ATG Article of the week: With 'Access Codes,' Textbook Pricing Gets More Complicated Than Ever

by | Sep 5, 2012 | 0 comments

With ‘Access Codes,’ Textbook Pricing Gets More Complicated Than Ever

This is an interesting piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education by Jeffrey R. Young that uses one of the less talked about problems with the evolving textbook market to highlight the various issues that publishers and users face in the brave new world of digital supplements and all-digital options.

In this case, the problem is the sharing of a textbook that requires an individual access code when “each student in the course needed his or her own access code to get to the online discussion board and homework-submission system.”  This story discusses a student who wanted to share his textbook with his then-fiancée (now wife) and is required to buy another textbook to get the additional access code.   He complained to his professor and the publisher (via the bookstore), all to no avail “meaning the couple would have to pay $300 to get the two access codes and an extra book they didn’t need.”  They are not the only ones who have experience this problem. “Soon after he posted his story, it was picked up by a popular technology Web site, leading other students to post similar frustrations with textbook access codes.”

Obviously this was not an issue in the dark ages when a print textbook was the only option.   Borrowing from a friend or getting a cheap used copy was easy.  But the variety introduced by digital  enhancements poses a problem that publishers are having difficulty coming to terms with.  Fortunately, in this instance the publisher came up with a viable compromise and sold the student and additional access code for $20.  However, as the rest of this article makes clear, an adequate and fair pricing model accounting for these type issues is yet to be developed by publishers.  The article also raises the questions about what happens when both the textbook and its supplements are digital only.  Are there pricing provisions for students who want to share an etextbook? Will a used etextbook market develop?  If so, how? After reading this piece we suspect that you will have your own questions and concerns.



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