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40 Model Essays Torrent

Wake Up and Smell the Torrents: Why Higher Education Textbook Publishing May Be in Trouble

Publishers of texts for higher education have long taken up a huge piece of the pie that is the publishing industry. Pearson is at the top of the list, earning over 6.6 billion in 2016. 1 In fact, only one trade publisher manages to crack the top 10: Penguin Random House. 2 This situation exists because higher education textbook publishers have many advantages, including limited competition and a captive audience required to buy assigned books. So while trade publishers have been scrambling to deal with e-books, subscription models, and competition with other forms of entertainment (I am looking at you, Netflix), textbook publishers have remained far more comfortable. But things are changing, and textbooks cannot avoid the ugly truth for much longer. With student tuition and debt on the rise, something has got to give.

 

While the 2012 amendment to Canada’s copyright act has caused a lot of concern by allowing for the copying of educational materials to fall under fair dealing,3 educational publishers have a lot of other problems to contend with. The major issue that is not receiving enough attention is that consumers are beginning to look elsewhere for solutions to their educational resource needs. Torrenting is as easy as ever, with many sites created specifically for students to illegally download textbooks for free. Other sites help students locate the cheapest possible option or rent the book for a semester at an immense discount from the retail price. Used textbook networks are being set-up across social media. Not to mention, there is a growing push for open-access educational materials, and self-publishing textbooks through Amazon or iBooks is now fast and relatively simple. Clearly, the audiences of educational publishers have a lot more options today than ever before. The trend is just beginning and it is time to negotiate. Higher education textbook publishers are going to need to lower their prices to meet the realities of the modern consumer and adjust their models before it is too late.

 

Rising Costs of Higher Education

The education market is changing, and so are the needs and purchasing powers of its consumers. It is easy to just blame the internet for creating an easy way for readers to steal digital content, but the problem goes deeper than that. Tuition prices across Canada rose 3.2% in 2015, and another 2.8% in 2016.4 On average, tuition in Canada has increased by 40% in the last decade. 5 For many students, paying full price for a textbook is simply not an option. And those books are only getting more expensive. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, the prices of Canadian textbooks have been skyrocketing. Since 2008, higher education textbook prices have increased at 2.44 times the rate of inflation.6 The reality is that for many students, textbooks are becoming luxuries rather than necessities. After the first year of university, it becomes normal to wait a few weeks into classes to determine whether the textbook is really needed, and if it is, the second step is to search for alternatives to paying full price. Sometimes these alternatives are illegal.

 

Textbook Piracy

Torrenting sites focused on textbooks, such as Library Genesis, have been around for years, and every time one shuts down another rises out of the ashes.7 It is possible to argue that since pirating is theft, educational publishers do not need to consider pirating services as competition. While that would be a fair point, the fact that textbook pirating is so common suggests a serious disconnect between how publishers and consumers are valuing educational texts, and this is something publishers need to pay attention to. It is an issue the music industry has already largely adjusted to. In 2012, an NDP Group study found “The volume of illegally downloaded music files from P2P services… declined 26 percent, compared to the previous year.”8 The NDP Group attributed the decline to the rise of popular (and legal) streaming services such as Spotify. It turns out that for many consumers, there is a tipping point at which they will pay for quality content if they deem the service more valuable than the time and risks associated with pirating. This is a lesson that other cultural industries, including textbook publishing, can learn from.

 

One potential reason for the explosion of textbook pirating, presented by Francisca Rebelo in her article, “Understanding Textbook Piracy” (2015), is that students do not see the cultural value of textbooks due to the fact that textbooks are required reading materials rather than voluntary.9 Rebelo surveyed undergraduate students at Católica-Lisbon School of Economics and found textbooks to be “most often ranked last in a list of relevant study materials.”10 Her survey also found that 60% of students are familiar with peer-to-peer networks, the main medium for downloading pirated books.11 The research was intended to help educational publishers understand and defend against the trend of textbook pirating:

 

Textbook publishers cannot control the diffusion of the pirating technology. But they can control the usefulness of their books and influence the extent to which they are integrated into academic curricula. They can also control the sales price to make the option to pirate less attractive.12

 

Bargain Hunting, Renting, and Buying Used

However, not all students are avoiding paying full price for textbooks through illicit means. Piracy sites aside, many websites, such as Textbook Nova (which used to offer torrenting), allow you to search by title, keyword, author, even ISBN to find the cheapest option—usually an ebook from Amazon. Textbook Nova’s slogan instructs students to “Stop over paying for college and high school level textbooks, get them here!”13 The irony of the grammatical errors has not gone unnoticed.

