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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.

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

--
Banazîr

Comments

( 30 comments — Leave a comment )
gondhir
Feb. 7th, 2004 02:49 pm (UTC)
So...
Start teaching with cheaper (or free!) books!
banazir
Feb. 7th, 2004 05:35 pm (UTC)
Re: So...
Start teaching with cheaper (or free!) books!
Well, if you have suggestions, my ears are open.

I'll contradict the Bagronkist-Marxist Mennyfesto and quote from my how to get a job with Banazir page:

you should consider that education and research in the United States has a capitalistic aspect and that, naturally, your tuition and stipend have to be funded...

IOW, you get wot you pay for.
My complaint above deals with students not getting what they paid for: there is no difference between the $25 Nindian version of AIMA 2e and the $90 Merkian one except (1) where each is sold, and can legally be obtained; (2) the Mylar-reinforced softcover on one and the hard glossy cardboard cover on the other. This, to me, is just an abuse of the market. It's not as if we really expect Nindian students who come here to produce less in the way of research or educational contributions.

That said, if you mean that I should glean bits of a top-notch AI textbook from the web, or hop from one free/temporarily free (pilot) textbook to another - well, there you do get what you pay for. I have yet to find anything of comparable quality to AIMA, and I won't settle for less.

OTOH, Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs ("The Purple Book", aka Abelson, Sussman, and Sussman 2e) is an absolute gem that you can get for free online. I even named it as a book every scientist should read in the first interview meme I wrote. Similarly, Reinforcement Learning: An Introduction is online, and I recently recommended Dave Schmidt's Programming Principles in Java: Architectures and Interfaces to istari_ala as part of her pre-job/on-the-job training.

These are all great books. IMO, the problem is that the sustainable approach isn't necessarily to have some people buy the book and others just use the free version (i.e., the Richard M. Stallman or GNU model). In fact, I'd venture a prediction that this model isn't sustainable in the present-day economies of nations with sustantial print-publishing sectors, whether they are "socialist" or "capitalist". We just need to make these books reasonably affordable for everyone interested in and qualified to use them. And that's my $0.02 worth of common sense.

--
Banazir
Re: So... - gondhir - Feb. 15th, 2004 09:25 pm (UTC) - Expand
Solaris vs. Linux - you get what you pay for? - banazir - Feb. 15th, 2004 09:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
f00dave
Feb. 7th, 2004 04:03 pm (UTC)
Those prices are outrageous. I haven't actually purchased a single textbook for over three years now, preferring instead to make do with library reserve copies, class notes, and my prodigious ability to soak things up in lectures. (Supplemented with related-area texts from the library, internet readings, and whatnot.) This is only for course-work, naturally.

Seeing as I'm paying for everything (supervisor has no money :-[ ), I can't afford to be buying books. Gotta pay tuition, rent, utilities, internet, food, etcetera, and Shan's in school too. Books are a luxury I simply can't afford ... and can't live without, either. It's a horrible double-bind, but somehow I'm getting by anyway. So yeah, when TEUNC takes over the world, make all books sell for 1$ a copy, please....

And before I, too, descend into my "education is NOT a commodity, goddamnit!" rant, I'll just post.
vretallin
Feb. 7th, 2004 04:49 pm (UTC)
Re:
hrmm I don't think it's education that's viewed as the commodity...it's everything else *around* education that's viewed as the commodity.. books, AV Materials, study guides, pens, paper, computers, etc... It's marketing going oh hey look gee whoosh let's make money here there's scholarships and financial aid to help out. ::sigh::
Educational commodities exchange (EDUDEX) - banazir - Feb. 8th, 2004 12:20 am (UTC) - Expand
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2004 12:03 am (UTC)
The price of nothing and the value of everything
Those prices are outrageous.
Indeed. I remember paying $55 for AIMA 1e in 1996, and AIMA 2e has retailed for $90 since it came out in 2002. That's a 64% markup in 6 years! There's no justification for a price markup at all between first and second editions, as the economy of scale for AIMA has fully kicked in. It's just the Five Forces at work here ("bargaining power over consumers" and "no substitutes" being the salient ones).

