Library, faculty authors navigate complicated textbook industry

High textbook costs have problematized the process for professors to publish books and for the college to distribute textbooks. In response to these difficulties, Milne Library has considered ways to skirt around potentially burdensome costs.

The library runs various programs to help faculty publish and license their own works, while trying to avoid the high costs associated with external publishing companies, including Minerva Press, Milne’s publishing service, and SUNY Open Educational Resources, according to Digital Publishing Services Manager Allison Brown. 

“We got a grant from the state: Innovative Instruction Technology grant … that we could offer to pay faculty for their work and so we opened a call for proposals for any faculty all of over the state of New York,” Brown said. “They could post their texts and we worked with all the libraries in the SUNY system to choose what textbooks we would publish.” 

The library has assisted in the publication of nearly 20 textbooks, with three currently in the process of being released. One book published last year was from a Geneseo faculty member, associate professor of anthropology Barbara Welker’s The History of Our Tribe: Hominini, and another book is currently in the process of being produced by associate professor of physics James McLean, according to Brown. 

The high costs of textbooks can be attributed to the monopolization of the textbook industry, controlled by five main publishers, that can drive up market prices due to the necessity of textbooks for college students, according to federal higher education advocate Ethan Senack in a 2015 Business Insider article. The prices of textbooks also increase as a result of the release of newer editions every few years, according to Senack. 

Distinguished professor of history Michael Oberg recently authored a revised second edition of his book, Native America: A History. Oberg estimates he only receives around ten percent of the book’s earnings. 

“All of us faculty members recognize that textbook costs are high … we’re open to and we’re looking for ways to produce books that are less expensive,” Oberg said. “None of us are getting rich, none of us are getting really anything at all out of it, but I know money is being made.” 

Associate professor of psychology James Allen also published The Psychology of Happiness in the Modern World: A Social Psychological Approach with the Springer Publishing Company in the summer of 2017. 

“I couldn’t find a textbook that covered the areas that I wanted to, so I started thinking about what a textbook would look like,” Allen said. “The amount of work that it takes to put a textbook together … if authors were in this to make money, there would be a lot of other ways to make money.” 

Milne Library received a total of $4 million in funding from the governor’s office as part of the Excelsior Scholarship program, according to Brown. The extra money is meant to be allocated toward subsidizing the high costs of textbooks for students and promoting open and easy access to textbook material for faculty and students to use.

“Tuition is only part of the cost of education,” Brown said. “We coordinate support services for that out of our office so we’ve been running workshops for lots of different campuses to tell faculty about this, to help them find the right textbooks so they can use them in their classrooms and lower the costs of textbooks for their students.” 

The library helps facilitate the process of publishing for faculty, including peer reviewing and formatting, as well as Creative Commons licensing to help faculty be able to use these online and electronic textbook sources for instruction in the classroom, according to Brown. 

Open licensing helps authors copyright their own work, but also makes online content easier to access and use, Brown said. 

“We, as a library, just support open access publishing in terms [wanting] to support our faculty, so that there’s more scholarship and knowledge out in the world for anyone to benefit from,” Brown said.u

 Students examine the section of Milne Library dedicated to faculty authors (pictured above). Milne Library and faculty authors are trying to contend with the high costs of textbooks in the current oligopolistic system. (Annalee Bainnson/Photo Editor)

Students examine the section of Milne Library dedicated to faculty authors (pictured above). Milne Library and faculty authors are trying to contend with the high costs of textbooks in the current oligopolistic system. (Annalee Bainnson/Photo Editor)

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