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September 19, 2012 9:51 AM   Subscribe

Art history students at Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD University) are required to purchase a $180 textbook with no pictures. In place of images, the book has empty boxes with instructions to look up the images online.

The textbook, called Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800 was commissioned by OCAD specifically for one course. According to Kathy Shailer, dean of the faculty of liberal arts and sciences at OCAD, "What this text does is bring together a very good art history text, and a very good design text, and a lot of material so that we could bring in aboriginal and Canadian art as well." Shailer has denied initial reports that the images were left out because of issues with copyright clearance, saying "If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad and Drucker images, the text would have cost over $800."

Brent Ashley, father of one of the students, has been chronicling the events on his blog. There is some discussion on Techdirt about the copyright issues angle, and a student petition demanding alternatives.
posted by oulipian (87 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
Between the incompetence and the evil, universities have raised screwing over students to an art.
posted by dunkadunc at 9:57 AM on September 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


















posted by BentFranklin at 9:59 AM on September 19, 2012 [76 favorites]


Considering the name of the school, I'm surprised the textbook isn't named Global Visual and Material Culture Book, The Textbook.
posted by kmz at 9:59 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


[]
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:59 AM on September 19, 2012


If they repackaged the textbook as a conceptual art project about the destruction of the cultural commons I think it might actually sell better.
posted by RogerB at 10:00 AM on September 19, 2012 [14 favorites]


I have a student who went to that school, but transferred out. She complained about the frequent "guest lecturers" where the professor would just sit down with the class and they'd all stare at an empty podium for an hour.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 10:02 AM on September 19, 2012 [28 favorites]


She complained about the frequent "guest lecturers" where the professor would just sit down with the class and they'd all stare at an empty podium for an hour.

The fuck?
posted by kmz at 10:03 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Does it at least serve double duty as a place for students to render their own interpretations in the blank areas?

And is it friggin' huge?
posted by rahnefan at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2012


Considering the name of the school, I'm surprised the textbook isn't named Global Visual and Material Culture Book, The Textbook.

Yeah, it's been a thing for the -CADs in Canada over the last decade or so to rebrand themselves with the word "University" to highlight the fact that they do, in fact, offer degrees.

It's stupid.

/NSCAD University alumnus
posted by Sys Rq at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2012


I got so angry at my art school I tried to get them discredited as a school but, alas no.
posted by The Whelk at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see alternative literature is catching on.
posted by TedW at 10:04 AM on September 19, 2012


It is rare that I get to look at (a tiny part of) the Canadian education system and feel better about the US system by comparison. Thank you to all our neighbors to north for brightening my day!
posted by Perfectibilist at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


This is kind of brilliant (if it were an artist's book, not a functional object). Art image rights and permissions is a big time headache and costly. This skirts around that issue, but also makes the book useless at the same time.
posted by Sreiny at 10:07 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand. The book says it only goes up to 1800. There's no way any art of that time can be still copyrighted. I guess you can take a foto of an old work and copyright it? What a fuck up.
posted by Jehan at 10:10 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bent Franklin, am I supposed to look up your comment in a MetaFilter History textbook?
posted by entropone at 10:11 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


So if I understand this right, you get some access code with the purchased text-only megabook, and you look at the images of art in the original ebooks using that code (oh joy, more textbooks that are useless without codes that might expire at some publisher asshole's whim). I suppose this whole mess could be blamed on good intentions gone stray, but there probably is some better way to do it. What is the status of online historical art images collections? I'm mostly clueless about that particular.
posted by Iosephus at 10:11 AM on September 19, 2012


Just buy the book used, that way somebody else already looked up the images and you don't have to.
posted by DU at 10:13 AM on September 19, 2012 [11 favorites]


Wait, was this book published by Panini? I seem to have one like this as a kid.
posted by Jehan at 10:17 AM on September 19, 2012 [9 favorites]


I guess you can take a foto of an old work and copyright it?

My understanding is that, yes, that person's photograph is an original work protected by copyright and they can charge you for the privilege of reproducing it.

That doesn't stop you from taking your own photograph of the old work and using that instead. [Though the museum which owns the work, which may derive revenue from selling tchotchkes emblazoned with its image, may cause problems for you.]
posted by Egg Shen at 10:19 AM on September 19, 2012


I used to do this anyway when I was an Art History major back in the mid-90s. The textbook was Honour and Fleming, and the photos were sparse, small, and often black and white(!) so I'd go online to look for the images, which was not a trivial task in those days (Artchive for the win!). Frankly, it seems a bit ridiculous that they even require a physical text these days.
posted by Rock Steady at 10:19 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Bent Franklin, am I supposed to look up your comment in a MetaFilter History textbook?

