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February 10, 2005


Back when life was good and I was an undergrad (a whole eight months ago), a couple of friends of mine had a regular ritual at the start of each semester. The two of them would gather on a specified evening at a photocopier and with a selection of the current term's textbooks. I used to have a great time making fun of them and their cheap ways. The guys in question became such experts at copying textbooks that they included features like custom covers and every semester they seemed to find some way or another at scoring 'free' copies. A recent experience that I have had at school has taught me that they had the right idea all along.

I am taking a course this semester taught by a fairly distinguished professor. He is an expert in a very narrow field and therefore, the textbook he chose for the course happened to be one he wrote himself. Now, definitely on the surface there is a question of ethics here. How can a professor ask students to buy a textbook that he will profit from? Furthermore – make their grades dependant on having a copy of this textbook?

My professor has done some things to try to smooth out this situation. He has made one single copy of the two volume set available in the library (not bad for a class of seven) on reserve. He has also arranged with the publisher for a hefty discount on the cover price. The cost of the two volumes is $300 at the bookstore ($300!!!!!!). He has arranged a special price of $180 for students in the class.

Normally, I would just bite the bullet and buy the book, but for this class I strongly feel that the book will be fairly useless to me in the future. I am also highly skeptical at the resale value of it (it's a really specific field and the class is rarely taught). So, I decided to follow my old UVic friends' example and photocopy the whole damn thing.


Some numbers for you:

Two volume page total: 1585
Pages per sheet: 4 (two sided, two pages each side)
Cost per sheet: $0.10
Time per 100 pages: 8 minutes (average, got it down to ~7:30 by the end)

Total time: 2hrs 06 mins
Total cost: $42.42 ($2.79 for binding)

Somewhere here I think I could question whether or not $180 is a reasonable special price, considering the book is less than $45 in materials. I think that in this situation (small class) it may be reasonable for the professor to provide the class with photocopies of the relevant sections, or pdf versions of the same. Regardless, I now have my book and I can put the saved money towards more important things.

Posted by Alistair Howard at February 10, 2005 11:36 PM


"Total time: 2hrs 06 mins"

Holy crap.

Posted by: Jeff Werner at February 11, 2005 02:09 AM

This all sounds very unethical to me. Good thing you aren't having to answer many questions about integrity in the near future!

Posted by: Lisa at February 11, 2005 10:00 PM

2hrs and six minutes is nothing if the alternative is actually reading the textbook.

Ethics: nope, didn't think too much about my own personal ethics here. What would the issue be? That I am putting the publisher and the author out of money they rightly deserve?

Posted by: Alistair at February 11, 2005 10:07 PM

Hey, Welcome to the club Al, I've done it a ton of times. I have no problem paying for a good book that I know I will use again, but if I'm going to read one chapter and then puy it on the shelf, I head straight for the copier!

Posted by: Dan at February 12, 2005 07:31 PM

Alistair, you need to go in with more people. Split up the work and all you have to do is make more copies instead of 1.

Posted by: Malcolm at February 13, 2005 11:12 AM

Even us ethical child and youth care students used to photocopy still looks like a lot of reading for you though - have fun with that!

Posted by: Jeanine at February 14, 2005 12:34 AM