Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Bad Romance

Our local University recently outsourced its bookstore to Barnes and Noble . This was a good idea, I think, as selling books and gew-gaws isn't really very close to the core mission of the University. The town got a nice new bookstore, together with our first escalators ever, with much better parking and a built in Starbucks.

I've always had a thing for textbooks - not just any textbooks, of course, but those for science, engineering, mathematics and the like, so I was drawn to the new texts section. I quickly found the shelves a bit soul crushing. There was the latest edition of the elementary physics text I had used some fifty years ago, much broader and fatter - almost 1700 pages, but still with some of the same author names. Could they still be around? Unlikely, since some of them were old even way back when.

I knew this encounter would be painful, though, when I saw the price tag - $242 bucks - a lot of book but still a heck of a lot of cash. The calculus books were worse. Two fat tomes (single and multivariable), shrink wrapped to prevent inspection totalling $350 and who knows how many pages.

My physics book, way back when, cost $10.75 (the numbers are still on the inside cover flap), equivalent to about $70 today, but what the hell - it's pretty much the same damn material. Introductory physics and calculus are canonical subjects much of which has hardly changed in the past 80 years.

It seems plausible that it's part of a vast conspiracy to reduce all smart people to debt peonage by the end of college.