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Thursday, June 26, 2008

HNT - CRAMing

I spent three days this week with a group of other campus bookstores and student representatives from across Canada. We were meeting as a collective known as CRAM (Canadian Roundtable on Academic Materials). The group begin meeting in November of 2007 as an attempt to bring students, booksellers and publishers together to discuss the state of academic materials, the rising costs continuing being pushed out to students and what we might all do, working together, to help make a difference in an industry that has spiraled out of control in vicious cycles for far too long.

For this week's HNT picture, I thought I should post a picture of the first two editions of David G. Myers psychology.


For my own first year Psych class, I believe I was instructed to use the Darley/Glucksberg/Kinchla text (4th edition - 1988) - it was $34.15 at Carleton University that year.

However, because I was extremely interested in Psychology, wanted to do further reading and considered majoring in it, I ended up getting my hands on some additional textbooks and took a liking to the David G. Myers textbook -- I likely got my hands on them via friends. I ended up taking Myers Social Psychology in 2nd year and quite enjoyed Myers' approach to that subject. (So this blog rant isn't an attempt to discredit David Myers -- I have found his writings on psychology both approachable and interesting -- this rant is about the bizarre nature of the textbook industry)

The 1986 1st edition of Psychology by David G. Myers retailed at Carleton for $31.95.
The 1989 2nd edition of Psychology by David G. Myers retailed at Carleton for $36.95.
There are a ton of stats for years in between that I do not have.
The 2007 8th edition of Psychology by David G. Myers retails for about $128.00.

In 20 years the cost of a book that, fundamentially hasn't changed (remember, we're talking BASIC principles of a 1st year introduction to psychology course -- basic concepts of psychology, which are a combination of biology, development and society) has increased by almost $100. So basically, in 20 years, the price has increased by approximately 400%. Terrifying.

I AM going to try to get my hands on the 2007 edition, but just comparing the preface from the 1st and 2nd, I see a few interesting changes and want to remind you that all a publisher needs to declare a book a NEW edition is to change 10% of the book.

10 % can constitute revising or adding a single chapter to a 10 chapter book. But I'd be curious to learn if the following types of changes consistute changes.

Example - from the Preface of Myers 1st Edition Psychology (1986):

My goals in writing this book can be reduced to one overriding aim: to merge rigorous science with a broad human perspective in a book that would engage both the mind and the heart.

From the Preface of Myers 2nd Edition Psychology (1989):

My goals in writing this book can be reduced to one overrising aim: to merge rigorous science with a broad human perspective in a book that engages both the mind and the heart.

Interesting change of wordage there -- the second is a bit tighter, a bit more concise, so I'll give the editors of the book that. But does that minor tweak in style constitute one of the changes making it 10% change?

Similarly, the Preface numbered points of 8 priciples are flipped around.

Consider - 1st edition:

1) To put facts in the science of concepts
2) To exemplify the process of inquiry
3) To be as up-to-date as possible
4) To integrate principles and applications
5) To enhance comprehension by providing continuity
6) To teach critical thinking
7) To reinforce learning at every step
8) To provide organizational flexibility


2nd edition:

1) To exemplify the process of inquiry
2) To teach critical thinking
3) To put facts in the science of concepts
4) To be as up-to-date as possible
5) To integrate principles and application
6) To enhance comprehension by providing continuity
7) To reinforce learning at every step
8) To provide organizational flexibility


Well, at least 7 and 8 are in the same spot as in previous years -- but someone please tell me the reason why the exact same principles have been flipped around? Is that to meet ye olde 10% edition change requirements? And how much more of the same type of unsubstantial types of changes occur throughout the rest of the book? IE, chapters flipping around, or changing titles, etc.

It looks to me like a little bit of smoke and mirrors is going on here. But it's interesting how, within almost every single discipline that requires a college or university textbook and across the 5 main publishing giants that are producing these textbooks, there's an overwhelming cycle of 3 years between edition updates. Is collusion too strong a word to use here? It likely is, but it does nicely capture what seems to be an intense desire to deceive or mislead, both in the actual pedagogical requirement to update a textbook and in the costs associated with such updating.

Sure, there are cases where examples and pictures need to be updated. When seeing instructional videos (like the one that Fran and I saw a few years ago during a parenting preparation "course" we attended) we often laugh when we see people in their cool dude 1970's clothing. So sure, drawing on newer photographs and examples is likely a good thing. But the truth is, in most cases, particularly at an introductory level, the content is the same. I mean, if there's a picture of a young man standing in a 1970's leisure suit it's understandable to replace that picture in a textbook with a student wearing those stupid low never-ending hanging ass jeans that are popular (you can tell I've never been much into popular fashion) -- but it's hard to tell if that cross-section of the human brain defining various lobes was created in the 70's rather than in 2007. While fashion has continually changed I don't think the actual shape or structure of the brain has evolved all that much in 30+ years.

Okay, so my ranting and frustration about this situation aside, the textbook publishing industry as we know it needs some serious investigation and analysis done so we can bring it all back to the basics: Students require a reasonable balance between quality and affordability for academic materials.

And I am confident with the brilliant young minds I spent three days sharing ideas and strategies for improvement with, that groups and efforts such as those seen in CRAM are going to help drive the industry in exactly that direction.

1 comment:

lime said...

that kind of price increase makes me want to use some of george carlin's 7 words. crimony. that ain't right, especially when you point out such meaningless changes as you have.