I haven't actually purchased a single textbook for over three years now, preferring instead to make do with library reserve copies, class notes, and my prodigious ability to soak things up in lectures. (Supplemented with related-area texts from the library, internet readings, and whatnot.) This is only for course-work, naturally.
Well, good for you. I keep notes like there is no tomorrow (I'm quite famous for it; if you ask anyone who knows me from grad school or a conference to describe how I take notes, you'll very likely know they've seen me in action). I've even kept all my notebooks from my undergrad and grad student days. There's still sometimes no substitute for textbooks, though. That's when it comes down to how well-heeled, fair, and diligent your university library is (yet another rant for another day).

Seeing as I'm paying for everything (supervisor has no money :-[ ), I can't afford to be buying books. Gotta pay tuition, rent, utilities, internet, food, etcetera, and Shan's in school too. Books are a luxury I simply can't afford ... and can't live without, either. It's a horrible double-bind, but somehow I'm getting by anyway.
Well, as I wrote above and earlier in this thread, sometimes it's about there not being available substitutes. Also, as a grad at Illinois, I remember two of my classmates saying precisely what you did, but then buying lots of books anyway. (For those from the old gang who know them: I'm referring to Ole Jakob Mengshoel and Jesse Reichler. Ole had a cubicle lined wall-to-wall with books, a veritable research library of his own despite some of us being slightly more solvent. Jesse went into debt, slight and then not-so-slight, paying for good CS/AI/ANN books, conference registrations, and journals. I remember feeling admiration and chalking it up to a good sense of priorities, but looking back, there was no reason they had to shell out food money for an education that was otherwise supported by their work.)

So yeah, when TEUNC takes over the world, make all books sell for 1$ a copy, please....
Will do. However, should the Merkian contingent get control of the treasury (and speaking as the future High Moolah Poobah of Earth, I assure you it will happen ;-)), you may expect that we will deprecate the Euro/Canadian/Asian usage of postfix munny glyphs. So, get used to writing €3, £42, and ¥216. :o)

And before I, too, descend into my "education is NOT a commodity, goddamnit!" rant, I'll just post.
Well, as vretallin wrote, it isn't so much that education isn't a commodity as that everything among its supporting materials and products (lectures, information resources, etc.) is assiduously made into a commodity by those with interests in squeezing the poor students.

(continued)
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2004 12:04 am (UTC)
The price of nothing and the value of everything (continued)
I have to admit to feeling a range of emotions from indifference to disgust at this gouging. For example, we have anti-tuition hike protests at K-State. Now, while I agree that it's important to keep in-state tuition low for state universities - especially land grant universities - I challenge you to find five states with tuition lower than ours. We're quite on the edge of poverty as American regents' university systems go. I know exactly what education and research initiatives the tuition hike is going into, and believe me, the return is 4:1 at a minimum. Yes, that means more hours behind a McDonald's counter for John or Jane and fewer in front of it, but I think that's a far cry from the tuition of my alma mater (Johns Hopkins) going from $14000 a year when I was at CTY in 1986-1987 ($16000 when I started my undergrad years in 1989) to $28730 in academic year 2003-2004.

I think that in certain sectors (academic publishing being just one example), and equally in very bad or very good/active economies, prices stop being about what things are worth and more about what the seller can get.

Academia is a highly elastic market just because we are oblivious. A truly successful academic might be defined as somone who knows the price of nothing and the value of everything.

--
Banazir
yahvah
Feb. 7th, 2004 04:25 pm (UTC)
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 this one at Barnes & Noble. I picked it up and leafed through it, realizing that if I bought it, it would collect dust on my shelf. So I put it back on the shelf and went upstairs to the philosophy and religion section. ;-)

# "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.

Personally, I think those Sam's books are pretty crappy for the most part - and I'm an IT industry professional. :-P When I was writing a TCP/IP client-server thingy for the IRS, I referred to good ol' Richard Stevens' Unix Network Programming Vol. I. He's a great technical writer - and even puts to shame all those people I knew during my first stint at IBM who said that engineers don't do technical writing well.