Oops, upon looking at the title of the post I realize that my joke was stale. Late AND ignorant - a winning combination for jokes.
posted by entropone at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess you can take a foto of an old work and copyright it?

Anything that involves the photographer's discretion as far as lighting, angle, composition, etc. is copyrightable. That's not an issue with paintings, where the goal is to get as close to putting the thing in a scanner as possible, but with three-dimensional works it would be unavoidable, I'd think.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 10:20 AM on September 19, 2012


Sounds about right, zero surprise factor here.

I can honestly say that I was never prouder of my BitTorrent abilities than when I could find an enginering textbook and deprive the collegiate machine that theft from my checkbook because they decided to re-arrange chapters or add in new problems between the 4th and 5th edition, thus reducing the ability to buy a used text to nil while adding virtually no extra value for students.

Fuckers, all of 'em. I learned more in my class that had textbooks that mattered and were awesome than in ones where the professors were 2nd author and required you to have the latest version to do the homework.
posted by RolandOfEld at 10:21 AM on September 19, 2012 [8 favorites]


So if I understand this right, you get some access code with the purchased text-only megabook, and you look at the images of art in the original ebooks using that code

Generally, I have found the use of electronic materials to supplement or replace textbooks means students get gouged and inconvenienced.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:21 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


My reading of this, based on the note from the school admin, is that some prof wanted half of textbook A and half of textbook B, and instead of charging the students $250 for the two, they decided to do a custom print run of the combined parts of the required texts.

Now if the admin is being truthful, and it really would cost $800 to get clearance for all the images from the parts of the two source textbooks (economy of scale working against them?), then somebody should have stepped up and said this is a bad idea. If they're not being truthful (and the fact that they said it was never designed to have pictures, even though the boxes linking to the images conveniently appear to be the same shape as the picture in question), then someone at a smallish school had an ego trip.

OCAD isn't a big school at all with under 4000 students total. Who knows how many are in this class. They have no business commissioning custom textbooks.
posted by thecjm at 10:21 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Generally, I have found the use of electronic materials to supplement or replace textbooks means students get gouged and inconvenienced.

This is screaming out for crowdsourced image gathering and a well-publicized free download. Crap like this will only stop when textbook publishers (including universities publishing custom textbooks) and copyright holders understand unequivocally that gouging and opportunism will quickly equal zero profit, thanks to the internet.
posted by ryanshepard at 10:23 AM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


In place of images, the book has empty boxes with instructions to look up the images online.
Reminds me of this strategy guide I bought back in 2000 for Final Fantasy IX. Square had launched a site called PlayOnline, and in order to get pieces of information, you'd have to go online and type in a code. The guide was completely useless if you didn't have an internet connection/once PlayOnline became an entirely different service. Huge waste of $20 because you were essentially getting a Swiss cheese of a guide.

Not entirely comparable, since I wasn't forced to buy and use it for my education. But it shows that people have always had really stupid ideas like this.
posted by Redfield at 10:23 AM on September 19, 2012


I took a few foundation level courses when the place was still just OCA, but these were just studio courses with no academic content, and this also pre-dated custom textbooks on the fly.

Of course, this is the school that was redesigned as a tiled pencil case supported by pencils. The students are now IN their drawing supplies, so filling in those empty boxes in meatspace should be a trivial task.
posted by maudlin at 10:24 AM on September 19, 2012


According to what I've seen so far, this looks like a customized study package which was supposed to incorporate content from two existing textbooks: 'Art History' by Stokstad and Cothern ($150 US, 1240 pages) and: 'Graphic Design History' by Drucker and McVarish ($77 US, 416 pages). (Canadian prices are higher of course, despite the strong loonie, which is just the way it is).

There's nothing wrong with a custom study package, but why the OCADU admin pushed through the study package when the material really wasn't ready is just a silly error in judgement.

(Actually, we own a copy of the Stockstad textbook. It has swell illustrations and weighs 8.6 pounds. I would highly recommend it. Kind of a lot of material for one term, though).
posted by ovvl at 10:25 AM on September 19, 2012


I tried to find high-quality public domain photos of the Bayeux Tapestry a couple years ago. There are none that I could find. The only photos I could find were high-quality but copyright (though it's doubtful that the photographers had added anything to them), or public domain but low-quality. From what I could see, the French museum where the Tapestry is housed does its best to make sure no high-quality scans are available from their website. I ended up having to use scans of a 19th century textbook's reproductions of the Tapestry.

