It’s your fault books are too expensive…

I caught this quote today in a Washington Post article about the high price of textbooks for college students.

Bruce Hildebrand of the Association of American Publishers said professors choose which books to assign, and they can choose a simple text or one that includes such things as online tutoring and tests. "The average cost of a new textbook is $52.36," he said. "Did you buy the Corvette or the Ford Fiesta?"

Ah yes, it’s your professor’s fault for choosing a fancy version of a textbook!  This is a classicly ineffective defense that industry flacks will spit out when challenged on the high price of their products to a captive market.  "You’ve chosen something expensive and that costs money."  I’ve seen people do it in healthcare, gasoline, etc.

While it may be factually incorrect, it is in fact an ineffective spin technique.  Much like hot potato it just bounces the problem around.  Eventually though, the problem will end up back in the laps of the publishing industry, since that’s where one follows the money.

An effectively spun response would be for the textbook publishers association to talk about how hard they’re working to push programs that assist students in buying textbooks.  Whether or not that was true, that would show them working towards a solution, and make everything they said subsequently far more credible. 

For example, one of the reasons texbooks costs so much is that they’re a limited market.  Unlike the latest Harry Potter novel, you just don’t sell 30 million copies of "Advanced linear algebra".  So to compensate for it they need to increase the price.  They aren’t making the fortune they wish they could make either.

Although this would cause a huge stink among the digerati, the publishers really ought to be selling digital versions of textbooks with a one year license on them.  The digerati will bellyache and moan about how they still had all their old algebra books from when they were in college, but that’s just so much nostalgia.  You can pretty much google the answer to any question about basic knowledge at this point.  Do you doubt me?  Go google ‘solve quadratic equations’.

But why won’t they do this?  They probably won’t do this because the industry is dominated by a few large players without an innovative bone in their body. They, like many industries afraid of the Internet, are afraid of change.  It’s the same story with newspapers, the recording industry, the movie industry, etc…