A professor at Cal State Fullerton is in trouble for assigning a cheaper textbook than the one assigned by his department. The department-chosen text retails for a whopping $180. It’s also worth noting that the $180 textbook was written by the chair and vice chair of the math department.
Aside from unfortunate conflict of interest, one has to step back and wonder why it is that textbooks are so expensive these days. Has the cost of publishing gone up significantly? Prices in the rest of the book industry would seem to indicate not. Is it harder to recruit authors than ever? Maybe, but it’s worth pointing out that there’s probably not much that has changed in an introductory linear algebra text in the past 50 years.
The only explanation I can’t bat away is that the educational publishing industry learned to assert market power. The students have to buy the course textbook, and that gives publishers who can get in the door strong pricing flexibility, better yet if they are in cahoots with the administration. Furthermore, the ability to pay is bolstered by our good friends, non-dischargeable student loans.
It’s embarassing and sad. One could imagine an alternative universe where a system like Cal State endeavors to create its own teaching materials for free or minimal cost. It’s not like their are a dearth of linear algebra resources for free on the web. But that is not our world.
Finally, as a point of comparison, it just so happens that I still have my linear algebra textbook from undergrad.