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Textbooks, a bite at a time? October 11, 2006

Posted by Michael Sensiba in Publishing, Textbooks.
1 comment so far

At the beginning of the semester, I saw a flyer in the parking garage elevator for iChapters.com (http://www.ichapters.com).  This sounded to me like a new way to tackle the textbook cost hurdle, so I checked into it.  iChapters.com is an endeavor of Thomson Publishing.  It offers traditional print textbooks for sale, as well as ebooks and individual chapters of textbooks.  I used a book I bought for Criminal Justice as an example.  The book, Research Methods for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Fourth Edition, by Michael G. Maxfield & Earl Babbie, cost me $106.35 (plus $16.48 shipping and handling) from Amazon.com in September of 2005.  It included a “Free” Research Writer CD-ROM and 4 months access to InfoTrac College Edition.  Today, iChapters.com offers the printed book for $85.49, the ebook for $45.49, and the chapters for $6.49 each (the table of contents and chapter 1 are free with registration, so buying chapter-by-chapter would cost $77.88).

What’s going on here?  First of all, electronic materials are delivered as PDFs with DRM enabled, requiring the user to download a special reader to a single computer (files are portable, but the must be “checked in” and “checked out” in order to be moved to another computer.  The DRM generally allows access to the material for 180 days, so there is no “sell-back” value.  Also, the “Free” add-ons appear to be stripped out, and available for purchase separately.  Since many students don’t use these anyway, this could be a real savings.  This service is available for MS Windows only at this time.  One (and only one) print copy is permitted of each page.

For students with access to a personal computer (I don’t think this would work well with lab computers due to the DRM), iChapters may be an affordable and attractive alternative method for purchasing their textbooks.  In addition, courses in which only certain chapters in a book are assigned may be good candidates for the chapter-purchase method.  The iChapters concept could also be a good alternative for the student who has already purchased the book, but doesn’t have it in his/her hot little hands when a required reading is due for tonight’s class period.