Saturday, August 31, 2013
For most college professors, money made from own textbooks provides little. From the Daily Illini.
The award-winning history professor and author of five books assigned his students at the University of Cincinnati to buy his book “Half Slave & Half Free: The Roots of Civil War.”
When one of his students objected that he was taking advantage of the class, Levine, who was making 10 cents a copy for the 30 copies in the class, couldn’t believe the student’s outrage.
In the last 10 years, textbook prices have risen by 57 percent and, with the rising prices, Levine and professors at George Mason University, University of Kansas and countless other institutions have been accused of profiting off of books.
Nationally, the American Association of University Professors addressed this problem in a 2004 report saying professors should be able to select the materials for their own courses.
“Professors should assign readings that best meet the instructional goals of their courses, and they may well conclude that what they themselves have written on a subject best realizes that purpose,” the report read.
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Don't assign your own book, butthole. Not because you stand to profit from the sales, but because in the vast majority of cases it's vanity to assume that your work is the "best" example of scholarship in your field, and the "most" appropriate for students.ReplyDelete
I would resent a prof that assigned their own book and then attempted to teach from it. Echo chamber, anyone? This class is not all about you. Unless your name is on the spine of the Norton Anthology, find something else. Get the students inside someone else's head. They're inside yours enough.
Yet, sometimes a professor may put together what otherwise would be a good course pack and have it commercially published -- to eventually allow other people to use it.Delete
One of my profs in Grad School had done that -- then, have the campus bookstore reduce the price of the copies sold in campus by an amount equal to his copyright fees. Clean.
I disagree. I use a book that I developed specifically because 1) it drills down to certain useful techniques and approaches I want thm to know/use very quickly and 2) because students can buy it for $15 as an ebook, $25 as a paperback - or for free from electronic reserves at the library. This cost issue was specifically why I went ahead and wrote the book.You can bet I'm not getting rich but I no longer have students failing to use the book due to cost. And echo chamber? On the contrary, I think that I can use the book as a springboard into more subtle discussions and analyses.Delete
I think there's a distinction between having your students read your scholarly treatment of a subject (which would usually only be appropriate for grad school anyway, and any grad student worth his or her salt is going to seek out that book at some point anyway, so why bother assigning it), and having your students read your textbook. In the second case, your treatment might indeed be the best treatment available for your class, because after all you wrote it. I do think, however, there's a moral obligation to not pocket the royalties (small and meagre as they are) for that.Delete
Unless you're a major researcher in your field, and all your peers would agree that your book is the best of its kind in your field...my original statement holds. It's vanity.Delete
Most especially if you published it yourself and didn't even go through an editor or a publisher.
I think that vanity claim is awfully, awfully harsh. I got asked by a major publisher to put my ideas about teaching into a first year textbook. (I'd previously published a book in another field with a different division of their company.)Delete
Hundreds of professors around the country used the book fro a couple of years, and I was one of them. It was an inexpensive and "brief" writing rhetoric, and I was extremely happy with it and how it did. It got outdated quickly because of some of the technology we use in writing classes, and when it came around for a second edition I begged off and worked on a different project.
I probably assigned it to 5 freshman sections, total, maybe 60 students. It was my favorite book at the time.
Was I really vain? Am I still? It was 15 years ago, but I had a blast and I still use some of the assignments from the book - but obviously not the book itself.
Stella, I ask this sincerely. Do you develop any of your own assignments? Do peers in the field agree they are the best in your discipline? Am I off base with the comparison?Delete
Cal, if you got asked by a major publisher to put your ideas into teaching into a first-year textbook, and hundreds of professors used it, you're obviously a standout in your field. Most of your peers DO agree that your book is the best of its kind.Delete
If you're M.H. Abrams, or Stephen Greenblatt (uber-scholars in English Lit), and big publishing houses have begged you to write texts, and you're nationally renowned in your field, and everyone uses your book, you get to assign your own book. That's obviously the case with you or a major publishing house wouldn't have approached you, and/or hundreds of college profs wouldn't use your book. But if a prof is not at that level?
Well, it was Prentice Hall and nobody begged me, but the primo writing textbook of the time was by Steve Reid, and at a joint authors' seminar one year he told me he envied how effortless some of my explanations were. I flew on a cloud for months on that.Delete
Stela, I love you, but your blanket is too broad here. I am, actually, writing a textbook which I intend to publish with a print-on-demand house (and I intend to waive royalties). I'm not doing it because I'm the Genius Geniorum, but because I know my students, the demographic of my university, and I know what helps them understand what is expected of them. I know what exercises work with them (maybe not others, but them) and what sorts of questions to ask to get them to reflect on those exercises. I don't see anything wrong or egotistical with that. And trust me, I'm being absolute meticulous to make sure that I don't profit off of this. I had my POD house calculate the cost, including my royalties, then subtract my royalties from the total so that it goes back to students. This will probably be the cheapest textbooks the little darlin's ever buy.Delete
Chil--You know, truthfully I'm going to say that it may be hard for me to judge outside of the humanities, and without specific examples. Specific examples are not conducive to maintaining anonymity. So we're talking theoretically here. Since I don't know your specific discipline or the name of your book, ??? What you are doing however doesn't sound as much like a textbook as a workbook--why not just provide that stuff free as a .doc file?Delete
There are soooooo many books out there. I would say that the vast majority of professors (not all, but the vast majority) could find a good textbook without having students buy theirs.
Look, it's just what I think, after seeing what many professors in my discipline that I have worked with and heard about have done. Unless you are truly the person who "wrote the book" on your particular area, metaphorically speaking, there is probably someone out there that is better than you are at writing whatever textbook you want to write or have written.
