Thursday, May 02, 2013

Course Textbooks

Four years ago, students the introductory anthropology course I teach, ANTH1010 Humans and Culture, said that they would have preferred having a textbook rather than individual weekly readings. So I've used a textbook the past few times I've taught the course. The book I've used, by Haviland, is a bit "textbooky"; it now has four co-authors and looks like it was written by committee. It touches on all the main topics, but to fit it all in, it says very little about everything so seems to make little sense.

I've been looking for and alternative, so was happy to receive a review copy of Cultural Anthropology by Serena Nanda and Rchard L. Warms (11th edition). It seems more coherent, and to have a more consistent political economy theme. The publisher Cengage can make that book available in an International Edition here for HK$307 (about US$44).

I was shocked to see that the book sells on Amazon in the US for US$183.49. One of the comments on the Amazon site says:
This is a perfectly fine cultural anthropology textbook. It is well-organized and reasonably well-written

The problem with this book as that that it is extremely overpriced. The issue is that editions 9E, 8E, 7E,... are equally good. They publish a new edition with an inflated price ($150) every year and the differences in editions are negligible, The publisher and the authors (Nanda and Warms) should be ashamed of themselves.
 This is actually a good point. How can a textbook cost that much? Is anthropology really advancing that rapidly that we need new editions every 3 years?

The international edition has cheaper paper (both thinner and a bit more grey), but that does make it more portable. But even at HK$307, few students will buy the book. Last time I taught the course, I think only about 10 students in a class of 50 or so bought the book (the rest copy it from the library copy). 

I looked at using a different book, but it does not come in an "international edition" so the publisher would not even tell me what the price would be. I guess the sales rep was too embarrassed.  So perhaps publishers do have some shame after all.

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