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I'm considering requiring a textbook that sells for $140 on Amazon. Used copies cost $95 and up. I expect about 60 students to take the course. Our students are not wealthy, and some will skip buying the book (and their academic performance will suffer) if they feel they cannot afford it. I'd like to find ways of saving my students money.

One idea I have is to see if it's possible to get a bulk discount and pass the savings on to students. Another idea is to set up an Amazon affiliate link and refund the kickbacks to students, although I'd probably be liable for income tax. (Of course, I'd request approval from the Provost's office before trying something that could appear to be profiting off of students.)

I live in the United States, the publisher is Pearson, and there does not seem to be an international edition. There is only one edition of the textbook. (For other classes, I've saved the students money by letting them use an earlier edition.) I have been unable to find a textbook of comparable quality that is significantly cheaper.

Has anyone tried any of the above ideas or others?

RESPONSES TO COMMENTS:

Why require a book? I do not always require a book, but I think it is necessary for this course in order for students to learn the material.

Why not write my own book or lecture notes? I have co-authored a book on a topic on which I am an expert and made the book available for free online. I could not do as good a job as the expensive textbook's authors in this subject matter, especially because I expect to only teach this course once.

Why not use a free online textbook? I was unable to find a free book that did a good job covering the required material.

Why not encourage the students to find an illegal copy online? I consider copyright legitimate and would not encourage my students to do something illegal or unethical.

UPDATE:

After I assigned the Pearson textbook, a student discovered that it was available for free online through the local public library. I immediately informed the other students of this option and let them know how to get a public library card. I will always know to check this option in the future. It had not occurred to me that a publisher would allow a popular textbook to be made available for free in this way (with no limit on the number of simultaneous viewers).

SECOND UPDATE:

I learned that ACM Student membership, which is $19/year (with possibly lower rates in the developing world) includes access to Safari Books Online, which has a book I am requiring this semester (in the Head First series) and has many other great computer science books (typically used by developers, not as textbooks).

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    How about NOT requiring the book? – Jessica B Nov 23 '14 at 7:37
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    Check if a pdf version of the book exists (e.g. by using "name of book" pdf as search query in google. If such a pdf exists, just hint them that such a resource exists). – Sumurai8 Nov 23 '14 at 12:24
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    Why do you need a book? I have studied my long 5 years of engineering without any teacher requiring a book for any of the lectures. IT can be done, and it saves students LOTS of money. – Ander Biguri Nov 23 '14 at 12:29
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    @JeffE you automatically assume that the OP can write a book of a comparable quality. But this could take years to do, if at all possible (I don't know the level of OP's expertise). – Ruslan Nov 23 '14 at 15:03
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    @Ruslan: With respect to the content quality, I am not sure I can imagine how someone can teach about a topic in a lecture while being unable to write down that same information. It doesn't need to be a book book, but a lecture notes book should be feasible by any lecturer. I second previous commenters in that I never bought a single book throughout my whole studies, because all of my professors did just that - they provided written lecture notes as a written complement of their lectures. – O. R. Mapper Nov 23 '14 at 15:25
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An easy thing to do that can be very helpful to your students is to put a copy of the textbook (or two or three copies) on reserve in the university library. Students can then photocopy critical sections of the book (e.g. the homework exercises.) This is particularly helpful at the start of the semester when students are waiting for copies of the book that they've ordered online to arrive.

If you have control over the choice of the textbook, you should consider moving to a cheaper book or even an open educational resource (OER) that is completely free to students.