While I understand that photographers have to make a living, it's pretty ridiculous that it's impossible to find high-quality public domain images of something that's nearly a millennium old. It feels like intellectual property has turned into a zero-sum game, where everyone's trying to copyright everything they can, even when they shouldn't, because otherwise someone else will get to it first.
posted by jiawen at 10:29 AM on September 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


This is the reason I refuse to assign textbooks to my classes. I have books to recommend, but insist they buy an older edition online. I won't deal with the bookstore, but sometimes they order books for me. Students come to class the first day having spent money on something I don't require. The whole industry is a scam. There are plenty of alternative free ways to provide reading material.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 10:30 AM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


> What is the status of online historical art images collections? I'm mostly clueless about that particular.

Highly variable and spotty. Wikimedia commons, for instance, is wonderful fantastic when you're just looking for stuff you enjoy but if you're looking for a particular thing (for an assignment, say) there's no guarantee it'll be there. Individual museums control what they put online; you may know, for instance, that the Tate owns the original of something you need to see but whether you'll find a good big sharp reproduction, a postcard-size reproduction, or nothing at all on the Tate's website is anybody's guess. (Props to them, though, in the last year or so they've really gotten religion about the size and resolution of what they do make available.) Plain old google image search remains your best bet for just about everything.

The more you get into living artists the more the available reproductions turn out to be the size of your wallet. (Also, flash. For some reason contemporary artists and photogs appear to think it's a law that their own websites must be flash-based and unutterably sucky.)
posted by jfuller at 10:30 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Greed and avarice has a new face.


That you're instructed to look up online.
posted by tommasz at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


Anything that involves the photographer's discretion as far as lighting, angle, composition, etc. is copyrightable. That's not an issue with paintings, where the goal is to get as close to putting the thing in a scanner as possible, but with three-dimensional works it would be unavoidable, I'd think.
Yeah, I can understand it for carvings and whatnot in three dimensions, but supposedly even fotos of flat works can be copyrighted in many places. That seems out of line. I mean, how would they even know? Surely one foto of the Mona Lisa looks just like another?
posted by Jehan at 10:32 AM on September 19, 2012


Does it at least serve double duty as a place for students to render their own interpretations in the blank areas?

At first I thought that's where the story was going, and I thought, "Hmm, that's an interesting way of teaching art."
posted by scratch at 10:42 AM on September 19, 2012


In related news, you can download John Cage's 4' 33" from iTunes for only 99 cents. (Please folks, don't accept a pirated copy!)
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:52 AM on September 19, 2012 [10 favorites]


jfuller is right about this: it is *extremely* hard to find particular images online. Google images will give you 100 reproductions of one painting out of an artist's total work -- fine if you want pretty decoration, very bad if you're actually studying the work itself.

Even though the artist's 'copyright' expired centuries ago (and the works were produced in a time which had no concept of copyright) the pieces are still owned by a particular collector or gallery, and *those* are the people who own the copyright.

And it's sodding impossible to get them to give you images rights, anyway.
posted by jrochest at 10:59 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I had a beautiful art history textbook during my sophomore year of high school. The fact that these college students have to shell out $180 for a textbook---ugh. I was appalled that my organic chemistry textbook was $180 at the bookstore, but I was able to get it for $100 online.

Oberlin is $44K/per year. Having attended a liberal arts college ranked higher than Oberlin and found that it would have been just as well to attend a cheaper alternative, I'll just pay for trade school or community college + 2 years of state school and any and all domestic and foreign trips for my kid provided he/she visit at least 5 art galleries and take an iPad with him/her.
posted by discopolo at 11:03 AM on September 19, 2012


A and half of textbook B, and instead of charging the students $250 for the two, they decided to do a custom print run of the combined parts of the required texts.


During my postbac program, my college did this for physics. I spent $60 online for a non-customized version that was a full year course text. My school took that book, had the publisher split it in two, and then sold it in the bookstore for $100 each. That's $200 for Physics I and II, for a textbook (same edition) that was selling online for half that price new.

