The demise of the traditional textbook has been hugely exaggerated. Nor have recent state and federal legislation intended to reduce the high cost of college textbooks had much of an impact to date. (I’ve written about the issue elsewhere on this blog before.) Online books, book rental schemes and even the ability to buy books one chapter at a time from some of the few remaining large publishing houses have also not much diminished the effective cost for students as renting a book or “buying” an online version that is non transferable and expires after a year or less can cost more than buying a used copy of a textbook and then reselling it at the end of the semester.
Nevertheless, low cost alternatives exist though they are hard to find since their low cost (and low profits for the publishers and authors that produce them) leave no room for hiring legions of sales reps to spread the word or massive mailings of free desk copies to prospective adopters. Thus, sales are slow to build and there is little incentive for such books to be produced as a consequence. I can offer my own two recent textbooks as examples. My Business Law: An Introduction, published by Irwin/McGraw Hill for more than a decade was released as an updated, expanded second edition by textbook Media Press, my new publisher, two years ago. The original hard cover edition paid my mortgage for the better part of 10 years, was used in more than 100 community colleges, technical colleges and universities in 37 states and sold for three times its current updated paperback version. The new edition is available both in various electronic and online formats as well as in paperback ranging in price from $18.95 to $39.95. But it remains virtually unknown–even to the loyal adopters that refused to let the outdated edition go out of print for about a decade. The same is true of my Legal Environment of Business book from Prentice Hall which has been significantly updated and expanded and released as a second edition also within the past three years as Business Law and the Legal Environment of Business 2e also from Textbook Media Press at the same price point as the shorter book. It has been adopted by a range of colleges and universities from technical colleges through at least one AACSB accredited school of business (not, it is not my current university), but sales are weak because the title is also virtually unknown.
I don’t see an answer. But I find it difficult to justify even thinking about a third edition of either book unless sales can justify the time and energy required for the projects. Which means they too may wither on the vine and yet another viable low cost alternative to the $240 textbooks with which it competes will soon disappear. As long as faculty and students don’t see a problem with a $240 or a $100+ book rental these will continue to exist until the entire industry collapses in on itself as fewer and fewer students buy a product made extraordinarily expensive in no small part by the push-marketing costs associated with its traditional means of distribution.
Meantime, my books–and those of other authors willing to sacrifice royalty earnings for the chance to make textbooks available at a rational price will remain a little known secret destined to die of neglect.
For what it’s worth, here is some additional information about my two latest textbooks. Just click on the name of each for my publisher’s information and expanded free chapter previews or on my publisher’s name for a link to their current catalog of college textbooks.
Business Law and the Legal Environment of Business 2e, Victor D. López 2011, (Textbook Media 2011)