The Ethics of Selling Academic Books
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March 22, 2009
People obtain and trade academic books in a variety of ways. Authors and publishers often give them away as promotions, academics often borrow from one another, avid readers collect more than a few, libraries buy more than they need, college bookstores unload what they have left after obtaining as much student revenue as they can, and then, there's that whole, vast aftermarket of book buyers and discount textbook houses. It is important to note that ebay strictly prohibits the trade of books marked as Instructor copies or editions. These kind of markings can take many forms; e.g., Annotated Instructor Edition, Teacher's Edition, IMTB (Instructor Manual Test Bank), but the bottom line is that one will not get by selling these kinds of things on ebay. Their postings will be taken down. A few unscrupulous types might try to modify the ISBN to mimic the non-instructor edition, but they will eventually be caught up in disputes and problems. In some fields, there are also some kinds of books called International Editions, which create similar problems. A grey area involves complimentary or examination copies of textbooks which instructors get for free or at a discount from publishers. Unless these are clearly marked Instructor Edition, they are most likely appropriate to sell, depending upon personal conscience and ethics. Some of these books have a weak stamp on them saying Not For Resale or Complimentary Copy, or sometimes even markings which educate the reader on the rising costs of textbooks because of after- or out-of-market sales. It is unknown, however, if the research on rising cost truly supports that claim, or if other factors are the cause. Given the lack of empirical evidence, one is left with little choice but to try to balance an ethical dilemma. On the one hand, all books were made to have a reader, so by their very nature, easy dissemination ought to be the norm. On the other hand, privileged or insider status should not be exploited to make an unearned profit. There are serious conflict of interest issues at stake. I would think that, at minimum, an instructor or professor ought not to sell books of their own nor those they require in their classes. Alternatively, selling books known to be frequent adoptions in other schools is probably appropriate, and publishers who are set up in regions often foolishly send those free copies to all instructors in a certain region. Hence, in a typical town where there is a community college and a four-year college, many of the instructors at the community college will get copies of the books used at the four-year college, and vice-versa. There are a lot of other difficult-to-understand things in the world of textbook marketing. It is a fast-paced, high-pressure, big-money field, and until social networks or e-books take over, the present situation is what it is. Use your best judgment.
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