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Where To Buy Used Books Online

Why are books are so expensive?


2013 SCOTUS upholds first-sale doctrine. Court sides with student in case over textbooks.
The Supreme Court has sided with a Thai graduate student in the U.S. who sold cheap foreign versions of textbooks on eBay without the publisher's permission, a decision with important implications for goods sold online and in discount stores.
The justices, in a 6-3 vote Tuesday, threw out a copyright infringement award to publisher John Wiley & Sons. Thai graduate student Supap Kirtsaeng used eBay to resell copies of the publisher's copyrighted books that his relatives first bought abroad at cut-rate prices.
Justice Stephen Breyer said in his opinion for the court that the publisher lost any ability to control what happens to its books after their first sale abroad.

Congress has decided that many activities should be beyond the reach of copyright law, including not only the performances covered by Section 110(4), but also fair use and first sale, among other things. It's thanks to these exceptions and limitations that libraries can lend books, you can use a TiVo, and Apple can sell iPods to help you get the most from your CD collection.

NCCUSL approves library amendment
NCCUSL actually approved a narrow library amendment that permits the transfer or donation of software to public libraries, public elementary or secondary schools and consumers, as long as the software remains in the computer. This change was not one of those proposed by libraries. Although it takes a small step in the right direction, it falls far short of the activities permitted under the first sale provision of federal copyright law and does not apply to all libraries. To view the amendment, go to The library amendment is in Sec. 503 (2) (c ) of UCITA.


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In the early 80's, textbooks for computer science and math courses regularly ran about $50. Now they run about $100.

Try to find a copy of the book on reserve at the library. Some schools have requirements that every textbook required for a course had to be on reserve at the library - sometimes multiple copies for large classes - to make sure that students who could not afford the books were able to complete the assignments.

Alert: Campus book stores don't always have the book in stock. Teachers should make sure there is a copy on hold at the library available only for limited check-out (hours usually) and if students don't have books they need - send them to the reserve desk at the library.

Some library's do not like to put textbooks on reserve because they disappear and students sell them back to the store. Or, text books can be made illegally into pdf files and shared among students.

Where you may have problems getting books - sometimes the teacher will put the relevant parts on the website like homework assignments and we were told to use previous editions for reference until the book came in.

For popular textbooks, check "", which lists the best available prices for used books (you have to click on "used books" to see them). Used copies are often offered at much less than 50% of the new price.

A similar source is

Why are books so expensive?

Authors are encouraged to update every 2 - 3 years because all the following expenses can be incurred and prices kept high. In addition, in order to say they are current, a CD is often produced. People really aren't using the CD. In some subjects, frequent revision may be necessary, however a book for Basic Spanish cost $200 book. The language has not changed all that much in recent years.

Economics of College texts circa year 2000

* Authors are paid an advance on royalties - depending on your reputation, sales history, and agent, that could be as little as $4 or $5K to $10-15K.
Royalties were often 5% of net from retail sales, less on other sales. (typically worked out to be about 2.5% of cover price)

* Technical editors/reviewers are paid - usually a per-page rate around $1.

* Content editors are paid - either contract at around $3 a page, or in house salary.

* An indexer is paid - $800-$1600 a book

* Copy editors are paid - either contract or in-house.

* Someone designs the cover graphics and any illustration graphics the author doesn't produce

* Additional administrative overhead is allocated to the title

* Sales costs are allocated to the title

These books and textbooks typically have small production runs - 4 or 5,000 a first run on an untested book/author/topic, but more for something like the 5th edition of Internet for Dummies.

All in all, it would frequently cost $100,000 or more to put a book on the shelf.

There are certainly plenty of choices in books for the computer science curriculum. Given that the enrollment even in large schools in courses with a high enrollment count (intro to csc type courses) are fairly low, you'll be lucky to sell more than 100 at a given institution. Multiply that by how many institutions actually choose your book, and your potential audience is quite small.

The break-even price becomes quite high, and of course publishers aren't in business to simply break even.

Add to that, textbooks don't age well, particularly in time sensitive areas such as Computer Science. English Lit? Not a lot has changed in the study of Austen. Many programming topics are changing faster than even quick-to-market publishers like O'Reilly can keep up, let alone textbook
publishers. "The market" often demands "freshness" in their titles, whether the material has substantively changed or not - a textbook written more than 2 or 3 years ago is unlikely to sell well, hence the trend toward frequent edition changes - which brings a new round of expense in updating, editing, and producing.