942 views.”
The site in reference is no longer available, most likely for its promotion of textbook piracy. While it is unfair to expect publishers and authors to produce these materials for free, or noncompetitive rates, it is equally unfair to allow them to exploit their position of power as creators of college policy in order to enrich themselves. Just how bad is this practice? A government study done by the US Government Accountability Office found that:
“The cost to students of college textbooks skyrocketed 82 percent between 2002 and 2012…”
This extreme markup of textbooks is particularly telling since it coincides with rapidly decreasing publishing costs during the same period, a phenomenon which began the more widespread production of course-specific textbooks by teachers. It appears that textbooks have become yet another symptom of the systemic failures of the US intellectual property laws, along with such events as the entertainment industry sponsored raid of Kim Dotcom’s New Zealand residence, and the continual alteration of those laws at the behest of moneyed interests such as Disney. When intellectual property protection become a tool of exploiting the poorer segments of society, such as students, it becomes far more appealing, if not acceptable entirely, to reject those laws.