 

Another common way of dodging high-cost textbooks is to purchase cheaper international versions from sites such as AbeBooks, which offer some resources at up to a 90% discount. These editions are usually softcover, use lower quality paper and may have pagination that is inconsistent with editions assigned in North American classrooms.14 However, for most students, the book only needs to last a few months to have served its purpose. AbeBooks does note that in some cases, sale and distribution of international editions in Canada can violate the publisher’s copyright.15 However, like in the case of pirating, the popularity of international editions among American and Canadian students should signal to educational publishers a value judgment being placed on the content of their products.

 

Other options students may take include renting, trading, and buying used. Rentals were fairly new to the Canadian textbook market in 2010, but since then websites like Textbook Rental and Book Mob have grown significantly, the former having partnered with Indigo.16 It is also common for students to create and administer social media pages for selling their old textbooks. My own undergraduate school, Thompson Rivers University, has a textbook trade-and-sell page with over 5000 followers.17

 

The Open Access Movement

To top it all off, students are not the only consumers who are looking for alternative educational resources. There has been a rise in efforts to provide open-source materials for all levels of education. These textbooks are created by professors, and even peer-reviewed, but they are either free or cost a fraction of what traditionally published textbooks sell for.18  Universities are making use of these resources. Tidewater Community College in Virginia is now offering a “Z-Degree” program which utilises all open-source materials, after having determined that costly textbooks can be a barrier to student success.19 Even worse news for educational publishers: these students claim “they’re doing better without textbooks.”20 Using open-source materials or creating customized open-access textbooks allows educators to tailor their educational materials to meet their curriculum exactly. It also means that if a course only requires the use of part of a book or other source, students do not feel they have paid excessive amounts of money for material that was not required. These benefits have encouraged Universities to adopt open-access publishing initiatives around North America.

In 2013, Portland State University (PSU) Library began an open textbook publishing program, spurred on by the fact that textbook prices had risen by 38% in the previous six years.21 The library estimates its first five textbooks saved 208 of its own students a total of $23,805.08, quite the loss for educational publishers.22 PSU Library has since published another five books and the project is ongoing. They have seen their works downloaded all around the globe.23 Robert Sanders, a professor of Spanish at PSU, suggests that contributors also see a poor return on investment with traditional educational publishing:

 

The funding and expert advice provided by PSU Library’s Open Textbook Initiative allowed me to develop a peer‐edited textbook that reflects the latest curricular developments in my discipline without the excesses of traditional textbook publishing: excessive scope, size, and cost. 24

PSU Library is not the only new publisher of open access textbooks. In a 2014 report titled “Open Textbooks: The Billion Dollar Solution,” Student PIRGs (Public Interest Research Groups) discussed open textbook initiatives running out of the University of Massachusetts, Kansas State University, Tacoma Community College, the University of Minnesota, and the University of Maryland.25 Across all of these institutions, PIRGs saw over 20,000 students enrolled in Open Educational Resource (OER) courses which translated to an estimated $3.5 million in student savings.26 Based off of these findings, PIRGs predicts “If every student had just one of their traditional textbooks replaced with OER or an open textbook, it would save students in this country [America] more than $1 billion dollars annually.”27 That is a billion dollars drained out of the educational publishing market.

 

Canadian universities have also taken on the Open Access movement. In fact, the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) was founded at UBC nearly two decades ago by John Willinsky in the Faculty of Education.28 With the goal of improving “the quality and reach of scholarly publishing,”29 the PKP began developing open source software including Open Conference Systems (OCS), Open Harvester Systems (OHS), and Open Journal Systems (OJS).30 The last, OJS, was designed to manage the publication of open-access, peer-reviewed journals, from the submission process through indexing and final online presentation.31 In 2015, over 10,000 journals were using the software.32 In 2013, PKP also released software called Open Monograph Press (OMP) to manage the editorial workflow of scholarly publications, including the creation of open textbooks.33

iBooks and Kindle Direct Publishing

While the development of self-publishing software for the education market seems to be a non-profit venture, it has appeared as an opportunity to some companies. Apple made a move towards this growing market in 2012 with its launch of iBooks 2 and iBooks Author, adding in a special category for textbooks.34 iBooks Author allows users to create multimedia-infused textbooks in ebook format and upload the resulting product for sale on the iBooks 2 platform for $14.99 or less.35 Both of these apps are free to download and use, and they strive to make the publishing process as easy as possible with prepared templates and drag-and-drop features.36 Today, anyone can make an e-textbook and distribute it on a massive retail platform.

