Linkage

The Voice of the T announcements (h/t Erin). Features a special guest appearance by not-me.

Videos from the 2010 Kailath Lecture and Colloquium have been posted (h/t Pulkit Grover).

The Supreme Court issued a 4-4 per curiam decision affirming (pdf) the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision in Costco vs. Omega. Basically Omega sells its watches cheaper abroad, and Costco was re-importing them from a reseller to give the discount to US customers. This was a copyright violation, says Omega, and the Ninth Circuit reverse the lower court decision in favor of Costco. Why does this matter? As I mentioned earlier, a decision for Costco would let resellers sell cheap textbooks in the US. When I was in Delhi I picked up a copy of Feller Vol. 1 (the Vol. 2 was a little beat up so I decided to get it another time) for Rs. 400 (under 10 bucks), a savings of over $120 from the price on Amazon. Admittedly, it’s softcover and the paper is not quite as nice, but the way publishers gouge people on technical books is astonishing.

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6 thoughts on “Linkage

  1. I agree. But also I think this will induce what has happened in Brasil: the death of various local industries, and establishment of retrograde taxes that do not help bringing back those industries…

    This is a very complex issue: what is the consequence of resellers who get the product made somewhere else to some other standards when selling to the american market? How many jobs does it in fact cost? Are these jobs we should desire?

    Of course, this is no defense of the lame textbook sellers in the US. They don’t offer much in terms of additional quality, but the price is higher in the US than even in Brazil…! For that, I would say authors should favor editors who offer products at honest prices. And maybe consider the place where the book is made etc in this equation.

    • I don’t think allowing blanket re-importation is going to lead to good things for India (or Brazil). But I think there’s a flaw in the business model that relies so heavily on structural barriers in the market.

      Say a textbook is developed in the US, and so the cost of development is quite high — of course publishers need to recoup those costs, and if they can differentially price things so that India can get cheaper books, so be it. The cost of printing is cheaper there anyway, so the per-unit cost is lower. However, that doesn’t pay for the initial development costs.

      Like you said, we should think about where the book is made, and how big the markets are.

  2. Your discussion, and the discussion on InsideHigherEd, both seem to focus on the effects on US students of keeping textbook prices high. However, it seems plausible to me that the larger effect might actually be to keep textbook prices in India low. If the re-importation were allowed, then the publisher wouldn’t be able to price the books so differently in the different markets. But rather than lowering the prices in the developed world, it seems likely that they would just raise the prices in the developing world, or stop selling there entirely. Of course, that depends on how much of their profit derives from each market – leveling prices down would cut profits from the US and leveling prices up would cut profits from India.

    • I’m more concerned with availability — Feller is essentially out of print in the US. The demand is pretty low. Feller is dead. In this case, charging $132 in the US and $10 in India seems crazy to me — they should charge $10 everywhere and just sell the Indian edition. People are not going to flock to adopt Feller as a textbook in undergraduate classes, so the big bucks are not there. That’s a case of gouging pure and simple.

      For textbooks in current use in both markets, it’s definitely more complicated, and I don’t think a solution which drives up costs in India is good, obviously.

    • A larger point : there are textbooks and there are textbooks. For some books, the cost of development is much higher for the publisher than for others (in terms of content, editing, marketing, etc.) For those, differential pricing allows US students to subsidize Indian students by making them shoulder more of these development costs. For other textbooks this may make less sense.

      Another point: these books are not the same. My edition of Feller has cheaper binding, is softcover, and has thinner paper. Publishers could still charge the same markup on a less-fancy edition in the US, but they do not.

  3. My Prof told me that his book on VLSI testing costs $5 to produce. That information was provided by his publisher, Morgan Kaufman. But it sells for around $100!

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