Amanda Retzer’s article, “The Truth About Textbooks” (Feb. 26) appears to be a well-meaning but misinformed look at the issue of textbook pricing. Here is the bottom line from a person who has published a textbook with Houghton Mifflin, and has two others in the works. National publishing firms must develop a new business model. The current one is broken.
Here’s what happens. I work five years to write my book, and my publisher pays my editor’s salary and all costs associated with that book. But we only get compensated when the book is sold new.
When you resell my book to El Corral, they sell it back to a new student without paying me or my publisher a penny. Resale, of course, reduces the number of copies sold by the publisher. Consequently, the publisher needs to recapture its costs the first quarter/semester the book is available.
Once a book hits the used book markets, the only people making money are El Corral and other used book dealers. The end result is that the student buying a new book subsidizes the cost of textbooks for subsequent students buying the book on the used market.
Do I have a solution? I wish I did. I would like to see cheap enough editions that we would essentially put the used book people out of business, but none of the publishers wants to be the first to go there. If everybody bought new, the publishers’ costs would be spread over total sales, not just first-time sales.
Think about Harry Potter for a minute. Nobody resells Harry (sacrilege!), and the publisher can sell the book for $20 and still make J.K. Rowling a billionaire. In the meantime, all of this fuss about professors getting their orders in on time is a red herring. A more fruitful effort would be to challenge El Corral on their buyback and resale prices, which are completely under their control.