Thursday, February 4, 2010

Selling Books

One of the perks of being a college teacher is that publishers send out lots of books in the hope that us college teachers will adopt them for our classes. I dont' have to tell you that you get a lot of free books this way. The problem is that it is unusual for these books to be any good. Luckily, there is a small army of people who are willing to buy these books from us, and all we have to do is keep them in a stack until they come around. (I guess that, strictly speaking, we're supposed to return them to the publisher if we don't want them. Failure to do this unnecessarily increases the price of textbooks the students buy. Nevertheless, I have never considered doing this. Does anybody do this?)

The school I teach at has a policy against this sort of thing. It regards these book buyers as trespassers. In the event of a book buyer, the policy says I'm supposed to tell the person to leave campus. And then I'm supposed to call the police. So this morning, when this book buyer came to my office and offered me forty free dollars in exchange for books I didn't want or ask for, I had a choice. I could take the forty bucks, or I could call the cops.

Is this a common policy?

--Mr. Zero

25 comments:

zombie said...

Book buyers? That's news to me. I get a lot of books, and have occasionally had luck selling them on amazon.com, but in the last couple of years, the publishers have started sending professor's editions which are clearly marked and state right on the cover that they are not to be sold. I have occasionally sent these back if they arrive with the prepaid postage label. I have also occasionally been invoiced for books I did not request, did not want, and did not (for whatever reason) return. I ignore the invoices, but sometimes wonder if they will someday affect my credit rating.
I really don't see why I should go out of my way to return books I didn't ask for. It strikes me that this is a marketing cost that the publisher should eat. Pepsi doesn't ask me to pay for an advertisement that fails to convince me to buy Pepsi. I feel some obligation to return rejected review copies that I actually request.

Anonymous said...

We've had this discussion often -- the ethics of it are kind of clear-- you ought not sell a copy you've requested. IF a publisher sends you copies, then they are gifts and you can do what you'd like with them -- give them away or sell them.

I'm at a state school - and they have a policy that they've interpreted as prohibiting selling books. This bums me out -- I got $400 before the policy was clarified -- just by letting a dude look at my "unwanted" shelf. He had to bring back a bigger cart...

Our state system has decided that free textbooks are a perk of our job, thus selling them is unlawful profiting from our job -- in the same manner as taking a bribe/kickback...

Anonymous said...

We have book buyers show up as well. You can make quite a bit more just selling them yourself on half.com or amazon.com. As long as it is not a book I requested, I see no problems with selling books that the publisher has sent to me. They have given me this book (and I did not ask them to do so). I can do whatever I want with it.

Anonymous said...

I have also occasionally been invoiced for books I did not request, did not want, and did not (for whatever reason) return. I ignore the invoices, but sometimes wonder if they will someday affect my credit rating.

I don't know much about the rules for credit ratings, but it's a crime to ship something to someone that they did not request and then charge them for it- fraud, among other possibilities. If someone sends you something that you do not want and didn't request, they have made a gift to you and you may do with it what you want. You are under no obligation to not sell said items, even if they say "not for sale" on them, assuming you have no contractual relationship with the publishers (merely keeping the book can't form one.) This doesn't apply if you _request_ a review copy, but for unsolicited books it's the rule. (The book buyer police seems dumb and I don't know if its common or not. I've sold such books myself on Amazon, though it's a bit of a pain.)

Anonymous said...

I don't love publishers' tactics, especially the unnecessary production of new editions. (But, wait until my textbook goes into print; I'll change my attitude then!)

Still, while I feel badly for those book buyers, and they're nearly always sad and pathetic, I disapprove of their work, and do not sell to them. (And, btw, they happily buy those books with the 'do not sell' stuff all over them.)

Suggestion: give those books you don't want to interested students. I once worked in a department that sold the books and then used the money to fund awards for good students. I didn't like that policy, but it was better than what had been happening, which was that faculty were pocketing the money.

The perqs of being a philosophy teacher are that you get to think about philosophy all day instead of doing something repugnant and you get to teach really fun stuff to students and turn them on to it too.

I won't send unsolicited books back to the publishers, who don't want them anyway.

Continental Pissant said...