 

Not to be outdone, in 2015 Amazon also expanded its services to include educational self-publishing. Anyone looking to create a textbook through Amazon can now use the Kindle Textbook Creator, which facilitates the use of multimedia elements like audio and video better than the regular Kindle Direct Publishing.37 One advantage Amazon has over iBooks is that it allows authors to publish a print version through Create Space and then list it next to the ebook on the Amazon website.38

 

However, scholars are still on the fence about the value of these services versus those offered by traditional publishers.39 Traditional educational publishing is set up to be self-critical through peer-reviews, but no such system is automatically in place with self-publishing. Though, as we have seen with PSU and other universities engaged in the creation of OER, it is possible to set up a peer-review process for self-published works.

 

One major barrier that still exists for the self-publishing of academic works is the overall perception of self-publishing. Martin Weller, an educational technologist at Open University in the UK argues that when it comes to an academic’s decision on how to publish, “external prestige is probably the greatest factor… Self-publishing is seen as rather sordid… the last recourse for the demented author who couldn’t get published anywhere else.”40 For now, self-publishing may be a luxury few can afford to take, especially before they are tenured. That having been said, there are many benefits to self-publishing online, such as the ability to rapidly make one’s content accessible around the world at no or low cost to the consumer. It is possible to envision a time when these benefits begin to outweigh the status associated with traditional publishing, especially as universities are becoming proponents of open access. It could be that in the future, self-published textbooks will be one of the most common resources used in higher education.

 

Publishers’ Response

Pirating, renting, used-book networks, OER, and self-publishing—surely, the publishers of higher education textbooks cannot be so blind as to miss all of these threats? Well, no, they are not. The reality is that the 6.6 billion Pearson earned in 2016 was actually a fall from $7 billion in 2014, and occurred alongside a cut of 4000 jobs throughout the company.41 As concern about the textbook market has grown, Pearson has been shifting towards providing education services with a focus on data-driven course management and adaptive learning.42 Today, over fifty percent of Pearson’s sales revenue comes from digital products, technology, and services.43

 

Pearson is not the only educational publisher forced to react to the changing marketplace. The largest US-based publisher, McGraw-Hill Education, also released financials showing a revenue decline in 2015. It has now separated its K–12 and higher education businesses and is getting ready for public offering.44 Two other major players, Macmillan Science and Education and Springer Science+Business Media merged in 2015 to form Springer Nature.45

 

However, when it comes to adjusting to changing consumer demand, these publishers have determined digital to be the future and have done little to change the print publishing model.46 There are two problems with this solution. First, the cost of e-textbooks is still remarkably high. They sell for 40–50% of the print retail price and are often more expensive than buying used.47 The prices are high considering that when a student pays for an e-textbook, they are only getting a rental, which usually expires after 180 days and has no resale value.48 In addition, if they have not already, students may need to invest in an e-reader or tablet to read on.

 

Second, many students still prefer to learn from print books. A 2012 study at the University of Michigan looked at student usage of e-textbooks and found that “Approximately 75% of students prefer print textbooks.”49 A 2015 study from the University of Central Florida agreed, concluding that “despite the increasing use of e-textbooks and the reduction in unfamiliarity with them, the number of participants voicing a preference for print books remained steady.”50 This means publishers of higher education materials are still not working to make in-demand resources more accessible to consumers. As long as these publishers are not offering reasonable solutions, students will turn elsewhere for print educational resources.

