Monday, March 23, 2015


That Awkward Moment

Yesterday a student asked a question so good that I didn’t have an answer.

I’m hoping my wise and worldly readers will have a suggestion for a good response.

We were talking about the implications of more classes moving to OER.  Most of the implications are positive: less debt for students, everyone has the textbook on day one of class, and the like.  

Then the student asked the stumper:

Wouldn’t the last group of students who bought regular textbooks be marooned, since they couldn’t re-sell the books after the switch to OER?

I didn’t have an answer for that.  

Is there a better answer for that than “such is the price of progress?”  

Only adopt an OEM for the course as the course's traditional textbook goes to a new edition, which kills the resale value of the previous edition
Considering the nationwide market for books, Amazon prices wont change much. The transition will be gradually, not sudden from that perspective.
Used textbook prices fluctuate rapidly depending on which schools are still using a particular edition. Most used books lose value gradually, even after a new edition comes out, as other schools gradually switch over. A gradual switch to free online texts would cause a similar slow loss of value for used books.
That is quite easy, as the first comment pointed out. The last student who bought edition N the semester before a change to edition N+1 is just as much out of luck, and that happens every three years or so in the current scheme of things.
Doesn't this depend quite a bit on local campus bookstore set-up? My graduate institution had a warehouse/distribution center for a bookstore, rumored to be the largest run by a university anywhere. My current institution's bookstore is a Barnes and Noble. They seem to send all the books back to a center BN location every semester... so I can adopt OER scot-free, I think.
If your campus bookstore is part of a nationwide chain, they buy based on national prices. There will be a bit of a hit on resale value because sometimes buyers offer a premium if they know they won't have to ship the book to a distribution warehouse, but there won't be a huge change in prices overall/
Do you know how HARD it is to resell textbooks? I've never made enough back to even consider it worth the effort. Most semesters they go in the recycling bin.
My campus bookstore is part of a nationwide chain (B&N). They have NEVER accepted back one of my books. Not once, no matter how pristine the condition.
Plenty of resellers out there redistribute to other colleges. You're in a relatively dense area for colleges, so it shouldn't be too hard to find a market. If it was Community College of Middle-of-Nowhere, maybe it's a different issue.
Given that it will be gradual, I expect that to be a very small subset, and given that it will likely happen last at the Ivies, they can afford it.

Some students will need/prefer hard copies.
They'll miss out on the 'retail' buy from the local bookstore, but the buyback is probably handled (or at least aided) by a national wholesaler who would still be buying the books, albeit for less money.

Timing the oer transition to happen when the new edition comes out would mean no buyback value at all regardless, which would eliminate the unfairness to the students, but wouldn't feel like it to them.
What's the baseline you're comparing to? Students won't be able to resell their current traditional textbooks, but then they'll save money by not having to buy new textbooks. The latter is likely greater than the former, so compared to the current world, they'll save money.
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