Textbook publishers have gotten away with quite a racket for a long time. Historically, since students were forced to buy whatever books a professor assigned, they could charge incredibly high fees. While online book ordering has shifted the market, somewhat, the prices are still quite high, and often seen as something of a burden for students. Professors have often tried to help ease the situation, often setting up coursepacks of info, where they just collect snippets of the texts that they want. However, all too often, obtaining all the rights to those snippets is a time consuming and costly procedure as well. More recently, professors have often taken to just putting up digital clips online for students to read, claiming that it's "fair use." This seems fairly reasonable, considering that just about every definition of fair use includes use for scholarship
as a category of protection. However, as you might imagine, textbook publishers are having none of that, accusing universities around the world of costing textbook publishers many millions of dollars
. The article is incredibly one-sided and trots out all sorts of falsehoods from publishers, including the ever popular "it's impossible to compete with free," argument that isn't just wrong, but is a sign of someone who should not be making business decisions at a content business these days. Not only can you compete with free, you have to
these days. All of the publishers also conveniently ignore that if their content wasn't being offered up this way, there's a high likelihood that it wouldn't be included at all.
Still, the core is that if these book publishers really think that they can't provide significant enough value to make someone pay, they shouldn't be in the publishing business at all -- which, perhaps, is what the market is trying to tell them. If an entire textbook is valuable, it's much easier to just buy the actual book than read it online (or print it, with the high cost of ink). On top of that, textbook publishers need to recognize other opportunities to make money, such as adding additional interactive or community features that are only available to those who actually pay. Then, if they recognize that fair use covers academic uses, they can actually make even more money by encouraging the basic use of the content to upsell people to additional offerings. No, not everyone will take it, but they'd be working from a lot larger base and wouldn't be wasting all their time whining about people learning for free.