I was taken aback to read this one-sided editorial in the New York Times applauding Washington state's proposed law that would require publishers to disclose prices to professors considering adopting textbooks and exhorting colleges and universities to become publishers themselves to save students from those money-grubbing textbook peddlers. (Well, the editorial didn't literally call them that, but the implication was there.)
I don't disagree with the wisdom of professors taking the cost of a textbook into consideration when they adopt it. I know when I taught college courses I was very aware of the cost of the materials I asked my students to buy, and I guess I assumed that other instructors and professors would do the same. Perhaps not. But whoa folks....Hold the venom.
This position is an odd one for the Times, a profitable publisher, to take. The editorial calls textbook revisions "constant issuing of lucrative but little changed new editions — publishing’s version of planned obsolescence." It also complains that new costly electronic resources that publishers provide (for no additional charge) are "marginally useful."
As I've said many times before and as I'll doubtless say many times again, when other organizations (like libraries and universities) become publishers, they start to smell and act like publishers. They start to have expenses like publishers. They start to charge like publishers. I say, let the competition begin. If somebody can provide high quality educational material for less money, have at it.
Maybe publishers can become more efficient. The market can decide what's useful (electronic materials) and what isn't. Bring it on. But let's stop villifying an industry that is providing valuable products and services and creating a more educated public.