Monday, October 11, 2010

Freelancer And Publisher

College professors have long been in the habit of creating their own course textbook and then charging their students a small fortune to purchase it.

The professor gets a small cut of the action. After all, he or she went to all the trouble of pulling the material together, compiling information and charts and illustrations, so they're entitled to be reimbursed for their labors. In essence, they act as freelancers and like freelancers they don't get much in return.

In the past, the university had to send the manuscript off to the copy department to be bound and collated, adding another expense that the student had to cover through their book fees.

It is now so much easier, but possibly not less expensive.

McGraw-Hill's higher education unit offers university teachers the opportunity to compile a course text through McGraw-Hill's database. The instructor has access to all of the publisher's textbooks, along with countless articles that are accessed via the publisher's special search engine.

Point and click. An article here, a chapter from an existing textbook there, and the specialized copy is created. McGraw-Hill then whips up an e-book for the teacher to peruse and approve, and once the galleys have passed muster, McGraw-Hill prints to order.

If it sounds like vanity publishing, it is.

The difference here is that the professor is compiling a book that fits a very tiny niche. Never would McGraw-Hill use the traditional publishing platform because they'd lose a fortune on such a small run. However, printing on demand makes plenty of sense.

It also means that McGraw-Hill doesn't lose those hundreds of little bits of market share. By using modern POD technology, they can make money in an area that used to be a loser for them.

The university no longer has to tie up their printing department to crank out the myriad special texts required, and the instructors have the ease of use that McGraw-Hill has built into their system. The student has the option of purchasing an e-book, which is more efficiently produced by McGraw-Hill than the school itself, particularly if it's a small, two-year college with a limited budget.

And the student?

As always, they pay the going rate for their books and if McGraw-Hill has to earn their fare share, it means the student will pay a premium over what was once a fairly cheap enterprise in which the university wanted to cover their costs and not turn a profit.

The most popular students on campus may end up being the computer geeks. Anyone who can get hack into the system and download expensive e-books for free may find their skills in demand.

Students, as ever, are always looking for a way to economize.


Clarissa said...

I've been compiling textbooks for my courses for several years now. Never - not once - did I get a dime for doing that. The course-packs are expensive but that is not the professor's fault.

You need to check your sources before you make such blanket accusations without a shred of proof. I find this post to be offensive to me and all my colleagues who work their asses off to compile texts for students and never get a dime in compensation.

O hAnnrachainn said...

I've had professors who compiled textbooks for courses which were then used by other professors. For that, they received royalties on sales, the same as any other author.

You obviously aren't happy about doing all the work of preparing a textbook for free, but why do you do it, so?

Does your university feel that you're compensated enough via your regular salary? Is compiling textbooks part of the job description as far as your superiors are concerned?

I suspect you're dedicated to your profession. Ah, the things we do for love.

Perhaps you tolerate it because the university prices the book so that costs are recouped. Would you be troubled to be an unpaid freelancer if McGraw-Hill did the publishing at a profit to themselves?