Wednesday, September 19, 2012

University Requires Students To Pay $180 For 'Art History' Text That Has No Photos Due To Copyright Problems. From TechDirt.

Brent Ashley shares the absolutely crazy story of how his daughter, a student at OCAD University in Canada, is taking a class on "Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800" which has a textbook that is required for all students... which costs $180.

Now, we all know that textbook prices are absolutely insane these days, but here's where it gets crazier. The text -- and, remember, this is an art textbook has no images because they couldn't clear the copyrights.


CrayonEater found this.


  1. Ohh this makes perfect sense . Just about as much sense as these access codes which basically means if i buy a book used I have to waste 80$ for a code for extra content .

    The best teacher I had in college was a prof. who assembled his own history book from primary sources, and charged something like 40$ for a copy .

    IMO, more teachers should be doing this , or using free/open textbooks . Like for French I had to pay 400$ for books( but I was smart and rented them for the low price of 100$ or so , )

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. I do this with my general-ed astronomy for non-majors course. After having taught the class for four years, I started binding together the various handouts distributed in class throughout the semester, and having our university bookstore's copy center producing bound copies, sold as required texts.

      To improve it, I taught myself how to draw, use Photoshop, do photography (including lots of sky photography I did in the year after I got tenure), photo editing, and page layout. During the astronomy and physics B.A. and Ph.D. programs I went through, I never had a formal course in any of this, since 8th-grade art class. Like all self-taught artists, I live in dread of a knowledgeable art critic saying, "He's obviously self taught, since his work is dreadful."

      Six years of refinements later, all the text and graphics were original. The plain black-and-white photocopy version currently sells at our campus bookstore for $23.99. A lab manual I have produced similarly sells for $15.46.

      Last year, I tried to get the textbook (without the lab manual) published for national distribution by a commercial academic publisher. Their initial estimate, for a book with color graphics, started at $50. I reluctantly agreed. During production, it escalated to over $75.

      The book has about 300 pages of text and about 600 illustrations and photos, 90% of which I did myself, or got from public-domain sources. (Anything from NASA or the national observatories is in the public domain, as is any photo taken before 1923.) What derailed the project were those remaining 10% (none of which are in the black-and-white version now on sale on my campus).

      Albert Einstein was a real stinker. He knew how famous he was, and nearly all the images of him are still under copyright, managed by the Bettmann-Corbis archive. So is the one of Orson Welles doing the "War of the Worlds" radio broadcast. Each of these images costs about $200 for me to use. This caused the textbook's costs to skyrocket: I pulled the plug when it exceeded $200. I am now redoing much of the artwork and photo editing, writing many more exam questions than any teacher will ever need, and looking for another publisher. I sure hope I can get one, without too excruciating a game of lawyers.

      Aside from legal issues, problems with proffies producing texts for their students also include that few proffies are willing to teach themselves drawing and all these other skills necessary to produce a book. Some publishing companies will not allow artwork by the author. Now you know why textbooks can cost over $200, even when they're not loaded with color graphics.

      That said, something is seriously wrong in the case mentioned in this post. Let's see, this is an art textbook -without- any pictures, and copyright clearances -still- caused it to cost $180? Clearly, someone has seriously screwed up, particularly since many great works of art were produced before 1923, and so should be in the public domain.

    3. P.S. An esteemed old astronomy prof, who got a tenure-track job right out of grad school since he got his Ph.D. in 1968 before the hiring crunch started, has told me "you're wasting your time" writing a textbook. I suppose this is a compliment, since he's always liked my research, but my defense to him is that we do astronomy since we've been dreaming about it since we were very young. Part of my dream was to write textbooks, particularly ones that are better than the ones I had.

    4. If I had a penny for every time I saw a good textbook on underwater Wittgensteinian equestrian basket-weaving, I'd have three cents. Maybe.

  2. What on earth is the $180 paying for if it isn't copyright clearances?? Instead of forking over that kind of money, I'd buy an ordinary ream of printer paper, a couple sets of crayons and markers, and let my little cousins recreate whichever Great Artworks they wanted so that I'd have some sort of picture to analyze.

    In response to Ksou, I am certain that more experienced professors would be very keen on building their own course entirely from scratch IF those efforts were recognized by promotion committees as a useful way to spend one's working hours. But this is true in only a few cases -- i.e. if the French books one writes will eventually be published as a commercial textbook for others (but then THOSE students will complain that THEIR professor didn't write the book they HAVE to use....and so it goes).

    I know I'm perfectly happy to use textbooks in my two courses, but for two different reasons: a) I teach one course that has literally nothing to do with my research interests, so effort I put into that course's readings/design neither draws from nor contributes to my promotable work, and b) All of the textbooks for the other course are basically the same -- some just have more pictures. (Major presses insist on copyright clearances before publishing -- and the cost is far less than $180.)

    1. (but then THOSE students will complain that THEIR professor didn't write the book they HAVE to use....and so it goes).

      This is also a no-win situation.

      Students ALWAYS complain about the choices made regarding textbooks:

      He makes us buy the book HE wrote! He's making money off of us!
      She makes us buy a bunch of photocopies for $35! (or $15 or $25 or $55. I once paid $86 TWICE because a prof in grad school couldn't get his shit together. Half of the final coursepack was duplicates of the wrong one.)
      The book is too big!
      The book is too expensive!
      The book is too dull!
      We don't even need to read the book to get a B! (or A or even C)
      The book is confusing!
      I bought the book but didn't but forgot to buy the coursepack!

      et cetera ad nauseum

      If most of you are like me, I spend HOURS selecting texts for courses. Hours of UNPAID time, between semesters, often without confirmation that the course won't be cancelled or given to someone else at the last minute.

  3. Is it April 1st already? This is such a ripoff!

  4. I'd repay the $180 to the first student who NOTICED there were no pictures in the book!

    I just answered an EMail from a student who "couldn't find" an article because the supplied URL was broken. So, instead of, oh, taking 2 seconds and putting the article's title in the host site's search engine, he takes 20 minutes to write me a 5 paragraph EMail about how overwhelmed he is by the class.

    But, given that we are halfway through the assignment week and this was the first MENTION of the broken link, I have to presume that either: 1) the remainder of the class was able to solve the problem or, 2) just skipped the article.


    1. So fucking true.

      Reminds me of the student who, on the last day of the semester, wrote me a note in longhand about how much he loved my "hampster" class. Greatest "hampster" class he'd ever had. Made him glad he chose "hampster" fur weaving as a major. And so on.

      Just thinking about it makes my neck hurt.

  5. You'd think there would be other books lying around to use besides this one.

  6. Dare I call this a *textbook* example of what happens when custom pub sales rep oversells, and when Editorial refuses to stop work on a book that is destined to be a laughingstock (I crack myself up over the sound of the gnashing and weeping)?

    The meeting where Permissions told Editorial and Marketing that they couldn't procure perms, and then Editorial decided to go ahead with the book anyway, must have been a masterpiece of Kafkaesque and Orwellian proportions.

  7. Is it worth pointing out that OCAD is "Canada's University of the Imagination"? That might explain the missing pictures.

    Seriously, it actually says this on the OCAD website!!

    1. You can even check out a page from the textbook

      The mind boggles.


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