Monday, March 25, 2013

Creepy Book Buyer Guy

The Creepy Book Buyer Guy is lurking in the hallway again. I've managed to avoid eye contact and to pretend to be busy when he sidles on by, slowing as he notices someone (me) in my office. In the past, he has rifled through my shelves, which has felt akin to some grubby stranger handling my clean laundry. These books, the ones I treasure, are not on the market, and I have cringed to see him hover his scanner over the barcode and then turn an expectant look my way. "Not that one," I have hastily interjected. And he has moved on to others. It boils down to this: I don't like him touching my treasured books. But what about those that arrive free, unsolicited for me to consider?

I know it's not quite like the purposeful act of music/movie piracy, but I still feel guilty about selling him books that I didn't pay for because some colleagues act like I've stoned a bunny when they see me talking to the Creepy Book Buyer Guy, and others act like it's our right to profit from the capitalistic pigs that are the large exploitative textbook companies. Sure, I didn't ASK the publishers to send me free copies of texts that they're replacing with new editions every other year now (why?!!), but do the publishers' (many) transgressions justify my profiting from these texts? How would I feel about others selling my textbook (actually, I think I'd be OK with it since the pittance the author/editor receives is just that... a pittance)?


The fact that Creepy Book Buyer Guy ACTS guilty as he skulks around our department probably amps up my own feelings of guilt. In the past, I've always sighed with relief when he has left, thinking: "Oh, good, he's finally done. And he's found some books I'm happy to relinquish." But I always feel dirty as he lays bills down on my desk (In a "just leave the money on the dresser on your way out" kind of way) and hauls away the three books I know I'm not going to use. My department head has assured me that any profits we make can go into the departmental fund for mini-student scholarships and prizes so that some good comes of my guilt, but does that just make our department culpable in this scam? Should I have returned the books to the publisher rather than selling them to Creepy Book Buyer Guy?

How do the rest of you deal with the book buyers? I know they're not all creepy like the one that seems to most often frequent our halls, and it's not really his fault that he resembles the character Gru, from Despicable Me, but in the +15 years I've taught, I still have yet to reconcile how I feel about this illicit-like exchange.

31 comments:

  1. I've seen colleagues sell one of my books to creepy book buyer guy, and I - I hate how this makes me sound - never really forgot it.

    I'm not saying that's MY money they were getting, but they were getting money off of my back, if even in some small way.

    Now, if they'd bought me a highball with it, that'd be different.

    But mostly they just put the sweaty, dirty bills in their pockets, and closed their office doors.

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    1. Oh, I haven't had that happen yet, as far as I know. That's just smarmy (such pimps!).

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  2. Secretly use an X-Acto knife to cut page 123 out of each book you sell (as-is) to him. Then anonymously send him a ransom note telling him he can get the page if he donates money to your school.

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  3. Books I receive without requesting them get sold quick. I use an online book buyer so that I don't have to deal with my own creepy book buyer. My colleagues who have seniority over me don't approve of selling books so I keep it on the DL.

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    1. It is unethical to request books then sell them. If a publisher sends me a good that I didn't request, then I have no guilt.

      I'm not sure how the economics actually works out. The price of all other textbooks is higher by an infinitesimally small amount but the publisher already worked that into the price. If I sell it through a middleman, one student gets a good deal, and so do I. There's one fewer book buyer for the publisher. Either the publisher loses profit of one book or the publisher raises the price of all books to make up that profit.

      If anybody has worked this out or knows of the economic model that explains the costs/benefits, I'd be interested.

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  4. I have mixed feelings about it. I did it as a grad student, never thinking about it. After I published a textbook I felt much much different about it. I haven't done it in many years, but have colleagues who take such delight in the free money that it makes me a little nauseous. (Of course these people have other flaws to sicken me anyway, so it's not as if this is a dealbreaker for when I need to put together a power grab for those afternoon class slots!)

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  5. I can't get worked up over the selling of books. My office is overflowing with books. My colleagues' offices are stuffed with books. And in the mailroom every few weeks the boxes of unrequested examination copies get piled up for distribution. We have a "take one!" shelf in the department office on which the unwanted cast-offs are piled, higher and higher with each passing month. It's like an episode of Hoarders, and we all need a junk truck and psychological intervention so we can learn to let go. Or perhaps we're just really over-prepared for the bookpocalypse.

