Textbook piracy has arrived

By Staff Editorial

You knew it was coming. Just as illegal music downloading began years ago, so has illegal textbook downloading. One such Web site that provides this service is the aptly-named Textbook Torrents, which supplies reportedly more than 5,000 different textbooks in digital PDF format. Just like any other torrent, the books can be downloaded for free, albeit illegally.

But as piracy of textbooks brings a small tear to the Editorial Board’s eye, it’s the publishing company’s response that makes us sick.

When the situation worsens to the level of music piracy, some scholars have reported that companies are willing to go as far as release new versions of books every single semester, changing only miniscule portions that go unnoticed.

Although the Editorial Board does not promote stealing, we fail to see any good that could come out of a decision like this. There are too many factors at play here that could send the industry into a direction neither students nor the publishing companies can afford.

First of all, any business decision that puts an increased burden on consumers will fail to discourage piracy. The textbook industry should take a few pointers from the music industry before any rash decisions are made – the situation isn’t much different here.

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Consumers are simply fed up with paying exasperating amounts of money for textbooks they may use a handful of times or possibly not at all, much as they were with paying $17 for a CD that includes three worthwhile tracks.

Wrong or not, students can’t handle participating in a market in which it appears there are no alternatives to high prices for seldom-used products. Although buying used books online provides a viable option, it’s quite easy to see why any normal college student would be tempted by something that’s both free and more accessible, thanks to the digital format.

It’s just like the music industry; when illegal online sources like Napster popped up, they didn’t just provide free music, they gave people a choice in what they wanted.

If anything, we see textbook piracy only increasing if the publishing companies head down the road of changing their materials more often. The constant republishing and high prices have pushed consumers towards illegal activity already, we can only imagine the results if these steps are taken.

If versions get changed more often, bookstores won’t buy back last semester’s textbooks. The prospect of losing even more money on books might push even more people towards piracy.

The textbook brain trust should sit down and hash out a long-term plan of attack against online piracy.

If webmasters can upload PDFs of books, there is no reason why the companies couldn’t do the same. Why not provide digital formats of books at a slightly discounted price?

Even better, they could create an online store that sells the most popular books by chapter or section, much like iTunes and others have done with music.

If the textbook companies have their way, things could get much worse for students. However, there are solutions that could keep prices down and everyone happy. Because no one wants the pirates to win.