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    "If you have control over the choice of the textbook, you should consider moving to a cheaper book or even an open educational resource (OER) that is completely free to students." -- but don't compromise the quality! Academic books cost more, in general, and fair or not, not all are created equal! – Teusz Nov 23 '14 at 12:49
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    +1. In addition, this way students can check out the book before buying it. – Stephan Kolassa Nov 23 '14 at 13:51
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    I've come to the conclusion that it's no longer practical to use homework assignments from books for graded homework assignments. Solutions (either official solution manuals or just informally collected student solutions) are so widely available online that cheating by copying the solution is trivial. Rather, I make up my own problems or take problems from a bunch of other sources. Finding solutions to such an assignment would take more work than actually doing the problems... – Brian Borchers Nov 23 '14 at 16:41
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    @espertus "Believe it or not, cheating is not a big problem at my school" How would you know? Only terrible cheaters get caught. Unfortunately, cheaters who put effort into cheating are very difficult to catch (at least for HW cheating, in class exams are different). – WetlabStudent Mar 30 '15 at 15:08
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    @WetLabStudent 1. The classes are small enough that I have a good idea of each student's ability, and their test performance is consistent with that. 2. There are a lot of wrong answers on tests, even though it would be easy to cheat to get the correct answers. (The same is true of many homework problems, which I see students spend hours working on.) 3. Pairs of students who work together on homework assignments often have very different answers on tests. 4. When I ask students if other students cheat, they say no. 5. Rare in-class quiz scores are consistent with take-home tests. – Ellen Spertus Mar 30 '15 at 18:15
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I have found, by direct experience, that publishers are sometimes willing to offer steep discounts. At any rate I pulled this off once, and arranged for my students to be able to buy their book at an approximately 40% discount to what was available on Amazon or anywhere else.

This involved the students buying their books directly by mail from a private page on the publisher's website, and this led to an ugly argument when the bookstore's manager found out about this. I ended up having to read my faculty manual closely so that I could call the manager's bluff. In the end, I (and more importantly my students) won.

This could well work for others, and without the argument. :) But the bottom line is that publishers will negotiate. "I'm considering requiring a textbook..." are precisely the magic words. Just look up the contact information for the publisher's regional sales rep on the Internet, and call or e-mail them.

  • +1, and I'll add that the publisher is likely to agree to a bulk discount for the same reason most other vendors of virtually any product will agree to a bulk discount. It's especially good for the publisher if the instructor of a course decides to use one of their textbooks - the publisher can look forward to some recurring revenue every semester. – Allure Mar 8 at 22:37
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Another option is to contact the authors and explain the situation. It is possible that they have a PDF version that can be used without legal issues (for example of an earlier edition or a pre-final version).

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    Has this worked? Some authors post their textbook pdfs online for free, but I can only imagine other authors being amenable to this in special circumstances (e.g., a course in an especially poor country). – Kimball Mar 26 '15 at 8:30
  • @Kimball I can think of cases where this would work. It could help if the author knows you or you're in a poor country, but in the end it really depends on the authors - some are not in it for the money and and would be understanding. – Bitwise Mar 26 '15 at 12:46
  • @Bitwise The OP writes he lives in the US; I guess it does not qualify as a poor country. – Federico Poloni Mar 30 '15 at 14:04
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    This is a contractual issue between the author and the publisher. The contract will normally not allow it, because standard publishing contracts are exclusive. It's not something the author can just decide to do later on a case by case basis. If the author knows he wants to have the book be free online, that's something he needs to negotiate when he negotiates the contract. – Ben Crowell Mar 7 '16 at 0:35
  • @Kimball, sometimes there are "special country editions". I have seen some for India circulated around here (I presume illegally, as they seem to have been for restricted distribution). – vonbrand Mar 7 '16 at 1:03
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If your textbook happens to have multiple editions, you can tell the students that previous editions will work for the course. Many online sites sell older editions of a textbook at a steep discount.

I have one course where we use the 4th edition of the book, but I have a table in the syllabus that maps the chapters of the 3rd edition to the chapters in the 4th edition. That way, if the reading assignment for the week is Chapter 7, students who are using the older edition know that they should be reading, say, Chapter 5.

Quite often there is enough overlap of material in the older addition that a student can get by just fine.

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    Great point! I have often done that in other classes. Unfortunately, it was not an option this one. – Ellen Spertus Dec 24 '17 at 14:22

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