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

Hahahaha, I just had McDonalds hotcakes for breakfast. They were tasty. :-D
banazir
Feb. 14th, 2004 02:18 am (UTC)
McDonaldization
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 this one at Barnes & Noble. I picked it up and leafed through it, realizing that if I bought it, it would collect dust on my shelf. So I put it back on the shelf and went upstairs to the philosophy and religion section. ;-)
It's really very good, and a must-read if you are set on going into intelligent systems work (research, development, or education) as a career.

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.
Personally, I think those Sam's books are pretty crappy for the most part - and I'm an IT industry professional. :-P
That was my p6int - although I think *nix Unleashed (including RHL Unleashed) is pretty good as a desk reference and tutorial. Teach Yourself XYZ in N Units of Time is not too bright as concepts go, especially when N Units of Time (smaller than Days, usually Hours) are spread over N Days.

When I was writing a TCP/IP client-server thingy for the IRS, I referred to good ol' Richard Stevens' Unix Network Programming Vol. I. He's a great technical writer - and even puts to shame all those people I knew during my first stint at IBM who said that engineers don't do technical writing well.
I like that book!
I bought it with the Ultima I-VI clue book in 1991 and haven't parted with it since, even though I donated the clue book a long time ago (1999). :-)

I have more to say on the latter point, but the McDonaldization of CS education is a rant for another day.
Hahahaha, I just had McDonalds hotcakes for breakfast. They were tasty. :-D
Well it's actually no laughing matter, as you can see from this article from infojunkies.

--
Banazir
Re: McDonaldization - yahvah - Feb. 14th, 2004 03:12 am (UTC) - Expand
Being a researcher is like being The One - banazir - Feb. 14th, 2004 08:58 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Being a researcher is like being The One - yahvah - Feb. 15th, 2004 05:06 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: Being a researcher is like being The One - banazir - Feb. 15th, 2004 04:31 pm (UTC) - Expand
vretallin
Feb. 7th, 2004 05:00 pm (UTC)
And hence comes the mass photcopying of books at ones place of work after they've checked it out of the library, or buying 'destroyed' books, or 'borrrowing' of required software from a friend.

I am actually glad to see the rise in open source and such in educational software and other materials. Though I honestly don't know that it will place too much pressure on publishers and distributors to lower prices. Open Source is an entirely different bucket of worms in the end and worth of a full post of it's own.
oxbastetxo
Feb. 7th, 2004 10:15 pm (UTC)
Re: "Sharing"
The computer school I went to did a lot of this to keep costs down. We were working on networking and loading and reloading servers every night (yeah, night school ;-)) They were "approved" Microsith instructors and thus were given copies of the OSes and other software and manuals we were to use, but there just weren't enough copies to go around when we were loading 4 servers and only had one "approved" copy of NT or 2000. Makes a slipperly slope.
Re: "Sharing" - banazir - Feb. 8th, 2004 09:52 am (UTC) - Expand
banazir
Feb. 8th, 2004 09:08 am (UTC)
Illegal copying, open source, and education
And hence comes the mass photcopying of books at ones place of work after they've checked it out of the library, or buying 'destroyed' books, or 'borrrowing' of required software from a friend.
I haven't ever come across destroyed books before, but I wouldn't buy them. I admit that I have photocopied more than the "fair use" chapter or two before (especially out-of-print books and proceedings from workshops I chaired). Half.com eliminates some, but not all, of this problem. What needs to happen is the institution of pay-per-printing licensing that is very cheap for additional copies, as it is for vanity presses such as XLibris.

