Heavy Lifting - thoughts and web finds by an economist
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Friday, August 18, 2006

On textbook prices

The Chronicle of Higher Education points out that yet another report has been written castigating publishers for not offering low-cost alternatives to $150 textbooks. These types of reports, coupled with a GAO report earlier this year and threats of Congressional action, might make the complaintants feel better but it won't do much.

The market is already responding with low-cost alternatives. The problem is not a lack of Congressional action but a lack of awareness on the part of professors. Really, how many of us know within twenty five dollars the price of the textbook we recommend/require? Nevertheless, there are open-source textbooks, free textbooks, and low-cost textbooks such as my Microeconomics Demystified.

Microeconomics Demystified is a full-blown textbook in the sense that what it covers it covers with the same intensity as any other microeconomics textbook, although I do not use any math. However, my book only covers thirteen topics. I start with an introduction to economic language, spend one chapter reviewing the slope of a line and a curve, and then go in the following order:

Comparative Advantage
Supply and Demand
Consumer and Producer surplus
Household Theory and Utility maximization (including income and substitution effects)
Firm Theory and Profit Maximization
Perfect Competition
Oligopoly/Monopolistic Competition
Factor Markets
Market Failure and Public Goods

At the end of each chapter are a series of multiple choice questions, at the end of the text is a final exam. The book is designed for a single semester microeconomics principles course. Notice the lack of chapters concerning environmental economics, labor unions and their history, international trade, economic history, or history of thought.

Other textbooks focus on such topics but it's because the publisher wants a thirty chapter book for a sixteen week course. This is done to broaden the coverage of the book, I get it, but it is wasteful and the students have begun NOT buying the book because they know it is not a good investment/rental agreement.

Here's what's cool about Microeconomics Demystified. The suggested retail price is $20 and it is available on Amazon.com for as little as $13. Now, do I make a ton of money off every book sold? Absolutely not. Would I make more if I had a $125 principles book? Most likely, but then again it is a lot of work (up to four or five years) to write a big book such as that. Microeconomics Demystified took me a year to write, on top of my other research and teaching efforts.

I am anxious that there are too many people focusing on the price of textbooks from Addison-Wesley and not enough people recognizing that there are low-cost alternatives already on the market. I agree that my textbook doesn't come with a DVD, student study guides and the like. I am tempted to make a website at which I could put some teaching materials, but I haven't had the time.

We know that eventually the government will intervene in the textbook industry because that's what government does. I just hope that when the big G makes its entrance it doesn't squash the likes of me.

I like your post and I'm going to link to this blog entry at my website, TextbookPOWER.com. In the forum under the BLOG sticky post section.

I recently started it and it's basically a democratic, interactive site that attempts to help students save by showing them all the alternatives to the normal places to buy textbooks.

If you want to link back to me in return, I'd appreciate it. I think it's a good reference for students to check with at the beginning of a semester.
In this era of web 2.0, we easily get nice & updated information for research purposes... I'd definitely appreciate the work of the said blog owner... Thanks!

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