Sunday, August 18, 2013
Anything to Declare?
I’m disappointed in Amazon for doing this, but I suspect it won’t last long. Instead, it will merely hasten the transition to something we really should prefer anyway. How Amazon will make money off OER isn’t clear to me, but it’s really not my problem.
How about $1.99?
(link to Canada store, but price same everywhere.)
This is one of the best textbooks I've read, and the price is more than reasonable. Now if we could just get the same for some other sciences…
Folks like Amazon can make money by selling the hard copy version of OER books, since the free version is purely electronic. I don't know if they are available "forever" on a Kindle, but that might be another market for a publisher. This does sound like a low-margin business to me, however.
When it comes to keeping a book, the electronic version is just like a rental: it expires after a fixed time.
It's not strictly true that all ebooks expire. Most do, but some pubs actually sel a lifetime license with updates. For certain disciplines, this may make the ebook a superior product.
Pricing on ebooks and rentals are generally priced so that the profits of the various entities in the supply chain are preserved. That means that over the long term, on average, they're not a better deal. But students don't live in the aggregate, and often not in the long term.
A rental may not be a much better deal than buying a used book and selling it back at the end of the term, but rental gives you that savings right away (instead of a small wad of cash at buyback), and it removes a lot of the uncertainty from the transaction.
There is a danger in doing national rental instead of local that your rented book will be due back before you've finished your finals. Many of the rental companies will work with you on that, but I always advise students to check a calendar before renting.
As far as the states go, avoiding nexus is probably a factor, but the article does say that Amazon is using some third party rental companies, and that some of these rental providers only serve certain states. The companies in question might have non-compete agreements in place that keep them out of those states, and Amazon is trying to work from within those agreements.
This doesn't seem like a "trap for the unwary." It seems much more like some boilerplate necessary to satisfy state taxing authorities. Those same tax authorities that keep telling me to pay "use tax" on my Amazon orders.
If you can point me to the article in which Amazon has charged those penalties on hundreds of students, I'll apologize and eat some crow.
Your disappointment with Amazon is misplaced, IMO, it should be with the bewildering and pointlessly complicated tax system.
In fact, I'd say your DRM analogy is backwards. DRM-free music files still have restrictions, it's just that the restrictions show up in the terms & conditions document.
There's speculation about this in the article, but the only person who suggests this is the case does not seem to have any real knowledge about sales taxes, nor is there any explanation about how a weird rule like involves sales taxes at all.
And it makes no sense - for one, if you are violating a state's sales tax law, requiring the student to buy the book won't help you with whatever law you are supposed to be violating.
Second, and more importantly, people buy things and rent things and carry them across the borders all of the time. This may trigger the requirement that they pay use tax in their home state, but it certainly imposes no obligation on the seller to collect taxes for your state of residence if he he sees out-of-state plates on your car.
I can't think of any way in which sales taxes can explain this. It's much more likely that the company actually renting the books is only allowed to rent them in certain states, presumably due to distributorship arrangements, which routinely grant exclusive territories to certain distributors.
As a professor, I try to keep textbook prices in the realm of reasonableness for my students. This semester, every book I require can be purchased(used) for under $35, or rented for less. One book I'm using is widely available online for about $1. (OK, $5 if you include cost of shipping). I'll still have students who tell me they can't afford it. Happens every semester.