Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Switching Textbooks is a service that allows college students to trade textbooks. The goal is to save money -- the founders see the textbook manufacturers and bookstores as ripping students off.

Do they have a case? Maybe. Textbook publishing is supposedly still the most profitable part of the book biz. Many textbook updates seem to be designed to make it difficult for students to get by with used books. And the books are definitely expensive, sometimes obscenely so. There are various reasons for that. Students are a captive market, so there is no pressure to bring prices down. The books are very expensive to develop, and that cost is reflected in the prices. Part of the reason for the high development cost is that profs are now used to getting a whole batch of fancy add-ins: teachers' manuals, workbooks, test bank, website, and so on. (We're trying to land a contract to edit just the teacher's manual of a science textbook. The editing of just that one ancillary volume will cost the publisher about $1,200 per chapter, whether we get the contract or not. That's for the teacher's manual, not the textbook. Editing the textbook will cost many multiples of that.)

Will switchtextbooks work? Perhaps. The publishers are getting pretty good at keeping the life of each textbook really short, so each book has only a few years as a sellable used title. They are careful to make sure that previous editions are pretty much unusable. But for books that are still in use, it makes perfect sense for students to look for a used copy. For the most part, people who want used books are finding them already, through private sales and through bookstores. If there are going to be any real losers in this, it will be the used bookstores. But my guess is that most students who want used books are finding them already. I'm not convinced that this sort of thing is likely to have much impact.


At 11:45 a.m., May 23, 2005, Anonymous WYGK said...

Greg - I think the Baltimore Solutions guys are onto an interetsing idea with There have been a couple attempts to do something like this before, but this effort seems to be mcuh better organized and funded.

They're also involved in another (and very interesting) website:

And you might want to check out the latest site from the Ratingz Network:

At 11:21 a.m., August 29, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just got all of my books for the fall semester using I think everyone should at least give it a shot. It saved me a ton of $$$. Sign up with this link to get free points!


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