At the church-affiliated private university where I teach in south-central Kansas, two book buyers show up on a regular basis. One is from somewhere in East Texas, the other from Olathe in the KC metro area. Seems like a hard way to scrape by.

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between 1) unrequested copies of textbooks you don't want and 2) junk mail?

Mr. Zero said...

What's the difference between 1) unrequested copies of textbooks you don't want and 2) junk mail?

Nobody pays money for your old junk mail.

Anonymous said...

My colleagues and I keep one copy of each book in our dept. kitchen/reading room, and we sell any additional copies we come by to spend on events for students.

I've taught in departments in which it was common practice for the dept. secretary to request books on my behalf without my knowledge. (She could do this easily via the website, so there's nothing that guarantees that the request came from me.) Usually, this was nice. But every once in a while I'd wind up being billed for a book I didn't request, but which might have been requested on my behalf (though not by anyone who would remember doing so or keep any records about this).

Anon@1:30pm said...

What's the difference between 1) unrequested copies of textbooks you don't want and 2) junk mail?

Nobody pays money for your old junk mail.


Exactly. Which is why your university's policy sounds completely insane.

Anonymous said...

Book buyers are great. The books are yours and you are perfectly entitled to sell them. If you make too many requests for desk copies, publishers will catch on.

Anonymous said...

At my university we have the same policy. These books are deemed a perq of the trade and it is illegal to sell them. We are not instructed to call the police but we are supposed to refuse any solicitation...when I first came I did not know this and sold some of my books...now I feel guilty and just ignore them...

Blue said...

I often give books to students, but I have no qualms about selling them off either. Frankly I generally don't see receiving these mostly crappy textbooks as a perk, more as an annoyance. It is a marketing effort by the publishers.

Remember textbook markup is 40% compared to 20% with trade paperback, and they are sold to captive markets. They know they only have to sell the book to the prof, hence why they are willing to send out free books.

When I first started grad school I worked in a used book store. If I got free copies of books I knew were in use I would sell them there.

Book buyers, especially the ones that buy from students, provide a valuable service, books are meant to be read by more than one person, and so many textbooks are used once then kept on an shelf for a few years and then thrown out. The editions often change so fast that students can't resell books. If you have a local bookstore that will order for your course you can order old editions for much cheaper than new ones, through a used book wholesaler like MBS.

This also means that other local used stores can sell the copies that linger on their shelves too.

Treating books as disposable commodities is what publishers want, but it is wasteful to the environment and the economy.

I never have to worry about all this because the classes I've taught have either been with a course book of articles or a uniform textbook chosen by the dept. When I to have to choose a text book I will seriously consider using an old edition, or a publisher like Broadview which attempts to keep costs down for students.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:35 writes:

"Our state system has decided that free textbooks are a perk of our job, thus selling them is unlawful profiting from our job -- in the same manner as taking a bribe/kickback..."

Of course, it the state were to be consistent, they would require you to surrender the books themselves immediately. Imagine if the publishers were sending us some other free item: beer, cigars, theatre tickets, luxury cruises, etc. The state would certainly prohibit our retaining and using these items. In principle, what's the difference? I know, I know: the books are related to our profession, or something. But, dammit, either they're OURS and we can do what we wish, or they AREN'T and we don't really own them at all.

Anonymous said...

If I willingly accept a gift, it would be wrong of me to use that gift in a way that harms the giver of that gift. Selling a book that one has accepted as a free gift economically harms the publisher (albeit in a small way). Therefore, selling a book that one has accepted as a free gift is generally wrong. There are exceptions here (e.g., selling the book to avoid starvation), but by and large I think the "it's mine so I can do whatever I want with it" mentality is misguided.

sleepwalker said...

If I willingly accept a gift, it would be wrong of me to use that gift in a way that harms the giver of that gift.

I don't see this -- at least if "gift" is used in the sense it has to be used for a desk copy to count as a gift.

If publishers sent you things out of the goodness of their hearts, because they love you and care about you, then it would certainly be churlish of you to harm them with the gifts. But they send you desk copies for their own selfish purposes. Their 'gift' does not express concern or establish a loving relationship with you.
If your supermarket has a "buy one get one free" sale on pineapples and you only want one pineapple (they don't last long enough for you to be able to save one and use it later), you do nothing wrong by accepting the second pineapple and giving it to your brother, who would otherwise have bought a pineapple from that very supermarket.

