Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit (banazir) wrote,
Banazîr the Jedi Hobbit

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Ivory Tower Economics

$60 for the OpenGL Programming Guide, 4th edition? Couple this with $86 for AIMA 2e and it's no chump change, as they say. Meanwhile AIMA 2e retails for $25 as a paperback in India (and probably China). Clearly Prentice-Hall and other publishers are well aware of the bootleg market, and have settled for what they can get. For this, I commend them; but why not license paperback editions in the USA? There's just no reason to have fewer than all the students in a class own the required textbook.

Then again, you have probably surmised that this is all founded on the principle that instructors and departments will compel students to purchase the textbooks. Multiple occurrences of students asking questions about AIMA 1e instead of 2e have made me chary of assumptions. So has the disappearance from the KSU-CIS department library of two copies of Mitchell's Machine Learning, which I have stopped replacing with donated examination copies.

I've seen both foreign students, and more rarely domestic students, keeping my 24-hour reserve copy of a required text for over a week (to say nothing of recommended ones).

Goodness - look at the prices on books in my December, 2000 recommended reading list for AI. It's endemic - everything from journals to student manuals to lab supplies and recording media gets inflated. Meanwhile: computers, peripherals, and most especially operating systems, integrated development environment (IDE) packages, and office software suites are systematically marked down. Can you see the pattern?

I'll give you the first one for free, manufacturers and publishers should say. Look, I have no complaint about Gateway or Dell using this sales tactic to gain early entré into a future corporate or private end user market. Lord knows I benefitted enough from this, especially via Apple's academic discount and my uncle's hand-me-downs. But why not offer a similar discount on professional books, CDs, etc.? I can only infer that:

  • Unilateral price-gouging is the name of the game until other market forces come into play as checks and balances. These include public domain content (e.g., MIT's OpenCourseWare), free software, and other freely-distributed educational materials.

  • "Get them while you can" is also a prevalent mind-set - i.e., today's undergrad or even today's graduate student will read AIMA 2e, Cormen et al. 2e, and JACM, but tomorrow's IT industry professional can't be bothered to crack open a copy of AI Magazine, CACM, or IEEE Computer. Instead they favor O'Reilly's Nutshell series or SAMS Publishing's Teach Yourself Theoretical Computer Science in 86400 Seconds.

I have more to say on the latter point, but the McDonaldization of CS education is a rant for another day.

Comments and critique are most welcome, whether you agree with me or not.


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