(If I had been an undergrad still, with my mom paying for school, I wouldn't have cared or noticed. It took my paying for my own education to be sensitive to the cost of textbooks.)
posted by discopolo at 11:09 AM on September 19, 2012


I work in this industry (though not for Pearson) and what thecjm says sounds like a plausible description of what happened. My guess is that the projected sales for this custom book, which would have been very low due to having been created for ONE course at an already small school, wouldn't have justified shelling out whatever the publisher paid to license the images for the two books that were distributed internationally. So the publisher, likely through their sales rep, probably offered the choice of either a very high price (that would have made up the margins and satisfied finance), or the "solution" we see now, which involves a custom print text for the classroom and a passcode that probably allows them to dodge re-licensing fees by linking to pre-existing content for the other books.

College textbooks have smaller print runs than the mainstream novels/general interest nonfiction that you find in a bookstore, so they don't benefit as much from economies of scale. And, of course, Pearson is a public company, so investors want to see those returns, so they will try to extract as much revenue as they reasonably can. Since competition is low and the market difficult to break in to, there isn't much downward pressure on price to counter the upward pressure exerted by investors and other powers that be. I think it will take some more disruptive innovations to crack that open, and while we're certainly seeing movement in that direction, we aren't quite there yet.
posted by Kosh at 11:14 AM on September 19, 2012 [3 favorites]


I am under the impression, just from all the college kids online talking about it, that students no longer buy textbooks but trade bootleg pdfs and ebooks. I wonder how this plays out for custom books, for one course, could we be in a transition period where colleges and publishers attempt to re-jigger the books every semester to foil book pirates?
posted by Ad hominem at 11:17 AM on September 19, 2012


It's hard to find good quality art imagery on the web - sometimes they or horribly cropped or you hope you have the right one. I'm always disappointed when the only good photo of a piece of art comes from one of those Chinese painting mills :-P

For one of my art humanities classes this semester, we were provided a paper list of URLs of articles to read. Most of the links were broken and it took me hours to Google and check that I had the right article, and the complete article. I would love to be able to download proper ePubs - some texts are imaged PDFs - but it seems sad in this day and age that I have to buy a book of photocopied photocopies called a reprotext, still. But I'm just a cranky mature student :-D
posted by Calzephyr at 11:19 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


could we be in a transition period where colleges and publishers attempt to re-jigger the books every semester to foil book pirates?

Yeah, well, give me the two bootleg PDF's they're trying to make a third from, and I'll give you the Perl one-liner that gives you that third book.
posted by alex_skazat at 11:20 AM on September 19, 2012


This semester, my daughter had to buy a specialized "book" for one of her finance classes. It was a collection of pertinent chapters pulled from an existing textbook, with added bits from the instructor. The whole thing was a collection of printouts from an office copier, clipped-together and delivered in a manilla envelope. Available only through the school bookstore, I think it cost something north of $150. Insane.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:21 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Think of it as the Universe's gentle way of guiding students away from an Art History degree.

posted by mmrtnt at 11:30 AM on September 19, 2012 [4 favorites]


College textbooks have smaller print runs than the mainstream novels/general interest nonfiction that you find in a bookstore, so they don't benefit as much from economies of scale.
Can I ask a serious question about this? I get that things like science textbooks may actually have different substance from year to year, given the substance matter is constantly evolving. Which would then make a subscription to a scientific journal both more cost efficient and more up to date than a text book ever would.

But do things like art classes ever actually change? I mean, would an Art History I class taken in the 70's cover different subject matter than one taken today?

One would think that there's an actual business model waiting to be discovered in licensing this material, and then creating an automated service that would extend that license to specific schools/professors as well as create a "custom" packet/textbook that students could then either buy a printed copy or pay a fee to download.

The "economy of scale" here then would apply to the professor that teaches the same class for multiple years, or the school that has multiple professors teaching the same class.

Granted, it puts the financial burden on the professor or school, and I know I'm probably glossing over some serious details, but how is this not already a thing.
posted by Blue_Villain at 11:36 AM on September 19, 2012


Yeah, well, give me the two bootleg PDF's they're trying to make a third from, and I'll give you the Perl one-liner that gives you that third book.

Right, don't fuck with CS/Engineering students. I don't know how universal this statement is with regards to other majors, but they WILL find a way around your BS dickmoves when it comes to textbooks.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:40 AM on September 19, 2012


I have a student who went to that school, but transferred out. She complained about the frequent "guest lecturers" where the professor would just sit down with the class and they'd all stare at an empty podium for an hour.

