It’s as bad as that and worse.

September 17th, 2012

Update: Worser and worser. It’s turtles all the way down.

In my recent post, I told the story of students reacting to an expensive and lacking new textbook and the school assuring them that the textbook is really quite reasonable. I was almost ready to chalk it up as a misunderstanding.

That is, until I saw the preview chapters. What an unmitigated sham of a travesty of a mockery of a hand-drawn-facsmile of a textbook. Scratch that, a hand-drawn-facsimile would be a step up.

For the purposes of review and criticism, here is a single example page from this ridiculous excuse for an Art History textbook costing $180 (+ tax = 203.40).

click to enlarge

Notice there are callouts from the bottom image-placeholder. When the student gets home from trying to study the book on the subway, they’ll have to type in the url and approximate in their mind where the callout is pointing to in the online picture.

Wow. I really thought it couldn’t be this bad.

I am really interested to see what sort of attempt OCAD University makes to clean up this toxic spill.

Can anyone send me a photo of one of the actual pages of the printed book?

15 comments to “It’s as bad as that and worse.”

  1. “Interested to see what sort of attempt OCAD University makes to clean up this toxic spill?”

    Really? That’s pathetic.
    You’re looking for blood and not really looking at the issue over here. Get over a $180 textbook over which the professors have no control on the copyright issues of the images. Licensing fees are required for most images, and these text books are photocopied using various other textbooks..I guess you would prefer the student buy 3 separate textbooks from which they only have to read excerpts.

  2. Perhaps it wasn’t clear from my two blog posts. Please accept my apologies.

    This textbook was commissioned by OCAD for this particular course in conjunction with Pearson, who some have said are also directly or indirectly connected to the two texts from which the images are referenced. Copyright issues would seem to be not so much out of their control as you assume.

    These textbooks are not photocopied, they are hardcover bound editions.

    Yes I would prefer students to get separate editions which would have residual value (for resale or reuse) beyond the school *term*. We’re not even talking a year here.

  3. I would be upset too!! I still hold on to my art school books from college and I have been in the book publishing industry as a designer for over 20 years. I get that it is a custom edition, though being a visual subject matter, selling a book sans images is absurd. It is very sad that making a buck comes at the expense of student.

  4. This book should never have gone to print. It should be a website. It is a website … but printed on paper. Bizarre … totally bizarre.

  5. “Copyright issues would seem to be not so much out of their control as you assume”

    This comment is totally misleading and incorrect.

    Every publisher must pay for and properly license copyright images for EVERY product they use them in. Meaning if I license a photo for Book A and I want to use it again in Book B, I will pay for TWO copyright licenses. One photo can cost upwards of $500 to republish so assuming an art book has hundreds of photos you can do the math…

    It was just a poor decision on the part of OCAD to go with a custom version (which all the images would require a new license for) instead of just assigning an already published text or two which cover the course curriculum.

    Then again if you buy a textbook and only use three chapters from it the students will complain about that too. Can’t win either way.

  6. Having done three degrees in three different universities, I have come across many bullshit, self-important course titles and curricula that read as utter nonsense to most sensible people.

    Whilst art history may be culturally important, it surprises me that in these days of thrift we still see people paying extortionate amounts of money to do courses that have a strong track record of failing to put graduates into jobs that have any chance of even covering the education loans. My wife did an MSc in “International Development”, only to discover that jobs are essentially lifelong internships and the volunteer roles only accessible to girls with rich fathers.

  7. PF is right. Behind this madness almost certainly lies a licensing issue. Those who published the original books from which this student reader is extracted, must have only purchased the rights for their own edition and not for any later collections. That’s common in photo licensing. Don’t buy any more rights than you need is the rule.

    Of course, those legal technicalities don’t change the fact that a $180 art history book without any pictures of the art being discussed is absurd. That’s far too much money for texts and empty boxes.

    What art schools should do is create public domain or Creative Commons licensed pictures of as much historically important art as possible. Instructors could use those pictures in their course materials without fear of legal action. If enough competitive pressures develop, publishers who use those pictures instead of commercial ones would be forced to pass along their savings.

    Believe it or not, when I was in college during the late 1960s, textbooks were reasonably priced and kept for courses long enough students that could get used copies even more cheaply. It’s only in the last two decades ago that textbooks have become a racket, overpriced and too-frequently revised.

    One reason for that is the same reason that tuition costs have been rising twice as fast as inflation and more. An unintended consequence of easy-to-get student loans is that it became possible to inflate the cost of a college education. When I went to college, you paid the costs as you went by:

    1. Working at part-time jobs and summers

    2. Money saved up by your parents

    3. Money your parents managed to scrimp up by doing without.

    As a result, very few of the people I graduated college with in 1972 left with any significant school debts. Schools knew that, if they wanted students, they needed to keep costs manageable under this pay-as-you-go scheme.

    Now in this country’s debt load from school exceed all credit card debt combined. All that seemingly ‘free money’ during the student years ends up imposing a heavy costs on graduates, particularly current graduates entering our dismal economy. Any other group would have gotten mad and demanded changes long ago but because the pain is separated by several years from the fun, students and recent grads are doing little.

    All that ‘free money’ has led to these very pricy, constantly changing textbooks.

  8. Thanks for that insight, Michael (and the clarification, PF). I agree that the licensing rights when applied to a limited-run publication become far too much of an overhead to make it viable.

    The answer in this case should not be to cripple the publication, add complexity and inconvenience to the student’s use of it, and offload the cost of the compromise to the students, it should be to abandon that well-intentioned but flawed plan of action and seek one out that solves more issues than it creates.

  9. Licensing issues?? This is a textbook dealing with art up to 1800. These images should all be public domain. What am I missing?

  10. Part of the problem is trying to mix art and design education in one course. You have to teach design separately because it raises very different issues. Or get a Visual Culture text and work from that, and forget the disciplinary surveys and memorizing canonical works, which is possibly as relevant as memorizing the Greek orders (or using them in your designs). Someone tried to do too much and the result was far less than the sum of its parts.

  11. I guess I’m confused. What you’ve displayed is a galley page (that is, an unfinished, not- yet-published work in progress), as evidenced by the oversized page with crop marks and typesetting metadata, and the Pearson watermark across the page. I’m not defending anyone, but that doesn’t represent a page out of a published book. Maybe I’m just misunderstanding the situation?

  12. Good point, Carol. As it happens I have a photo of the actual book that shows it’s no different.

  13. Thanks for the photo! Wow.

  14. OMG! Theese copyrighted idiots have gone too far. Hey people, what do you think if put theese maniacs to jail?

  15. Your school/professor/whatever is lying if they claim there is no way for a student to have a book with full color pictures. Someone is either greedy or incompetent or just doesn’t care about the students. There are plenty of very good, affordable textbooks on the market.

    The argument about three textbooks being worse than one bad textbook – would that be three textbooks that each cost $180 and are deliberately arranged so as not to be available used (or able to be resold later)?

    But textbooks are very profitable, and students are a trapped market. (For some reason, we don’t call it gouging when it’s done in the name of Education…)