 

Conclusion

Publishers of higher education materials may still hold their place as some of the largest companies in the publishing industry, but they are on precarious ground. Consumers are looking everywhere for cheaper alternatives and content creators are at a tipping point that is beginning to lean in favour of OER. It is time for educational publishers to begin working with and for their consumers and to re-evaluate what is valuable to them. All of the threats discussed in this essay are indicative of student wants and needs. The rise of pirating demonstrates how today’s consumer finds the value-price trade-off of textbooks so unfavourable that they are willing to risk malware and viruses to avoid it. The popularity of international editions suggests students do not value the quality of a hardcover edition printed on glossy 60lb paper, but they do value useful content that meets their classroom needs. However, studies surrounding e-textbooks show that students still value a tactile reading experience, and the ability to retain or resell their books when the course ends. The rise in OER initiatives reveals a desire to make education more accessible, but contributors clearly still place value on the ability of traditional publishing to bestow prestige and to be self-critical through the peer-reviewing process. Higher education textbook publishers will need to consider all of these factors when reworking their current products and services for a changing market because one thing appears certain: if they do not, someone else will.

 

 


Notes

  1. Jim Milliot, “The World’s 52 Largest Book Publishers, 2016,” Publishers Weekly, 28 August 2016, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/71268-the-world-s-52-largest-book-publishers-2016.html.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Government of Canada, “Copyright Modernization Act,” Justice Laws Website, last modified 29 June 2012, http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/annualstatutes/2012_20/FullText.html.
  1. Statistics Canada, “Tuition fees for degree programs, 2016/2017,” Statistics Canada catalogue
  2. 11-001-X, 7 September 2016, http://www.statcan.gc.ca/daily-quotidien/160907/dq160907a-eng.pdf.
  3. Patrick Cain, “University tuition fees in Canada rise 40 percent in a decade,” Global News, 7 September 2016, http://globalnews.ca/news/2924898/university-tuition-fees-rise-40-per-cent-in-a-decade/.
  1. Janet Davison, “Back to school 2015: How post-secondary students can fight ‘grim reality’ of rising textbook costs,” CBC News, 6 September 2015, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/back-to-school-2015-how-post-secondary-students-can-fight-grim-reality-of-rising-textbook-costs-1.3215013.
  1. Jon Marcus, “Digital pirates cause havoc in academic publishing: Self-styled ‘crusaders’ find a receptive audience for illegal copies of textbooks,” Times Higher Education, 8 January 2009, https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/digital-pirates-cause-havoc-in-academic-publishing/404889.article#.
  1. Lee Graham, “The NPD Group: Music File Sharing Declined Significantly in 2012,” The NDP Group, 26 February 2012, https://www.npd.com/wps/portal/npd/us/news/press-releases/the-npd-group-music-file-sharing-declined-significantly-in-2012/.
  1. Francisca Rebelo, Understanding Textbook Piracy, (Portugal: Católica-Lisbon School of Business and Economics, 2015), 5, http://www.apdr.pt/pej2015/papers/18.pdf.
  1. Ibid, 8.
  2. Ibid, 9.
  3. Ibid, 25.
  4. Textbook Nova, accessed February 11, 2017, https://textbooknova.com/.
  5. AbeBooks, “Buy International Edition Textbooks and Save,” accessed 12 February 2017, https://www.abebooks.com/books/Textbooks/international-editions.shtml.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Carson Jerema, “How to save money on textbooks—rent them,” Maclean’s, 15 September 2010, http://www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/how-to-save-money-on-textbooks-rent-them/.
  1. TRU textbook trade/sell Facebook page, accessed 11 February 2017 https://www.facebook.com/groups/TRUtextbooktradeandsale
  1. Herb Weisbaum, “Students Are Still Saddled With Soaring Textbook Costs, Report Says,” NBC News, 10 February 2016, http://www.nbcnews.com/business/business-news/students-are-still-saddled-soaring-textbook-costs-report-says-n516011
  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Karen Bjork, “Sustainable Library Publishing: Opportunities and Challenges in Creating an Open Textbook Publishing Program,” Library Faculty Publications and Presentations, 28 April 2016, http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/ulib_fac/185.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ethan Senack, “Open Textbooks: The Billion-Dollar Solution,” The Student PIRGs, February 2015, http://www.studentpirgs.org/sites/student/files/reports/The%20Billion%20Dollar %20Solution.pdf.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Public Knowledge Project, “History,” accessed 13 February 2017, https://pkp.sfu.ca/about/history/.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Public Knowledge Project, “Open Journal Systems,” accessed 13 February 2017, https://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs/
  1. Public Knowledge Project, “OJS Stats,” accessed 13 February 2017, https://pkp.sfu.ca/ojs/ojs-usage/ojs-stats/
  1. Public Knowledge Project, “Open Monograph Press,” accessed 13 February 2017, https://pkp.sfu.ca/omp/.
  1. Calvin Reid, “Apple Enters the Textbook, Self-Publishing Market,” Publishers Weekly, 19 January 2012, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/content-and-e-books/article/50255-apple-enters-the-textbook-self-publishing-market.html.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Leah Schultz, “Navigating the Minefield of Self-Publishing E-Textbooks,” 2016 Proceedings of the EDSIG Conference, November 2016, http://proc.iscap.info/2016/pdf/4037.pdf.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Charlie Tyson, “A Publisher of One’s Own: Self-publishing is still rare for academics. But a few scholars are trying it out,” Inside Higher Ed, 17 July 2014, https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2014/07/17/self-publishing-option-academics-periphery.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Jim Milliot, “The World’s 52 Largest Book Publishers, 2016,” Publishers Weekly, 28 August 2016, http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/international/international-book-news/article/71268-the-world-s-52-largest-book-publishers-2016.html.
  1. Pearson Canada, “Pearson Canada at a Glance: Our Business,” Pearson Canada, accessed 14 February 2017, http://www.pearsoncanada.ca/pearson-canada-at-a-glance/our-business.
  1. Ioanna Opidee, “College textbook forecast: Radical change ahead,” University Business, 25 July 2014, https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/college-textbook-forecast-radical-change-ahead.
  1. Pearson Canada, “Pearson Canada at a Glance: Our Business,” Pearson Canada, accessed 14 February 2017, http://www.pearsoncanada.ca/pearson-canada-at-a-glance/our-business.
  1. Springer, “Springer Nature created following merger completion,” Springer, 6 May 2015, https://www.springer.com/gp/about-springer/media/press-releases/corporate/springer-nature-created-following-merger-completion/256626.
  1. Ioanna Opidee, “College textbook forecast: Radical change ahead,” University Business, 25 July 2014, https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/college-textbook-forecast-radical-change-ahead.
  1. David Miller, “eTextbooks: The ‘e’ is for ‘expensive,’” USA Today College, 6 May 2012, http://college.usatoday.com/2012/05/06/etextbooks-the-e-is-for-expensive/.
  1. Ibid.
  2. Natsuko H. Nicholls, “Demographic Data on Textbooks and Usage Statistics: Implications for Textbook Cost-Saving Analysis,” Campus eTextbook Initiative, University of Michigan, June 2012, https://www.lib.umich.edu/files/Cost-Analysis-Student-Survey.pdf.
  1. Aimee deNoyelles, John Raible, and Ryan Seilhamer, “Exploring Students’ E-Textbook Practices in Higher Education,” EDUCAUSE Review, 6 July 2015, http://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/7/exploring-students-etextbook-practices-in-higher-education.