I agree with you, though, that "it's mine so I can do whatever I want with it" is too simplistic, in general.

Anonymous said...

You've got a pretty loose notion of harm there 11:34. . . . And I'm not convinced that harms to entities such as corporations are morally relevant. You'll have to do a good bit of work to show that this has any impact on anything of value, such as the welfare of the employees. In that case, the stupid marketing department shouldn't be sending out so many books that people will obviously sell. They are the culpable ones.

If a company gives out free samples as a promotion, and this backfires because fewer people buy the product, then they are stupid. You can't blame the customers.

In sending out these books, the publishers can hope that we send them back. They might even ask us nicely to do so. But we have no obligation to bother. I can't see how I have an obligation to send the books back. I'd have to figure out how to do so and spend some time going to the post-office. There's no way I've incurred such an obligation to waste 10 minutes of my life because someone slipped a book in my mailbox. I didn't ask for this shit. They just get stuffed in my mailbox.

And I can't see why I'd be prohibited from selling them. I didn't accept the book conditionally. The books just show up. I'm going to do what I want. If this "harms" the company, that's the marketing departments fault. They should revise their practices. It's not my responsibility to make sure that I keep a textbook company profitable.

I might have other reasons to do so: most don't make much money. And they are good to have around. So I might want to help them out.

Anonymous said...

in this case, screw the state and the publishers. it's either the trash or someone else gets the book and someone else gets paid, as well as you get paid. sell the book if someone will pay.

if these 'gifts' are a problem, universities should disallow them.

Anonymous said...

I'm the one who wrote, "But, dammit, either they're OURS and we can do what we wish, or they AREN'T and we don't really own them at all."

I didn't intend this to have general application. Bludgeoning my wife with the copy of Plato's Collected Works she bought me for Christmas would not morally permissible just because it's mine. I took the usual restrictions to be in place here.

Anonymous said...

When the book buyer at my school comes into my office and asks if I have any books to sell, he is already scanning my bookshelves with his greedy little eyes instead of looking at me when he's talking. I told the secretary not to let him in next time. Remember, book-buyers are giving you 40 bucks but then turning around and selling the books for 200 or 300. Instead of selling out to them for a lousy few dollars, why not give the books (at least the ones that are not too textbook-ish) to interested students, and let them know that if they turn out not to like them, they can always sell them on ebay for their own profit?

Anonymous said...

I like Anon 9:13's point. You may not be interested in selling the books on eBay (or wherever). But your students might be interested both in reading (parts of) the book and in selling it on eBay. Offering the books to students seems like a good idea.

Anonymous said...

You can do it all online hassle-free at-

http://www.facultybooks.com/default.jsp

Eric Winsberg said...

I wonder if the universities that prohibit their professors from selling desk copies to bookbuyers on the grounds that they are a "kickback" also prohibit the doctors in their university hospitals from accepting any gifts, dinners, or paid speaking engagements from pharmaceutical companies. Yeah, I didnt think so.

Anonymous said...

I suggest these things half-seriously when resale is not an option for unwanted, solicited books:

Have faculty outings and use the books for kindling; use the unused scraps for composting; stock the faculty restrooms and save on the TP costs; recycle them for nickels and dimes at recycling plants; make confetti for festivities with visiting professors (but avoid shredding the visitors' books for the confetti); donate them to the Art Department (if they don't already have enough of their own) for paper mache; let students resell them (details below).

When I was an undergraduate at a big state college, the philosophy department put those unwanted books, academic journals that they refereed or edited, and other old scraps on an open bookshelf for any passerby to take. I took my fair share, but those damned graduate students were real vultures!

They did much of the same when professors died (I still have my dead professor's signature in the inner covers of a handful of the logic books that I took). Ironically, I resold a couple of them to a used book store because they weren't all that good.

CTS said...

We have a similar policy (small college). There are worthy groups who are desparate for books. One to which I frequently give books collcts them for prison libraries. Others send them to schools whose students cannot afford to purchase texts on their own.