    When I moved into my office, there was a bookcase outside my door filled to overflowing with unwanted books. Really old shit. Shit from the 50s with titles like "Great Literature of the White Race" and "Sound and Symbol in Shakespeare's Sonnets." No one wanted these books. The undergrads who were collecting books to ship to Africa didn't want them. The book buyers gave the bookcase a wide berth. So one day I hauled the tattered old tomes out to the recycling bin. My colleague was mortified: "but you can't just throw away books!" she screamed. Oh yeah? I just did.

    The point is that we have loads of books, more come every day, and we do our best to pass them on while they still have potential readers. Some we give away, some we sell, and some, so sorry to say it, must be pulped. As for the money I make when I sell a book to the icky buyer guy (or via Amazon), that money goes into my book-buying fund, so I can purchase all the new books we are all busily writing. Gotta keep the cycle going.

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    1. We, too, have free book areas that students raid at the beginning of the year, and then ignore. And, like you, we've made trips to the recycling center on campus. There are only SO MANY old textbooks one can hold in one department. Only ONE hoarder complained and wept when we carted off multiple moldy anthologies from 1968-1980.

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  6. If it's a book I did not request and can't use then I'll sell it. Otherwise I keep it or try to find someone who wants it.

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  7. The image for this post made even an emotionless robot like myself smile.

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    1. Yes! Thanks to the mods for this great graphic!

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  8. At our college, we've had rumors that Creepy Book Buyer Gal has actually been sneaking into unlocked offices and helping herself. How's that for making you feel grubby?

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    1. We've had problems with thefts of examination copies from the faculty mailboxes, but I don't think we ever identified the culprit. The office staff keep those packages locked up until called for these days.

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  9. We are lucky enough to have a dedicated student lounge/work area. Those of us who have extra, or older editions, usually donate them to the students by depositing them in that area. (Yes, I know, students are then able to haul them off THEMSELVES and sell them, but it is rather touching to see how rarely that actually happens.)

    We also have donated money received to scholarship funds, office coffee funds, end-of-year-party-for-everyone funds, etc.

    Count me among those who feel ethical qualms about selling books that I did not myself purchase.

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  10. This is actually an incredibly useful post for me - as soon as we let the word out that we're changing the textbook to a 2000+ 1st year course (that's $200K in sales right there) we were inundated with evaluation copies of textbooks, some from publishers and textbooks we'd never heard of, and some from publishers who already sent us evaluation copies last year, and the year before that, and the year before that (we have a policy of keeping a textbook for minimum 2-3 years). My bookshelf is about ready to collapse, there's so much added weight to it.

    I could make some serious money selling all these additional textbooks, and would feel little/no guilt about doing that for textbooks I didn't ask for (which would be about 35 out of 45 textbooks), but I'm still leery about going through with the act. Other options? What about donating them to the library? Has anyone done that and things have worked out swimmingly?

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    1. Our school library doesn't want our old books; we've asked. The county library doesn't want them, either because they're not books that move on the shelves much. But yours might be different. I did have some luck in driving several boxes of readers to a high school in an underprivileged area to a colleague who contacted me asking for extra copies, but I already had that connection so it didn't look like I was trying to foist off old crap on them.

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    2. Cengage in particular can tea-party off. They send unsolicited copies of a particular textbook to my colleagues, but when *I* -- the only one who teaches the course which uses said textbook -- need it for a real, live class, I have to jump through the hoops on their website to beg for a copy.

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    3. That was supposed to appear in response to Defunct Adjunct below, who mentioned that publisher by name. Stupid blogger/ google chrome.

      I am interested in the alternative options, too. Many books are not accepted by recycling centers because of the glue, so I'm looking into donating some old ones to art collectives who work with found objects.

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  11. My policy on this is basically identical to Beaker Ben's. I will never sell a book that I have specifically requested from a publisher, but I feel no compunction whatsoever about selling one that has been sent to me unsolicited.

    I teach a freshman survey course for which multiple publishers produce a large variety of different textbooks. This semester alone, I received five unrequested textbooks, weighing in at about 20 pounds between them, for that one course. I have no need for all these books; they take up space, and I have no problem getting rid of them for a little cash.

    The publishers often put little notes in the front of the books, asking us to help keep book prices for students down by not selling these review copies, but I refuse to be shamed by those notes. If companies are going to engage in this sort of marketing strategy, then they need to eat the cost as part of doing business, and if they want to keep book prices down for students (ha!) they can dip into their corporate profits (ha! again). The idea of Wiley-Blackwell or Cengage wagging their corporate fingers at me for making a buck is too hilarious for words.

