My own textbook. How?

Textbooks are too expensive. Students in my on-site classes need a textbook. When I tell them to print out internet resources or documents, many don’t do it even when I tell them it saves them tons of money. When I post resources online, they may or may not read them, but if they don’t print them and have them in front of them in class, they are of only superficial use. I am not allowed to make copies for them at cost to the college – we don’t have a printing services that will sell to students and are limited to just syllabus and exams, pretty much.

This semester’s textbook, which I was trying for the first time, cost over $85 used. It’s got only greyscale illustrations, and is pretty small. It has a method and primary sources, rather than being an overview. I send them to Wikipedia for overviews. We have our book in front of us as we work (at least, those that bought it or bring it). They don’t tend to read what’s on Wikipedia.

I don’t like the book that much, as it turns out, and although I can use this to my pedagogical advantage, it makes the book worth even less. I found another textbook for next semester and asked the bookstore how much for the current 10th edition? $110 new/ $85 used. How about the previous 7th edition? The same. That’s ridiculous. This is a total ripoff. They can get the 7th edition for less than $5 used on Amazon, but the college contracts with Follett and we’re all required to order everything through them. And students prefer to just walk to the bookstore and get their books – few order them online anyway if they’re in an on-site class.

So next semester, I figure, I’ll do it differently. I’ll take all my online lectures and put them into a book myself. I’ll add in the primary sources I used to put in a coursepack. I’ll put it on Lulu. Except that the bookstore has an exclusive contract – we’re supposed to use Follett, with their minimum markup of 26%. They said, OK, we can order from Lulu, but why not use Premium Source Publishing, which does our coursepack? No, I told them, I refuse to use Premium Source Publishing for this since they own the copyright. That’s fine for a coursepack of edited documents, but not for my own writing – I want it licensed Creative Commons, which Lulu will do.

I have done coursepacks of primary sources before, and I recently stopped. I would spend many hours editing primary sources into the book. Then I’d send the pdf to Premium Source Publishing, which presumably got copyright clearance. I said presumably because I never saw the records on this, and in some semesters they left blank pages where they couldn’t get clearance and in others the pages were there even though the copyright holder was the same. They got a profit for producing the books, inviting me to add a dollar amount to each for my own royalty, which I never did. Then they sent my coursepacks to the bookstore, which marked them up 26%. The price continued to increase over time.

So I tried making the book available in pdf form for students and asking them to print it out themselves. Compliance was less than it would have been if they’d been able to buy it in the bookstore. Some care about money; some only care about convenience. Some won’t buy a book the whole semester no matter what.

I have spent the last few weeks creating my new textbook, but last night I got to the 1920s and realized I’ll have copyright problems adding in the primary sources. I did some research on copyright and recent cases. According to these, it’s possible that my book would be OK with all the content I want, so long as it’s for a non-profit institution and isn’t making me any profit. Since it’s my writing, I was considering a small royalty, but I can forgo that.

So now what? Lulu for my own writing, sold in the bookstore for their own profit and Lulu’s, with or without a royalty for me? Possible cost: $40. Then Premium Source for my document coursepack, separately? Another $40. Look! We’re at about the same price as a used textbook.

And before you tell me that my own work is of higher quality, let me assure you that is not the issue. My textbook would have my perspective, which we could then discuss and question in class. Another textbook would have another perspective,and we would discuss and question in class. The method is the same. “Information” is not the point.

But this is a baaaad formula. Publisher’s profits + student demands for convenience = high prices. Publisher’s profits + student demands for convenience + unpaid professorial work = high prices anyway.

So maybe I should head back to the online only idea, with my original idea of my own textbook with all the primary sources, only in pdf format. It would not be convenient for students who want to buy a textbook. But if they had a device (smarthphone, laptop, tablet, Touch), they could bring it to class on that device. If they didn’t, they could print it at the library. And if they read it online elsewhere outside of class, didn’t print it, and forgot to bring it to class, I could print up a few copies for myself to bring to class for working. Plus, the courts are way clearer  on this one, with no profit involved at all.

I think that’s the plan. For now, anyway.

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