Textbook Publishers Continue To Freak Out Over File Sharing

from the and-start-fighting-back dept

It’s been almost four years since we first wrote about textbook publishers freaking out over file sharing of textbooks, and it appears that not all that much has really changed in the interim, other than the fact that it’s actually becoming a little more common for students to find scanned versions of textbooks online. The NY Times looks at the issue and how some textbook providers are trying to strike back. Of course, the main reason why students download textbooks is because textbooks are ridiculously expensive, but it doesn’t look like publishers are fighting back by lowering prices.

Instead, they’re trying to get people to pay more.

More specifically, rather than responding to the root cause of the downloads, textbook publishers are trying to come up with systems that students can’t get around paying for, such as online subscriptions to “extra” information to go along with a textbook. Of course, we’ve seen this before at times too, such as the time when a company offering just such a subscription went out of business in the middle of a semester, taking down its website and all of the materials the students were using. That worked out great.

Basically, the textbook publishers are reacting in exactly the wrong way. Rather than focusing on ways to actually add value and make it worthwhile to pay, they’re looking to come up with ways to lock people in and force them to pay. That’s bound to backfire eventually. It’ll just take a smarter textbook company to embrace more reasonable strategies, and for professors to only use educational materials from those companies not focused on bankrupting students.

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Comments on “Textbook Publishers Continue To Freak Out Over File Sharing”

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25 Comments
BillDem says:

They are crazy for still printing them...

Are they insane? They should be selling inexpensive ebook versions for various readers, complete with live links to references, links to support videos, etc. In this digital age it is borderline retarded to still be toting around 50 lbs. of textbooks in your freaking backpack when your laptop could hold an entire library. If I was still in college, I’d be looking for scanned versions, too. This is the 21st century. Get with the program companies!

Willton says:

Re: They are crazy for still printing them...

Are they insane? They should be selling inexpensive ebook versions for various readers, complete with live links to references, links to support videos, etc. In this digital age it is borderline retarded to still be toting around 50 lbs. of textbooks in your freaking backpack when your laptop could hold an entire library. If I was still in college, I’d be looking for scanned versions, too. This is the 21st century. Get with the program companies!

Most people in the 21st century don’t like reading from a computer screen; they tend to prefer the actual book.

Manitcor says:

They Honestly Do not Get It

It really comes down to a complete lack of understanding on the part of nearly every level in the educational publishing industry.

There is still a large contingent that assert that what they do is publish books and it is the content in the books that people are paying for.

True, when the only avenue for your content was a book and the ability to carry that content in other forms was extremely limited. Now with digital delivery the focus needs to change to one of services around education with content as an enabler for other services.

The big problem with this is that it requires a fundamental change in the way these companies do business. Everything from the way the sell to how they compensate authors and even how internal budgeting is handled.

The way things have worked for so long is so ingrained in the minds of those in the industry that even the mere suggestion that revenue is derived from anything other than a textbook gets looks as if you have just sprouted 9 heads. So we remain stuck in a world of key codes, half-hearted companion content and weak online offerings that are lauded as successes internally when they garner usage in the five digit range.

They are making the same moves as the music and movie industry are doing and validating by saying that they are actually selling to the instructors and the deans (they really, gear their sales that way). These people are older and supposedly don’t under stand technology. What they don’t see coming is a whole generation of 30 somethings and younger. The Nintendo generation is quickly approaching the age of professorships, tenure and attaining higher level offices in educational institutions. Pair that with a student body who does not know anything other than what is online and you have an industry that will shift quickly and violently.

At the end of the day, I don’t really see any of the major publishers becoming enlightened and changing their ways. What I do see are a small group of motivated individuals getting venture funding and the right kind of content going to every school in the country and offering their content for next to nothing or free while having low cost testing, reporting, tutoring and class management services. Many schools, particularly community colleges, will jump on this as the cheaper books are the more students they can enroll and the more classes they can take.

The most disappointing fact of this is that many of the major publishers do have the content, the technology and the engineering skills to make this happen. Instead they will fight to keep the old models alive as long as possible and refusing to learn for the mistakes other content industries have made in the last 10+ years.

Hua Fang (user link) says:

Individualized texbook

We need re-think about what a textbook should be. I think that it will be becoming individualized for each different learning. Then, the question becomes how a textbook publisher will make money in the future. Or we have to ask this question first, what a textbook publisher should be like in the face of ever-advancing technology and fast-pace increasing volume of knowledge? … … Eventually leading us to ask this fundamental question: what is knowledge and reasoning?

To have a true inside-out answer about a future textbook, we are forced to seek about the truth on this basic philosophical inquiry. Retrospectively, we learned that the deep thinking along the lines from philosophy of mathematics and logics, including its pragmatic outcome of significant gift called “Mathematical Theory of Communication” by Claude Shannon. … …

Before stretched too far, let’s come back to the original line of topics, the textbook. I truly believe that it will not be the same again no matter it can make money or not.

a codonologist.

