Funding for higher education has always been a touchy topic for politicians. While few dispute that an educated population is beneficial for society, it is often less clear who should foot the bill for this benefit. Of course, a large part of the cost is tuition, but more and more, the costs of textbooks are beginning to factor in. A Toronto Star article recently observed that a common method of reducing these costs is to photocopy entire textbooks. Although students often argue that this is the only way they can afford these books, this may not necessarily be the case as there are many internet businesses which may allow cost savings without breaking copyright law.
The primary rationale advanced by the students is that textbooks are becoming more and more expensive, and that absent such copying, students would be forced to eat ‘spaghetti for dinner every night’. (As a student, I can certainly empathize with such a position. However, I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve also heard on more than one occasion that “college students seem to always find money for beer”.)
Additionally, it is lamented that publishers take advantage of students by releasing new editions with miniscule changes so that students are forced to buy new texts instead of using older editions available on the used-book market.
Regardless of the rationales, it seems most are willing to admit that the act of piracy itself is illegal or is somehow wrong.
How then can students legally reduce their textbook costs in the face of an annual 6 per cent increase in textbook prices? Posted about a year ago, one blogger outlined 3 websites that help students save money by attempting to change the status quo with respect to how textbooks are currently distributed. Briefly, they are as follows:
Textbookrevolution.org aims to pull together free educational materials and convince teachers and professors to use them.
Campusbooks.com provides an Expedia-like comparison shopping experience to help students to find the lowest price for commonly required texts.
Chegg.com provides a textbook rental service.
Since the Internet is a more effective and inexpensive publishing medium, a further possibility is connecting authors directly with students to cut out the expenses of printing and distribution.
These examples demonstrate the many ways that the Internet can help to legally address the rising costs of textbooks. These solutions will likely not completely erase the economic benefit of piracy to the student, but they may help reduce costs to a point where piracy is not resorted to.