Bookstores re-sell 'free' textbooks
What would you do if your newly purchased textbook had the words "Free Copy" written all over it?
Like many students, you may take the book back to the bookstore where you bought it and ask why you are paying money for a book that was originally issued for free.
However, textbooks the publisher has not been paid for continue to trickle onto campus. So-called "comp-copies" are given to professors without charge, for their personal use.
But the books are sometimes bought back by used book dealers who then sell the books across the country at the full wholesale price.
"This is piracy on the academic seas," declared French Professor John Rassias, who's book "Francais" has appeared in the Dartmouth Bookstore as a comp-copy. "This is outrageous," he said.
In recent years, the bookstore has made an effort to curb the number of comp-copies on their shelves. Dartmouth Bookstore Textbook Manager Ed Leavitt said that as a practice, the bookstore does not buy comp-copies.
"We don't want them bought back or sent to us, but unfortunately, these things do slip through the cracks," he said. "We ask our employees to take out the comp-copies. We try to weed them out."
On a regular basis, professors receive unsolicited copies of textbooks from publishers, Leavitt said. The publisher asks that the book not be sold, and that it be sent back if it would not be used. What the professors actually do with these textbooks is at their discretion, Leavitt said.
Though these copies may bear a sticker or be embossed in gold lettering indicating that the book is not to be sold, the books are bought up in hoards by dealers. These are the same copies that later emerge on the used book market.
The bookstore pays the same wholesale price as that of a normal used book, but neither the publisher or author are compensated for their work, Leavitt said.
"We've had professors come in with piles of comp-copies that they want to sell back" and as a result are recycled as used books, he said.
Computer Science Professor Tom Cormen, co-author of "Introduction to Algorithms," the text used for Computer Science 25, sees the issue from both sides.
Cormen said there are free copies of his book around, and comp-copies have not posed a major problem.
"If they send it to me, then that's their problem," he said regarding the unsolicited books he receives. "But I've never sold [comp-copy] books to book buyers, and I never will."
Professors Rassias and Cormen are not the only faculty members miffed by this practice.
"A couple professors have approached us, and those books came immediately off the shelf," Leavitt said. "We don't want to create any bad will. We're here to service the students and the faculty."
Whit Spaulding, owner of Wheelock Books, says he has had no complaints, but he added that he would look into the problem if students or faculty did complain.
"We order copies of used books, and when we receive the books, a couple of them might say free on the inside," Spaulding said.
Some merchants are not as careful about comp-copies.
There are even used-book wholesalers who specialize in reselling comp-copies, Leavitt said. Dealers such as this will make the effort to carefully cover any part of the book that may indicate that it is a comp-copy, he said.
"I didn't know until after I bought it," Derek Chau '99 said of his Economics 26 "Financial Markets" textbook, which has the words "Free Copy" printed on several of the inner pages as well as on the back cover.
Comp-copies of the text, written and used by Dartmouth Economics Professor Meir Kohn, have circulated around campus.
Economics 26 student Luke Hart '99 said he assumed that because Kohn wrote the book, there was nothing wrong with the circulation of the comp-copies.
"I thought he had free copies because he was a professor here," Hart said.
The practice of selling comp-copies is "totally unethical, and I find it totally and completely unacceptable," Rassias said. "This is terrible. It's comparable to pirating software."
"It's pretty clear that these [books] aren't intended to be sold," Cormen said.