With the right guest lecturer (and the right podium and stare), this is conceptual art and would draw a large crowd in some parts of the world.
posted by anaphoric at 11:49 AM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


The empty podium thing is like a "Clint Eastwood comes to a university and..." joke.
posted by RolandOfEld at 11:53 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


OCAD isn't a big school at all with under 4000 students total. Who knows how many are in this class. They have no business commissioning custom textbooks.

I wouldn't necessarily point the finger at OCAD here: Pearson Custom Publishing has been around for a long time, and I believe the other major publishers have similar offerings. (I used to work for Pearson, not in that division however.)

Part of the sales pitch is that it's supposedly less expensive for students than buying several individual textbooks. The gotcha is that it effectively eliminates the used textbook market, which is a gigantic financial win for the publisher:

Used books mean that some students pay more and others pay less for the same content. Is that fair? Custom is an equitable choice because the lower price of your custom course materials ensures a more democratic distribution of cost -- everyone pays the same low amount.

Also worth noting: in some cases the instructor for a course writes some or all of the content for his custom-pubbed textbook, and receives royalty payments back from the publisher.
posted by ook at 11:57 AM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


(I mean, I would point the finger at OCAD for the dumb decision to leave blank spots where images are supposed to be -- quality control for a custom publication is obviously lower than for a AAA title that'll be used in thousands of courses. But the idea of commissioning a custom publication is not an OCAD thing; it's been around for a long time.)
posted by ook at 11:58 AM on September 19, 2012


One would think that there's an actual business model waiting to be discovered in licensing this material, and then creating an automated service that would extend that license to specific schools/professors as well as create a "custom" packet/textbook that students could then either buy a printed copy or pay a fee to download.

Licensing it from whom, though? That 1970s art history textbook is likely owned (i.e. copyrighted) by the same textbook publishing company that is currently selling the not terribly different, 27th edition (or whatever) for some exorbitant fee, while making the older versions as impossible to obtain as they can. They have zero incentive to license that content to somebody else to make it cheaper. That's why they've started their own "custom textbook" services - they keep control of the profits.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:00 PM on September 19, 2012


Used books mean that some students pay more and others pay less for the same content. Is that fair? Custom is an equitable choice because the lower price of your custom course materials ensures a more democratic distribution of cost -- everyone pays the same low amount.

Welp, there went my lunch. Ugh.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Initially sounds pretty cool.
posted by Mikon6 at 12:02 PM on September 19, 2012


I approve! This is obviously a situationist prank perpetrated by a disgruntled group of art teachers.
posted by doublesix at 12:04 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The idea I like is if you have to find something forcing you to intake the content in a more personal way. Also, if you want to make your book look nice you probably need to print the image in an expert way which is no easy task.
posted by Mikon6 at 12:07 PM on September 19, 2012


ACAD's library licences an art image service from Corbis - students can save a high quality image to a USB key. Superstock also had a huge rights managed arts collection, but since Superstock no longer exists, I don't know who owns it.
posted by Calzephyr at 12:25 PM on September 19, 2012


Honestly, if there was ever a market that screams for ebooks and tablets, it's the textbook market. Why every student isn't walking around campus carrying a tablet loaded with a semester's-worth of books is beyond me. Even today, my daughter lugs a friggin' backpack to class with her every day, loaded with overweight (and overpriced) tomes. It's like she's still in high school, but with more books and back pain.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:28 PM on September 19, 2012


But do things like art classes ever actually change? I mean, would an Art History I class taken in the 70's cover different subject matter than one taken today?

I can't speak directly to Art History, but in English at least, the content can vary a fair amount just based on the professor. Different instructors are going to favour different critical models & theories and these things also change over time.

I once had to pay $300+ for a reader composed of essays/articles from various (way more than 2) sources (zero pictures, none of the articles was by my professor) due to licensing costs. This was obviously an egregious amount to pay, but not really considered an exceptional practise although other profs (maybe more likely for smaller classes) would ignore the rules and hand out an equivalent amount of material by photocopying it themselves and handing it out instead, but presumably in those cases they would have to either eat the photocopying cost and/or lie to the department budgeting people about what it was for.
posted by juv3nal at 12:34 PM on September 19, 2012


But do things like art classes ever actually change? I mean, would an Art History I class taken in the 70's cover different subject matter than one taken today?

