Charity Won't Contain This Secondary Market

Each year I receive about 10 introductory economics textbooks from publishers. The purpose is to induce me to adopt the book in my 500-student principles class. Many years ago the books I received typical copies, same as the students would buy. Book-buyers came around seeking to buy my unused copies, but I never sold them. Others obviously did, because the publishers started stamping “Complimentary copy” on these freebies. One publisher even has my name printed on the copy I received. The purpose of all this is to prevent an increased supply in the secondary book market from competing with the supply of new books. I received a text today that had stamped, “…please return it to XX and we will donate $1 to [a charity]….”

Heartwarming—but it requires me to spend time addressing an envelope, and spend the University’s money on mailing costs. I DON’T THINK SO, despite the worthiness of the cause and my desire to protect authors’ royalties. Publishers will have to do something better than this to cut supply in the secondary market.

Jason S

This reminds me of a study I had to do for Grad school on DeBeers. DeBeers wanted to run the diamond industry by ruling the supply side but they found that it wasn't working anymore. Much the same way that I think textbook companies are finding that copies such as this and the international copies that you get for $20. Now DeBeers decided to go about it in a different way and stop controlling diamonds only from the supply side and now they make more money than ever with a smaller share of the market. I guess I am wondering if companies like this will one day realize that charging people $200 for a book that will be rewritten in a year or two, by moving chapter 3 to chapter 4 most likely, is a dumb move that just creates more incentive to find alternative means of getting the books we need.
Most students I know either buy from another student at a rate around where they could sell the book to a bookstore or what I do more often is use the previous version since they are almost always exactly the same.


Nuclear Mom

A book is a book for the contents. I can't imagine that your name stamped on a book would make me recoil from a 90% discount off the cover price. I'd happily cart around a "complimentary copy for Daniel Hamermesh" if it meant I only paid $20.

But then, I buy used cars too.


Economists must be the most important people on the world. They can never lose their time with things like charity.


If you frequent public libraries you could donate it there for free! (And the publisher would get additional exposure.)


I wonder what these publishers will do when (not if) they come across pirated copies of their textbooks with such identifying marks on the freshly photocopied pages.

The whole idea of publishing is that you get information out there and you make it available to the people that want to buy it. you can decrease supply to increase value, but if you tip the scales the wrong way alternate supplies are always found, and the key thing about piracy is that it is not theft- theft is considered morally wrong because after you've taken something, the person you stole from doesn't have it anymore. Piracy is not theft: if you pirate a product, you are making it more available than it was before, not less.

Imad Qureshi

You know I bought a used business law book from and it had the same thing written. Please return it to "XX" (Publisher of course) and we'll donate $1 to "Y" charity. One dollar???? I already had enough reasons to hate publishers. I think the person who came up with this idea of donating $1 should be fired. If its about $20 or more then it makes sense. I paid about $100 for the book (used). After the semester I sold it on amazon for $85. Amazon made a lot more than one dollar on these two transactions (from the person who sold me and later when I sold it)


Seriously, 10 introductory economics books every year? How much can the introductory stuff change from year to year? How much does it change from decade to decade.


I'm also shocked they thought $1 to charity would be worth the effort. I'm quite ceratin shipping would be more than $1. I also agree the "complimentary copy" is hardly a deterrent.

I guess one question is why give you 10 copies? You only need one to evaluate the text... it seems they wouldn't give you 9 extra unless they wanted you to spread them around.


Shipping a heavy textbook will certainly cost much more than $1, so if someone wants to benefit a charity, they could just directly donate the cost of shipping the book, and keep the book.


If they enclosed a self-addressed and stamped envelope, and donated $10 instead of $1, I expect they would see a marked increase in returns. But on $200 books, offering to donate $1 makes me think they're cheap bastards, not that they actually want to contribute to charity.