For violations of copyright on books and software, I do wish people would use the Electronic Frontier Foundation's precise term, illegal copying, rather than "piracy", which has variable (and sometimes excessive) derogatory meaning.

As for software, I'm just glad most of our Microsoft software is covered under MS Academic Alliance volume licensing (though some packages aren't covered, even with Microsoft Developer Network). I have also used dongles (hardware locks) in manners other than that prescribed by the license: where they allow single-seat usage and I needed to run parallel jobs, I installed the package on multiple systems and started it up (the dongle is only checked at initial run time). My rationalization here (which I think is actually rational) is that elapsed concurrent CPU time is less than my serial ownership time of the single-seat license. "Use this software as you would use a book" is an outmoded concept, IMO.

Oh, just a sec, I hear sirens. ;-)

I am actually glad to see the rise in open source and such in educational software and other materials.
Oh, same here.

Though I honestly don't know that it will place too much pressure on publishers and distributors to lower prices.
That's not really the idea (as far as Red Hat's business model is concerned). For all that RMS sees free software as a socializing force (as you can see in the GNU manifesto), it really tends to just be a way to:


  • recruit volunteer developers on "equal ground"

  • reach a wider user base (namely, those who can't afford even inexpensive licenses) and saturate your user base (everyone who could possibly be interested, even the one-time install-use-and-leave-to-rot users)

  • share code without concern for IP repercussions



The GNU manifesto is full of high-minded language about dissemination, which I agree with, and just a little hard-selling (IMO) on the socialist agenda. I do think it should be taught in courses on socialist and capitalist economics, though.

Open Source is an entirely different bucket of worms in the end and worth of a full post of it's own.
And you shall have one, ma'am, when I can muster the time and the strength of mind. :o)

--
Banazir
twinbee
Feb. 7th, 2004 06:29 pm (UTC)
my AI class has no book


what is this AIMA?
banazir
Feb. 7th, 2004 08:41 pm (UTC)
Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (AIMA) by Russell and Norvig
my AI class has no book
what is this AIMA?


Russell and Norvig, Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach

See also the Yahoo! Group aima-talk.

--
Banazir
scionofgrace
Feb. 8th, 2004 09:18 pm (UTC)
And it's not just computer books, which could conceivably be issued in new editions because of changes in technology. The Guide to Conducting book required for Conducting 1 & 2 was $92.

We're a captive audience. They charge these prices because they know they can.
banazir
Feb. 10th, 2004 08:44 am (UTC)
Quite so
And it's not just computer books, which could conceivably be issued in new editions because of changes in technology. The Guide to Conducting book required for Conducting 1 & 2 was $92.
True, and sadly so. What we need are not just better regulatory forces for prices (as IMO it is difficult to review competition and determine and enforce antitrust in highly specialized and technical markets), but also ways to encourage (if not outright subsidize) production of new texts. If you look at the Red Hat Linux Bible, there was one for 7.0 (13 Dec 2000), 7.1 (May 2001), 7.2 (15 Nov 2001), 7.3 (21 Jun 2002), 8 (17 Oct 2002), and 9 (May 2003). That's 6 editions in 2.5 years! If the Christian Bible had been published that way, Moses would have been running out of Dead Sea Scrolls by the time he was halfway through Leviticus 8.2 and Teach Yourself Numbers in 40 Years.

We're a captive audience. They charge these prices because they know they can.
You're quite right, Dimond.
I think, however, that it's quite an abuse, not only of capitalism but actually of a rather contrived market. Speaking as someone who hopes to write a textbook in the next 3 years or so, I don't think most authors would have much to complain about it textbook prices were cut back to "foreign" market prices (30% or lower). And truth to tell, it would introduce better competition. Elsevier, Kluwer, and Springer-Verlag (to name some European names), and Addison Wesley Longman, Morgan Kaufmann, and Prentice Hall (to name some US ones) are getting fairly bloated.

I'm glad to hear some kind person has helped you out!
Please keep me posted, OK?

--
Banazir
( 30 comments — Leave a comment )

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