Free text books, good idea?

I wonder sometimes why text books are so darn expensive. I mean my girlfriend just spent 1400 dollars on her books for one simester. My Chemistry book was 200 dollars. Now I know that publishers take risks, and need to make money but 200 a book is a little steep!

I look online at books for calculus, there are the Mcgraw Hill books for 150 – 200 dollars or calculus for dummies for 25. I am pretty sure they are the same content, and both have to make money, but why is calculus for dumies, ( a perhaps better learning resource) so much cheaper. This goes further than this example if you go on amazon there are some books on thermodynamics which are 10 dollars, while the McGraw Hill versions are at least 100.

Well anyway, here are exerpts from an article from the nytimes written by Coam Cohen. He compares the text book industry to the drug industry and states that unlike the drug industry where researches dont have much leaverage against pharmaceutical companies, professeurs can do something about text book prices. He follows a proffeseur, or multiple professuers, who are starting to take action against these publishers.

“SQUINT hard, and textbook publishers can look a lot like drug makers. They both make money from doing obvious good — healing, educating — and they both have customers who may be willing to sacrifice their last pennies to buy what these companies are selling.

It is that fact that can suddenly turn the good guys into bad guys, especially when the prices they charge are compared with generic drugs or ordinary books. A final similarity, in the words of R. Preston McAfee, an economics professor at Cal Tech, is that both textbook publishers and drug makers benefit from the problem of “moral hazards” — that is, the doctor who prescribes medication and the professor who requires a textbook don’t have to bear the cost and thus usually don’t think twice about it.

“The person who pays for the book, the parent or the student, doesn’t choose it,” he said. “There is this sort of creep. It’s always O.K. to add $5.”

“In protest of what he says are textbooks’ intolerably high prices — and the dumbing down of their content to appeal to the widest possible market — Professor McAfee has put his introductory economics textbook online free. He says he most likely could have earned a $100,000 advance on the book had he gone the traditional publishing route, and it would have had a list price approaching $200.”

(great newspaper, free website!!! you can register with them for free too!!!)