College Textbooks Could Get a Lot Cheaper in the Future

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iStock

The cost of college tuition continues to soar and national student loan debt tops $1.5 trillion, but here’s a small consolation for degree-seekers: The cost of academic textbooks could start coming down, according to an article by professors Jenny Adams and Michael Ash for The Conversation.

The price of new textbooks has tripled since 1982, even though the cost of “recreational books” has fallen by nearly 40 percent in roughly the same time span (and yes, inflation was taken into account). So why are textbooks so expensive? As it turns out, technology has partly contributed to the problem. A small number of publishers monopolize the textbook industry, and new technological platforms have allowed them to release new editions more quickly and more frequently, rendering used editions obsolete. Newer electronic books also tend to come with doodads like access codes, which prohibit sharing.

Hope is on the horizon, though, because the textbook industry appears to be in a state of flux. For one, many students have discovered that they can find older versions of the textbooks they need in PDF format on websites like 4shared.com. And even though there are restrictions on sharing materials, many students do it anyway—and some professors have even started posting free content on course websites.

Other students have figured out that textbooks are priced differently in different global markets, and have hacked the system by ordering textbooks from locations where they’re sold at cheaper prices. As an example, The Conversation cites the textbook Economics by Paul Samuelson and William Nordhaus, which sells for about $206 on Amazon and roughly $6 in India.

This, of course, is not sustainable for the textbook industry—and at various points in history, schools have been forced to take action to provide their students free or affordable access to information. In medieval times, for example, some manuscripts were priced at six and a half pounds (between $10,000 and $100,000 in today's money), and were often used as collateral for loans. Universities eventually introduced the pecia system (after the Latin for "piece"), in which stationers kept copies of textbooks and scribes were hired out to copy only the selections students needed for classes. And in the 16th century, after the printing press had been introduced, book prices started to drop. Adams and Ash believe that history may repeat itself once again.

Nowadays, many universities are already using more open-source textbooks written by faculty, and some experts have proposed alternatives, like publicly funded textbooks that would be available to all, or using their massive buying power to hold down prices.

So while students may have to continue being resourceful for a little while longer, it's likely that future students “might enjoy more regulated and lower textbook prices than this current generation,” The Conversation argues.

[h/t The Conversation]

Lost Sketches From The Little Prince Have Been Discovered in Switzerland

Oleksandr Samolyk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Oleksandr Samolyk, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

French aviator and author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, published in 1943, has long been regarded as one of the most compelling books of the 20th century. Drawing upon Saint-Exupéry's own experiences in aviation, the book tells the tale of a pilot who crashes in the Sahara and befriends a little boy who claims to have come from outer space. The book is accompanied by a number of illustrations by Saint-Exupéry. Now, Smithsonian reports that some of the original preparatory sketches have surfaced.

According to France24.com, the sketches—of the titular Little Prince chatting with a fox, a boa constrictor devouring an elephant, and a character called the Tippler—were purchased at auction in 1986 by an art collector named Bruno Stefanini, who tucked them away in a folder. When Stefanini passed away in December 2018, the artwork—drawn on airmail paper—was uncovered by workers at his non-profit Foundation for Art, Culture, and History in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Aviator and 'The Little Prince' author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is photographed inside of an airplane cockpit in 1935
Aviator and The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry in 1935.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The organization intends to share its findings with the Morgan Library and Museum in New York, which currently houses the original book manuscript (including drafts of the book's most famous phrase, "What is essential is invisible to the eye") and 35 other sketches.

The Stefanini collection also includes a particularly personal piece of material. One of the sketches includes a love letter made out to Saint-Exupéry's wife while the pilot was in New York in 1942 following Germany’s invasion of France. It was there he wrote The Little Prince, which was published the following year. In 1944, Saint-Exupéry was shot down by a German pilot over the Mediterranean.

[h/t Smithsonian]

George R.R. Martin Doesn't Think Game of Thrones Was 'Very Good' For His Writing Process

Kevin Winter, Getty Images
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

No one seems to have escaped the fan fury over the finals season of Game of Thrones. While likely no one got it quite as bad as showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, even author George R.R. Martin—who wrote A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the show is based, faced backlash surrounding the HBO hit. The volatile reaction from fans has apparently taken a toll on both Martin's writing and personal life.

In an interview with The Guardian, the acclaimed author said he's sticking with his original plan for the last two books, explaining that the show will not impact them. “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself,” he stated.

He went on to explain how even his personal life has taken a negative turn because of the show. “I can’t go into a bookstore any more, and that used to be my favorite thing to do in the world,” Martin said. “To go in and wander from stack to stack, take down some books, read a little, leave with a big stack of things I’d never heard of when I came in. Now when I go to a bookstore, I get recognized within 10 minutes and there’s a crowd around me. So you gain a lot but you also lose things.”

While fans of the book series are fully aware of the author's struggle to finish the final two installments, The Winds of Winter and A Dream of Spring, Martin admitted that part of the delay has been a result of the HBO series, and fans' reaction to it.

“I don’t think [the series] was very good for me,” Martin said. “The very thing that should have speeded me up actually slowed me down. Every day I sat down to write and even if I had a good day … I’d feel terrible because I’d be thinking: ‘My God, I have to finish the book. I’ve only written four pages when I should have written 40.'"

Still, Martin has sworn that the books will get finished ... he just won't promise when.

[h/t The Guardian]

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