Sep 15, 2009

Outsourcing Textbooks

Anyone who has ever been to college knows that buying textbooks can be murder, especially since publishers change editions on what seems a yearly basis. Students have historically been at the mercy of professors willing to use outdated or easily accessed books, but the internet has changed the way people buy textbooks, and though the legality of the practice is in murky territory, that hasn't slowed it one iota.

The availability of "International" editions in the US can be directly attributed to the internet, and it is an unintended consequence of textbook companies globalizing and expanding production overseas. The article on Time explains how buying international may save the students a few extra bucks.

International textbooks are printed — frequently in India, although sometimes in other Asian nations — under copyright agreements with Western publishers that allow the books to be sold for a discounted price. "The reasoning is that people in other countries can't afford the higher prices," said Swarthout, "so this is a way to provide them with the same quality of education as we get in America." But just as the Internet has enabled illegal access to music and movies, so too has it opened the international book market — especially to the hands of college students.

Legally, it's a murky issue, since the books were printed with students from other countries in mind, but it hasn't stopped sites like Amazon and eBay from allowing them to be sold on the site. The Time article further asserts that "Ebay recently won a court case absolving it of responsibility for policing its auctions for counterfeit items — although it will remove an auction if contacted by the company that owns the rights to an item — but international textbooks are not technically counterfeit."

Ostensibly, it's okay to buy the books as a student. It's not really illegal. But for sellers, it is decidedly (or supposedly) verboten. Still, wrangling the online market is about as easy as storing water in a sieve. There are just too many avenues for booksellers to take, and since the online markets are basically willing to overlook these transactions because they're making money, the practice cannot slow down. It's much easier to regulate, say, a traditional campus bookstore (though not all of them comply), but still, international editions sometimes seem to sneak onto the shelves nonetheless.

Outsourcing the Textbook

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