Cynic says:

Of course, it’s not surprising to me (at least) that books and book publishers that are selected by people who deliver a vapor-ware product (i.e., higher education) would see no need to enter the 21st century. When I was in college in the 70s the teachers picked new text books every year (yeah, the world was constantly changing in the 70s, you should have been there, knowledge was becoming obsolete in the course of a year…right). The books were heavy, often had misprints, and were ridiculously expensive.

So here we are, these many years later, and as far as I can see the colleges and the book companies are still playing the same game. Kind of makes me wonder about the intelligence of people running both colleges and text book publishers. Yeah, super smart people.

RLS (profile) says:

Or, instead of printing books that may never be purchased… the school could add the price of the book to tuition. And that way every student has paid for the book, and then the school can distribute digital information or make sure the student receives the paper version. The authors are then providing their content based on license agreements to schools.

Or something like that. I think it’s a good idea that could be tweaked into something quite amazing.

Willton says:

One solution for Law schools

My Evidence professor decided last year that he was fed up with dealing with casebooks and decided to make his own: he downloaded a large number of evidence-related cases and copied them to MS Word format (judicial opinions are in the public domain, so no copyright infringement if the files contain only the words of the cases). He then collected them, made a Table of Contents that tracked his syllabus, and distributed it all in a ZIP file to me and my classmates. Presto: we had a free casebook.

One major drawback to this approach was that most students prefer to learn from a physical book than from a computer screen, and it can be a drag on the school’s budget when students print out every reading assignment at the school library. Further, my evidence professor is pretty tech-savvy, so I don’t expect this practice to spread like wildfire. That said, it’s a pretty decent way for law professors to focus on the material they want to teach (as opposed to the material the casebook author wants to teach) while making it less expensive for law students to learn the law.

I don’t expect this practice to be workable for undergraduate classes, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Dementia says:

“It’ll just take a smarter textbook company to embrace more reasonable strategies, and for professors to only use educational materials from those companies not focused on bankrupting students.”

As I sit here and think back to my college days, it seems that I remember a number of my textbooks had my profeesors listed as a contributing author. Now, that couldn’t have anything to do with this situation, could it?

ManagementHasNoStay says:

Textbook Publishers vs. The Sudents

The RIAA could learn a thing or two from the textbook publishing industry. However, I find it particularly very strange that none of these cases or stories have ever made it mainstream or public knowledge…

Check out

http://www.nysun.com/new-york/this-detectives-mysteries-involve-real-life-books/49753/

And

http://www.auctionbytes.com/cab/abn/y05/m04/i25/s02

They successfully sued a college student at Georgia Tech for copyright infringement with a judgment about $210,000 and $100,000 in attorney fees. This was only after he telephoned the plaintiff’s attorneys to discuss a amicable settlement and, according to court documents, disclose his personal bank statements, etc. All this was over sending out portable document format (PDF) files. …

Check out Pearson Education, Inc., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Thomson Learning Inc., The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.; v. Nadir Knyane

The defendant is being sued for allegedly distributing two (that’s 2) instructor solution manuals as stated in the complaint. Only Pearson and John Wiley are itemized with the 2 allegedly distributed files. So why is Thomson and McGraw-Hill listed in the lawsuit?

Check out

Pearson Education, Inc., John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Thomson Learning Inc., The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.; Defendant v. Yi Shi

The defendant, a college student in Missouri, is being sued for allegedly distributing homework assignments and foreign edition textbooks of 19 texts. Wow, so lesson learned, you can’t distribute your homework without the expressed written permission of the publishers I guess. Actually, that could be reasoning for not turning in your homework on time.

All of these lawsuits are from last year (September 2007). There’s many, many more but going over all of them would take too long. Plus to read them you need access to LexusNexus and other legal website access.

It seems to me that these are filed quite systematic. I find it very strange and unusual that a large majority of these lawsuits are filed by one attorney. Furthermore, I find it equally strange that they are all filed in the Southern District of New York. Unlike the Recording Industry, who sends it to the defendant’s state of residence with counsel in that state, this is not the case.

Since the publishers are concerned about people photocopying ‘their’ stuff and distributing it electronically why are they making their materials exclusively electronic? Why are they filing lawsuits on the basis of this?

Also, popular McGraw-Hill text (named in a previous lawsuit against students) resource says this right next to the copyright “The contents of, or parts thereof, may be reproduced for use with [textbook name] provided such reproductions bear copyright notice and may be reproduced in any form for any other purpose without permission of the publisher…

Isn’t it funny how none of these stories truly make it mainstream or to public knowledge? A kid with a judgement larger than the RIAA lawsuit doesn’t even make a bleep. With about 50 lawsuits filed in the last year, and settlements (according to court documents and an enforcement agent) of up to “five figures”, or specified in one court case that settlements are between $700 – $70,000.

Paul Newman put it best in Cool Hand Luke, “Wish you’d stop bein’ so good to me, Captain.”

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