I'd hope you put these books into the library, or your library available to students who cannot afford the ridiculous cost of text books.

science minded

Here's my problem with these books offered for Intro, classes. How much do they really represent the field or are one person's ideological position writ large. So- some time ago, I wrote my own aimed at really organizing my field. Students are required to reach my book along with specific readings. this has been my approach to teaching an introductory course ever since. I always try something new. This semester, students are working on thinking through problems in collaboration. They seem to like the approach and are engaged. But publshers are definately hurting- one told me so just yesterday whilst letting me know that his company is not publishing new books these days.

Now just think- if there were a reason for authors across the fields of science to rewrite their books and therefore for schools and for students to buy new books, there's alot of money to be made across the board. Just thinking about a possible future. But just thinking for now. The question then would be the cost. For one thing, I don't think publishers would need to revise their books as often - once there is agreement re shared paradigm. Books would build upon each other. Hence, the price of a single book would probanly have to be somewhat higher in intro courses such as biology, chemistry, anthropology, sociology, physics, astronomy, computer science etc. ..... New ideas and new research findings would be valued at a higher premium. So I would expect more money to be poured into research. I could go on and on with this just from a publishing and research standpoint.

From a teaching standpoint, sweeping changes would have to be made and they would ease the process of understanding the sciences (including math). And coordination will be imperative. So more books and more jobs and more knowledgeable teachers and thus more educational requirements and retraining

then there is the technology side. .....
Had not thought about this before and I do like the question..


Pat Conners

I bet those books teach that increased supply provide lower prices in the market.

Whereas some professors think it is bad to sell complimentary copies, why do they think increasing supply (and lowering prices) is bad?

If your hang up receiving money, donate the proceeds -- perhaps to a scholarship fund.

I often receive numerous courtesy copies as well. Sometimes I'll get three copies of the same book for a class that I don't even teach. If I choose not to use it and not to sell it, who is benefiting?

Furthermore, suppose you received a $20 bill in the mail that you didn't ask for. Wouldn't you keep it? Or would you just feel wrong and put it on a shelf and protect America's money supply?

Plus, why do you feel the need to serve as a protector for the royalties of authors. They don't reciprocate the protection to your students' budgets when the books receive minor changes and are labeled as a new edition. I see this joke year after year.

Put the books in the market and lower the place where supply and demand meet. I mean, that's basic economics isn't it?



So, returning a book you received for free, on the university's dime, costing you only the time required to address an envelope, is not worth the (albeit small amount of) money donated to charity and the increased protection over the author's intellectual property rights and royalties? Good to know. I hope the companies put you on their "Do Not Mail" list.

ray bans on my face

It would be nice to see some proof as to whether or not the publisher actually donates money to a charity.

Just curious....


Some textbook publishers now send online links to browse books that a prof may want to assign. These are no substitute for actually flipping through a book (or multiple books side-by-side), so I never use those. They will stop those titles from being resold into the secondary market, but I predict that they will sell fewer new ones too, because profs will end up reviewing and assigning them.


"increased protection over the author's intellectual property rights"

That's rich. How come there are publishers who won't relinquish the rights to a work when it goes out of print?

Going back on topic: I have books that apparently were complimentary copies of some reviewing professor, which i bought from a used-book store (I'm a grad student on a shoestring :P ), and personally I'm more interested in the content than the fact that it was pre-owned by Prof. So-and-so.

What indeed is deplorable is that more often than not, diffing* consecutive editions shows that the "edits" are more often than not "transpositions", as well as additional pretty pics that don't add much. Sigh...

* - I use "diff" in the sens of the Unix utility:


The $1 fee isn't a joke, but just another way of reminding professors they aren't supposed to give away the freebies.

I can't believe anybody would be so stupid as to use college resources to ship back the books -- and trust the publishers to be giving $1 to charity.

econ roxx

Im a professor at a small college and I sell all of my complimentary copies on amazon. I feel absolutely no guilt about it.


Econ Roxx-

It must be nice to be able to steal and not feel guilty about it.


BSK & others-

Tell that to the publishing companies that charge students $200+ for a book they've barely changed in the last ten years and will only use one, maybe two, semesters.

Who's really loosing out?

Oh yeah. The students.