I can't really speak to this question, since it's not my discipline, but as long as the market is centered around the print book, publishers are financially incentivized to put out as many new editions as the market will bear, however flimsy the justification, because otherwise they have to deal with used book saturation. The only solutions to this accelerating revision cycle come from either some sort of regulation (which, in this political climate, isn't going to happen) or market disruption from some other factor, like the advent of tablets and other technology-based options.
posted by Kosh at 12:34 PM on September 19, 2012


I mean, would an Art History I class taken in the 70's cover different subject matter than one taken today?

Perhaps. It really depends on whether it's a global art view, western art, etc. And, obviously, an art history book from the 70's would not include anything from 80's, 90's, 00's, etc. A lot of stuff happened in the past 30+ years.

And, the scholarship does evolve over the years, as more study is done. If nothing else, the print reproduction should be better today than it was back in the 70's, so there's that.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:43 PM on September 19, 2012


But do things like art classes ever actually change? I mean, would an Art History I class taken in the 70's cover different subject matter than one taken today?

Interpretation theory changes a lot over time, particularly in light of whatever social movements and other things are going on at the time of study and creation of future theory. It is often the case for interpretation that textbooks are the product of the time that they were written. Likewise, the professor is a product of the time when he or she began to study the subject and the students he or she is teaching of another time. Each of these draws from a different experience and frame of reference based on the generation in which they grew up, not to mention that standard textbooks often take some time to gain notoriety and a sense of authority on a subject.

There's probably a word for this kind of thing, akin to the idea of historiography for the field of history, but I'm not sure what it would be. Art Historigraphy, maybe?
posted by urbanlenny at 12:47 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I was filled with rage when I was told that I had to buy the newest edition of the Norton Anthology's Ancient Literature boxed set for an Intro to Literature course. I tried to get an explanation from the teacher, since I couldn't understand how things like Gilgamesh or Homer could possibly have been modified since the last edition (which could be bought cheaper), and was told that there were some new poems added. The teacher was adament about how it was absolutely mandatory, and that I risked a poor grade or failure if I didn't have the newest edition.

It didn't make sense to me that an instructor at a community college would be so aggressively invested in this, but upon further investigation I learned that the college administration heavily pushes the instructors to do this. I also learned that it's actually a lot more prevalent at community colleges than at prestigious four-year schools.
posted by The Sprout Queen at 1:14 PM on September 19, 2012


On the upside this term, about half of my books were available for Kindle at a substantial discount over the paper version. On the downside, half of those which were available were "Just like the paper version", which meant that they can't be read on my aging Kindle DX (but can on PC or Kindle Fire). I can get where that'd be handy for some types of books, but they're Computer Networks books.

Which, this is particularly egregious here, but I also think there's definitely going to be increased ebook pressure against this sort of practice.

And nth-ing not messing with CS students as far as books go. They *will* find ways around anything you put up, just so they don't have to deal with it.
posted by CrystalDave at 1:49 PM on September 19, 2012


I don't understand. The book says it only goes up to 1800. There's no way any art of that time can be still copyrighted. I guess you can take a foto of an old work and copyright it? What a fuck up.
posted by Jehan at 1:10 PM on September 19 [+] [!]


It's a total abuse of copyright. There is no original content in an image of an image. Maybe an image of a sculpture, but even then it's pretty tenuous.

Historians hit this all the time with documents - manuscripts in Britain were in perpetual copyright until there was an act passed to end this. That said, though the copyright belongs to the descendant of the original author, not the owner of the document, I've had archives and libraries claim that they "own" the copyright to a manuscript in their collection.

Thankfully, by 2039 all the copyrights will have FINALLY ended. Then we'll just have to put up with the crap of archives saying that only they can photograph the document and then they own the copyright on the image.

I've gotten to the point where I just refuse to write about documents where archives are being pissy. You don't want to let me publish a poem written by an anonymous protestor c1600? Fine - your archive doesn't get the citations. In my research, I cite the National Archives so much more often than the British Library, because the National Archives has a decent photography policy.
posted by jb at 1:59 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


College professor here. Most of us hate hate hate the textbook industry as much as students do. I resent the outrageous prices, the two-year cycle for new editions that exists for no reason except to kill the used book market, and the collusion with the university book stores.

I can absolutely see why computer science textbooks need to change every year. And my field, history, does in fact change as well, but probably a new edition per decade would be fine for most texts.