Which is why I say, at least in the humanities, assuming otherwise is vanity. And most professors don't need help in that area.
One of my profs, later my adviser, used a book he wrote. But he had written it specifically for the class. He did give every student $1.00 to cover any royalty he made.ReplyDelete
It was a very good text too.
I had a professor who allowed the class to vote on which of four charities he would give the royalties to.Delete
For a couple of years I used my own intro text in first year classes. The book was used widely around the country so I never had any feeling that I was doing it out of vanity. When something new came out from my press that I thought was better then mind, I switched.ReplyDelete
Students either loved that it was my book or thought I was getting rich off their backs.
You don't get rich off writing your own book. You make money by assigning primary sources that are available online. Then you install a copier in your office for them to print their course materials. Charge two cents less than the campus copiers and you'll make a fortune.ReplyDelete
I had a student a while ago who told me that professors were only in it for the money, because once they wrote a book they made "mad bank." I said, "You know what I bought with my last royalty check for my several, not just one, books?" "What?" "A pizza. And dippy sticks. But it didn't quite cover the dippy sticks."ReplyDelete
For what it's worth I was actually one of the students Levine assigned HSHF to at UC. Not only did it never bother me, I thought the book was good enough that, years later, I assigned it to my own class.ReplyDelete
And why shouldn't authors make some minimal monetary reward for their labors? It's not as though the authors the students *don't* know aren't also getting royalties. This seems pretty misplaced on the part of the students, IMHO.
I just don't see this an issue. If book authors were making bank, maybe. But they're not.
The only real money I made from a text was advance money, about $18k. At my state university my chair dissuaded me from assigning my own book, yet across state at another institution, it was adopted by an entire dept for as many as 40 sections a semester. I never understood my chair's point if view and always felt like a sap.Delete
I remember that one of the major coups of my negotiation was securing a brand new desktop for the house. At the time I had a work computer but not one in the house. It was in the 90s, and loaded machines were relatively pricey so it was quite fun.Delete
I see the problem not with textbooks but with course packets that faculty prepare just for their own students or their deparment's. Whether it's descriptions of Medival artwork or chemistry lab experiments, you're studentds are a captive audience. Add $3 to each packet and you make a nice profit if you're at a large school. I'm sympathetic to faculty wanting to make some extra money but this is a poor approach. Making a set of copies for your students is part of being a professor, not an extra job opportunity. Writing a book that's used at other schools means you've written something worth people paying for. Otherwise, charge it to your department copy account and get on with the semester.ReplyDelete
There are profs that build in profit to putting together course packs? That's unconscionable.Delete
My bookstore allows faculty to add a few bucks in "royalties." In principle, I understand that it compensates for the extremely low salaries we pay to our faculty who teach a lot of gen ed and lab courses. Students simply pay the faculty member directly instead of indirectly through tuition. In practice, the opportunites for abuse are many.Delete
If I write a textbook in my discipline, secure a contract with a higher ed publisher, then I'm vain if I assign it to my own classes? All the money in my world is in grants; you couldn't make me write a textbook. But if I did, it would be something I'd use. Anything else is insanity. Can you imagine colleagues assigning it while you look for another fucking book? Crazzy.ReplyDelete
Also, although hamster fur is hamster fur, I understand a proffie down here not wanting to assign Smith's General Hamster Fur because Smith is based in Anchorage and he's always had a predilection for Alaskan hamsters. So what if 80% of proffies make their Intro to Hamster Fur flakes read Smith. If my students are going to do fieldwork down South, then they're sometimes much better off reading Southern Hamster Furology by Bubba, Vern, Hatfield, and McCoy. Smith is on his 16th edition, coasting, and losing ground, but Southern Hamster Furology is being assigned by proffies in Oregon and Dubai. Next year, the publisher says, the University of Greenland is going to assign it. Fucking Greenland. So we're assigning Southern Hamster Furology along with a thin course packet that has a couple of Smith's classic articles (from the 1960s and 70s) from The Journal of Hamsterfurology.
Fucking furology has always been about vanity and insanity, anyway. Nobody's ever going to discover the grand unifying theory of hamster fur without a healthy dose of chutzpah.
Well a colleague of mine did have her name on a Norton Anthology and taught large lecture courses where she made the 80 or so students buy that $60 text and yes, I did think it was vanity -- especially as so many of the works in the anthology were public domain.ReplyDelete
I had an officemate who had co-authored a comp textbook, and she used it. That made sense to me, and I never heard students complain. I'm sure it varies by discipline (e.g. it might be too much of the same to have readings and lectures by the same author), but if you're mostly in a doing/discussion-type field like comp, then a textbook contains your carefully-refined sequence of explanations, exercises, assignments, and readings, all in a neat package and with the imprimatur of a major publisher.ReplyDelete
I've never heard any academic author (textbook or scholarly work) speak of royalties in any terms other than what kind of meal the yearly check will buy -- fast food vs. a little nicer, solo or accompanied by significant other. So far, I don't remember running into anyone who managed to get as far as white-tablecloth w/ significant other (let alone wine). Somebody is, indeed, making a lot of money off textbooks, but it's not the authors.
Clearly, neither Stella nor F&T have ever written a textbook for an intro class and had it published by a commercial publisher, and not an academic press. I am planning a post on what I have learned from my general-ed, intro astronomy textbook, but it'll be a long post.ReplyDelete
Let's just say for now that commercial publishers don't give authors the option of not accepting royalties. Since they're in business primarily to make money, they will view you as a weirdo if you try it. I therefore like the idea of the prof who asks his class to vote on which charity to send the royalties from them. I also have no qualms about keeping royalties from other students at other campuses, although I haven't gotten any of those, yet.