Here's the story of how it was done. First, a fake ad on torrent listings linked the site to a Latvian bank account, an e-mail address, and a Facebook page.

Using basic website-tracking services, Der-Yeghiayan was able to uncover (via a reverse DNS search) the hosts of seven apparent KAT website domains: kickasstorrents.com, kat.cr, kickass.to, kat.ph, kastatic.com, thekat.tv and kickass.cr. This dug up two Chicago IP addresses, which were used as KAT name servers for more than four years. Agents were then able to legally gain a copy of the server's access logs (explaining why it was federal authorities in Chicago that eventually charged Vaulin with his alleged crimes).

Using similar tools, Homeland Security investigators also performed something called a WHOIS lookup on a domain that redirected people to the main KAT site. A WHOIS search can provide the name, address, email and phone number of a website registrant. In the case of kickasstorrents.biz, that was Artem Vaulin from Kharkiv, Ukraine.

Der-Yeghiayan was able to link the email address found in the WHOIS lookup to an Apple email address that Vaulin purportedly used to operate KAT. It's this Apple account that appears to tie all of pieces of Vaulin's alleged involvement together.

On July 31st 2015, records provided by Apple show that the me.com account was used to purchase something on iTunes. The logs show that the same IP address was used on the same day to access the KAT Facebook page. After KAT began accepting Bitcoin donations in 2012, $72,767 was moved into a Coinbase account in Vaulin's name. That Bitcoin wallet was registered with the same me.com email address.

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