University book stores, by the way, are often a profit center for the university. At my old school I complained about the bookstore markups in the Faculty Senate one day. I got a call from a friendly Vice President, who explained I must not do that. The bookstore was not only a profit center, it produced some of the only money in the college that was not already assigned to a specific task by the state legislature. Bookstore profits were the president's slush fund for special projects.

The next year I got tenure, and began adding "ISBN XXXX, Amazon.com price $xx new, $xx used" after each title on my syllabus. The administration never noticed and my students really appreciated it.
posted by LarryC at 2:05 PM on September 19, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was filled with rage when I was told that I had to buy the newest edition of the Norton Anthology's Ancient Literature boxed set for an Intro to Literature course. I tried to get an explanation from the teacher, since I couldn't understand how things like Gilgamesh or Homer could possibly have been modified since the last edition (which could be bought cheaper), and was told that there were some new poems added. The teacher was adament about how it was absolutely mandatory, and that I risked a poor grade or failure if I didn't have the newest edition.

It sucks from an instructor's point of view, as well. I can't order the older edition; the bookstore may not be able to get enough used copies for everyone in the class. Because the page numbers are different in different editions, if I officially say it's okay for students to use other editions, then certain students think it's okay to pester me incessantly all semester long about what pages they're supposed to be reading, while others seem to think they have another valid excuse as to why they didn't read the assigned reading or do the assigned work.
posted by BrashTech at 2:07 PM on September 19, 2012 [2 favorites]


Our bookstore, incidentally, has a contract-mandated maximum markup on textbooks. They do make money on textbooks, but they are not making out like bandits or out to screw over the students. They have certain fixed costs: they must, by contract, order the books the professors require, and they must have them all ready on the first day of class, plus the usual overhead. They can't compete with Amazon—but they will have the books you need when you need them, or scramble to get them in if they run short.

The publishers may just be struggling to survive in a technological environment that is stacked against them, but it's really hard to see how exactly they can get away with the prices they charge.
posted by BrashTech at 2:11 PM on September 19, 2012


The book says it only goes up to 1800. There's no way any art of that time can be still copyrighted. I guess you can take a foto of an old work and copyright it? What a fuck up.

Museums that house the art hold reproduction rights.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:26 PM on September 19, 2012


(Anyone else reload the comments because they thought the rest didn't get loaded?)
posted by hellojed at 4:04 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, this is a constant problem with photographs of objects. I have worked in a visual resource center at a college which was actively trying to update our holdings of digital copies of artworks needed for classes, and it was a constant problem to find material we could source properly and scan. This is a major issue for Coursera courses, for example, because it's very difficult to replicate and license the photos needed for a free online class from as many museums and private collections as the average Art History course covers. (And yes, there are licensing fees per article per copy per class, so that even a shoddy photocopy could be $10 or more.) On the flip side, I've worked to photograph and digitize museum objects. It is not an easy, cheap, or fast process, and while some museums have amazing online catalogs I can understand why others (especially international ones with different licensing issues or governmental oversight) have more restrictive policies. It's also really, really hard to spend months getting publication permission from hundreds of collections, some of which may have been disbanded or absorbed into other agencies, hands, or museums....This is one reason why many free scans of books online do not include photographs or illustrations.


...but yeah, it is super sad and super hilarious. Even if the essays are amazing and worth paying for, it's somewhat worthless without the actual art.
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:36 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I attended back in 1982 when it was still just a small art college. I don't remember having to buy many text books.

Also, tuition was $970 and we were allowed to smoke in class.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:16 PM on September 19, 2012


I have been rightfully corrected: though the British library does not allow photography, they do not restrict quoting from texts whatsoever.

I was mixing them up with an evil private archive which stopped someone I once met from quoting from material they held, though they didn't own the copyright. But that archive is notoriously evil.
posted by jb at 5:52 PM on September 19, 2012


I am under the impression, just from all the college kids online talking about it, that students no longer buy textbooks but trade bootleg pdfs and ebooks.

From my experience with US undergrads , this is well beyond their technical know-how for most of them , seniors included
posted by Bwithh at 6:38 PM on September 19, 2012


I remember how my Classical Japanese professor handled this. He wasn't quite prepared to teach the class since he just replaced the professor who had taught it for the last 15 years. He just copied a bunch of pages out of his obscure reference books, wrote some notes about them, and tossed in a public domain copy of the first 50 pages of Tsuretsuregusa. Then he announced to the class, "There's a folder of reference material we will use in this course. I can't make copies for you, but the secretary will let you check it out for an hour so you can make your own copies." I guess he thought this would absolve him of copyright conflicts.
posted by charlie don't surf at 7:12 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am returning to school, with young folks, and i am just figuring out this splitting text books, people mailing you pdfs, course packs, all that shit--it's the future.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:43 PM on September 19, 2012


Do people really still buy 'required' texts? It's not quite the same as a required assignment. You don't really have to own it, just to access the readings.

