Downloading textbooks on the sly

Marketplace Staff Sep 2, 2008

Downloading textbooks on the sly

Marketplace Staff Sep 2, 2008


Renita Jablonski: The College Board says students last year doled out an average of $800 to $1,200 for text books and supplies. A lot of students try to get by with used books. Publishers in turn put out new editions. So now some students are doing the same thing with books they do with music, ripping them off from file-sharing Web sites. Katie Macpherson has more from New York.

Nick: I found this one a couple of weeks ago.

Katie Macpherson: In his dorm room at New York University, 19-year-old Nick is logging onto a Web site called Textbook Torrent. He’s checking to see if any of the books for his fall courses have been copied and posted.

Nick: I download most of my music, I download almost all of my movies and so downloading textbooks just seems like the next logical step.

Nick didn’t want to use his full name; downloading copyrighted material without permission is illegal. But like other college students, he’s sick of dropping hundreds of dollars each semester on books.

Nick: I feel kind of cheated every time I go to the bookstore.

Not paying a lot for books is the primary motivation behind Textbook Torrent. More than 80,000 users have signed up to download scanned copies of text books, often breaking copyright laws. A computer programmer who goes by the name “Geekman” launched the site last year.

Geekman: I’m not sure I’d say I’m the Robin Hood, but I know I’m operating in a legal gray area here, and I’m certainly appreciative of the fact that not everybody’s going to agree with what we’re doing.

Particularly, the Association of American Publishers, whose members print over 85 percent of all college textbooks sold. They’ve sent take-down notices threatening legal action to Textbook Torrent and dozens of other file-sharing sites. Ed McCoyd is director of digital policy. He says he doesn’t think expensive textbook prices are encouraging illegal downloads.

Ed McCoyd: I think it’s just part of people liking to get things for free. I don’t see this as some outcropping of the cost of books.

But economics professor James V. Koch of Old Dominion University says the textbook market is broken. There’s little competition and students often have no choice but to spend top dollar on required books. He wants to see schools develop alternatives like textbook rental systems. But that’s not likely to happen.

James V. Koch: … until scholarly associations or boards of trustees actively get into this and say, “you know, this market’s not working to the benefit of students.”

Meanwhile, publishers seem to have gotten the hint. Some have already begun providing discounted digital copies of textbooks.

In New York, I’m Katie Macpherson, for Marketplace.

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