I just read a New Yorker article about the Sackler family who own the pharmaceutical company that makes Oxycontin. It is a shocking story of how the company, by marketing directly and aggressively to doctors, almost singlehandedly caused the current crisis of opioid use in the U.S. Because people trusted their doctors, who in turn trusted the drug company representatives and advertising that told them it was safe, millions of people are now addicted.
Aside from the moral and ethical questions this raises, there is an interesting economic parallel to the textbook industry. If a publisher can convince an instructor to adopt a textbook, they have created a captive market and one that is likely to last at least several years. The instructor may not even know how much the book costs–and the publisher’s rep sure as heck isn’t going to tell. If the person who is choosing the product is NOT the person who is paying for it, you have a market that does not respond to the price of the product. This short-circuits the free market check of competition and has allowed the big five publishers (Cengage, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson, McGraw Hill, and Scholastic) to walk away with billions.
I love books and I think they are a worthy investment. However, when 18-year-old students are forced to buy $200 textbooks that they will only use for 16 weeks and often cannot resell, something is very wrong. Add to that the fact that they often buy these books with money borrowed at 6, 7, 8, 9%. This phenomenon is causing us to build our economy on the backs of our children. It will have long-term consequences for our society.
Where do we go from here? Forty NMC faculty saved students $167,000 this semester by choosing to use free, openly-licensed textbooks. Check out NMC OER Libguide and contact a librarian to start freeing the textbook!