My profs always put a copy on reserve in the library, and I've known many to lend their older editions to students with in a crunch. I had one prof that listed the page numbers of each edition in notes and lectures, so everyone could easily keep up no matter which version they had, it was much appreciated! They simply updated the references each year to add the new edition numbers.

My campus book store now has book rentals as an option for many texts, which I have not quite figured out yet--and I noticed Amazon had both cheaper ebook versions as well as rentals of some textbooks now.
posted by chapps at 8:12 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The next year I got tenure, and began adding "ISBN XXXX, Amazon.com price $xx new, $xx used" after each title on my syllabus.

Thank you thank you thank you. You are a golden god among professors. Never leave.
posted by RolandOfEld at 9:24 PM on September 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The next year I got tenure, and began adding "ISBN XXXX, Amazon.com price $xx new, $xx used" after each title on my syllabus. The administration never noticed and my students really appreciated it.

Professors who do as you do help me sleep better than I would since I suffer a little less often from financial worry that comes with exchanging your career path for one that you're better suited for.
posted by discopolo at 9:58 PM on September 19, 2012


I've returned to school to finally get that STEM degree I've always wanted and I'm dealing with some of this. Some of my textbooks I've found at trackers or buried deep within scribd but often an edition or two behind. Even though I downloaded the books (really want to just carry a tablet to class), I bought the paper copies anyways, just in case I was going to miss something if I didn't have it. Needless to say, nothing was missed.

And it's amazing how little the publishers shuffle around between editions. Calculus and Chemistry are virtually identical to their previous editions other than the layout and a few of the sidebar articles. And then there's the publishers who give me electronic editions in addition to the paper book but lock the text away in Flash. Fortunately, my tablet runs Android, so the flash books kinda work, but considering I pad around 300 for the book + online access, the least they could do is give me a fucking PDF.

And Pearson is by far the worst. I used to work with them in a previous life and their attention to detail, as far as web + software was concerned, was quite minimal. They've kept this fine tradition alive. When I maximize their flash ebook window, I get to see text from their QA staff embedded in a part of the window they never thought anyone else would ever see. As if 1920x1080 is such a bloody exotic resolution these days.
posted by honestcoyote at 12:17 AM on September 20, 2012 [4 favorites]


What pllays hob with my textbook-wheeling-and-dealing skills is online problem sets that require a paid login key, usually to the tune of $75 or so above and beyond the regular textbook price, and invalidated after a semester so that used books won't have a working key.

The actual problems always suck, too -- the sets will only be like 80% related to the lecture material, and will be a pain in the ass to navigate, often with ambiguous wording or broken features that make problems unsolvable.

The only benefit I can see to them is that they are automatically graded which saves the professor work. Damn them.
posted by Scientist at 4:50 AM on September 20, 2012


Atlantic article about a new system (with Copyright Clearance Center approval and all!) of a way to amalgamate different materials. Not that it would get around the photo issues, but an interesting take on things.
posted by jetlagaddict at 11:15 AM on September 20, 2012


I wonder how many of the images are available via http://www.googleartproject.com/

There was a town hall meeting today hosted by the Dean. I was unable to attend, but I am expecting a phone call from her and I will post an update on my blog (http://www.ashleyit.com/blogs/brentashley) when I know more.
posted by brentashley at 2:03 PM on September 20, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow - hi Brent! Welcome to MetaFilter!
posted by oulipian at 2:08 PM on September 20, 2012


Thanks! It's been a while. I'm sure I was a member between 99 and 03 when I was big into web dev and pre-ajax remoting.
posted by brentashley at 2:36 PM on September 20, 2012


Breaking news from the Toronto Star: "Publisher offers free textbooks, buyback option for artless-art history textbook."
posted by Schadenfreudian at 3:06 PM on September 25, 2012


It boggles the mind that the publishers didn't think of at least providing students with a PDF version of the textbook that included links to the online images, so the students could click and view instead of typing the URLs in manually.
posted by Schadenfreudian at 3:09 PM on September 25, 2012


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