    It is worth noting, too, that in the United States anything that is sent to you unsolicited is yours to keep, and to dispose of as you wish. Period. It is considered a gift under federal law, and you are under no obligation to comply with any conditions attached to it. You can return it, you can throw it away, you can keep it, or you can give it away or sell it.

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    1. "It is worth noting, too, that in the United States anything that is sent to you unsolicited is yours to keep..." I didn't know that. All of their notes and bright stickers on the books IMPLY that it's illegal to sell them. That, combined with Creepy Book Buyer Guy's demeanor, led me to believe I would be hounded by the Feds for doing so.

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    2. What's more annoying is that I still am getting new editions of a textbook we no longer use, for a course I haven't taught in years.

      What such a book represents, to me, is the possibility of dinner out with my S.O.

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  12. I use extra textbooks to put on reserve at the library so the students can't use the excuse that they don't have a textbook...but as for stuff I'm sent but don't need...

    ATTENTION EVERYONE: TRADE YOUR UNWANTED TEXTS TO AMAZON FOR GIFT CARDS.

    You'll get far more for each book than any bookbuyer is willing to give you. If you they think they can give you more, just go on Amazon and check while they're standing there. Two bookbuyers have already told me outright that they can't match Amazon, and I haven't seen them again.

    I had a stack of unrequested and unneeded books in my office, I sent them into Amazon, and now I have about $300 on my Amazon account to use for whatever Amazon sells. Remuneration for unrequested Norton Anthology of English Literature (Ninth Edition) (Vol. Package 1: A, B, C)? $38.45. Mamma needs a new pair of Birks.

    If bookbuyers can do better than that, they can have my books. They can't. The added benefit is that they know not to even ask me anymore.

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    1. really? I didn't know that. thanks...

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    2. I wonder if I'd feel less guilty if I got more money... :)

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  13. My Creepy Book Buyer Guy has come by my office many times over the years despite the fact that I always say "No." Recently he had the nerve to ask me, "Why don't you want to sell your books?" to which I responded, "Why don't you get a real job? You know, one that doesn't involve lurking in hallways and salivating?" I know, that was rude of me, and given the same situation again I would have said, "Do I need a reason?" but it was a knee-jerk reaction to him expecting me to justify my answer. Did I mention I was with a student at the time? That's probably what bothered me most, him interrupting me with his needs while I was trying to tend to a student's needs.

    I must admit I have given thought to selling these bad boys online. As several of you have said, if the books are unsolicited I don't feel bad selling them. I'm just not sure it would be worth the leg work.

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  14. I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one bothered by these guys (and I do mean guys in the plural--we've got at least 5 book buyers who pop up at least once a month). I wonder why they are not beholden to university trespassing regulations. Why are they allowed to solicit for their private businesses on university property?

    It's sort of amusing that THIS topic is what drove me deal with blogger and stop lurking. They're as bad as unstapled papers.

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    1. Glad to know this prompted you to actively participate. :)

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  15. With very rare exceptions, I don't use textbooks (I'm in a field that allows for this; mostly we read articles from the library databases, which the students retrieve themselves, and I write handouts and create assignments that make them figure out various things about how writing in their disciplines works for themselves. Some of them really hate the latter part). This cuts down considerably on the unwanted exam copies.

    I get occasional visits from our creepy book buyers (are there any non-creepy ones?*), and occasional emails wanting to set up an appointment (apparently they're less comfortable about openly creeping these days*), and I've sold unsolicited texts once or twice (I, too, agree that's kosher, though I'd like to see the whole ridiculous cycle of cost-escalating go away), but, for the most part, my refusal to buy textbooks (which very much puzzles some book reps) seems to keep me outside the cycle.

    *All this talk of creeping has me thinking of "The Yellow Wallpaper." Does anybody see a line along their hallway walls left by creeping book buyers?

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  16. I kind of feel sorry for the office door-to-door book buyers. They are doing what they can in a market that Amazon and other online sites are taking over. OTOH, if you especially don't like them, you could call campus security since the buyers are trespassing. They won't get arrested, just hassled, and I doubt they would bother you again.

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  17. Most introductory textbooks are interchangeable with regard to the basic concepts, so they can be helpful to students even if you don't adopt them. Please consider donating them to your campus or local military veterans' center because the G.I. Bill doesn't cover textbooks.

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