Stealing the Books

Look around the web and you can find plenty of pirated music. Movies, too. Textbooks?

It seems some students who are angry at the high cost of books are scanning the material in their texts and posting it online for others to download.

Compared with music publishers, textbook publishers have been relatively protected from piracy by the considerable trouble entailed in digitizing a printed textbook. Converting the roughly 1,300 pages of “Organic Chemistry” into a digital file requires much more time than ripping a CD.

Time flies, however, if you’re having a good time plotting righteous revenge, and students seem angrier than ever before about the price of textbooks. More students are choosing used books over new; sales of a new edition plunge as soon as used copies are available, in the semester following introduction; and publishers raise prices and shorten intervals between revisions to try to recoup the loss of revenue – and the demand for used books goes up all the more.

At more than $200 for a new copy of the organic chem book (starting at $110 for a used copy), I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the publishers.

Selling an electronic version wrapped in DRM for half price doesn’t seem much better.

I remember paying a similar high price for my college calculus book. Although to be fair, it could also double as a booster seat. :-)

But I wonder. Is the content of one text for a basic college course really that much different than another? I know there are very few differences between most high school books.

Sounds like a good application for open source.

Feeling the Numbers

Which price is better: $29.99 or $30?

Most people, if they take the time to think, would say the two are pretty much the same.

However, in an interesting article at the BBC, marketing researchers say that shoppers make those price comparisons emotionally rather than logically.

One theory is consumers just aren’t up to the maths. Dr Jane Price, lecturer in psychology at the University of Glamorgan, says we “tend to put numbers in categories like ‘under £5’ or ‘under £6’ – rather than them representing a value. Shoppers are aware of what is going on, but don’t respond to it because they don’t think logically about how close numbers are – such as £99.99 and £100.”

She thinks shoppers tend to focus on the big denomination – which the pound sign draws the eye to – rather than the smaller denomination: the pence. There is also the emotional incentive – people like to feel they are getting better value for money.

I wonder if there’s any connection between these feelings and people holding on to the concept that buying more lottery tickets with the same “lucky” numbers will increase the odds of winning.

Is this pricing philosophy related to the illogic behind adding 9/10 of a cent to per gallon gas prices?

Anyway, then there’s also the fact that many people seemingly don’t even care about the pence at all.

For consumers, the saving is minimal and the copper coins they receive as change when paying with a note seem to be more of a hassle than a benefit – in 2005, Britons discarded or stashed away £133m [about $265 million] in unwanted coppers, according to Virgin Money.

Virgin Money? Is there a business that Richard Branson isn’t involved in?

I think I read somewhere that the cost of making a US penny is more than the coin is worth.

Man! This post is even more rambling and pointless than normal. :-)

Getting Around

I guess we’re not alone with the big increases in the cost of feeding our cars. And we’re certainly not at the top of the charts when it comes to gas prices.

But with prices surging past 1.40 euro a liter in France (about $8.20 a gallon)…

However, when it comes to conserving fuel and developing transportation alternatives, most European countries are already miles ahead of the US.

Highways are filled with fuel-efficient Smart cars and Minis, most cities have highly developed public transportation systems, and green-minded policies have spawned everything from special bicycle lanes to downtown congestion charges. Now the current surge in the price of oil has many Europeans asking how much leaner they can become.

Considering most American cities, the DC area has a pretty good public transportation system – IF you’re traveling to and from the federal district.

If you need to get between two places in the suburbs, which is my daily pattern, you’re pretty much out of luck.

As to imposing a congestion charge for driving in the district, can you imagine what would happen if the DC government proposed such a thing?

The energy produced by their Congressional nannies railing against it could power the city for years to come.

The Silver Lining?

Is it possible there might be something good about the run up in gas prices?

Soaring gas prices have turned the steady migration by Americans to smaller cars into a stampede.

In what industry analysts are calling a first, about one in five vehicles sold in the United States was a compact or subcompact car during April, based on monthly sales data released Thursday. Almost a decade ago, when sport utility vehicles were at their peak of popularity, only one in every eight vehicles sold was a small car.

The switch to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles has been building in recent years, but has accelerated recently with the advent of $3.50-a-gallon gas. At the same time, sales of pickup trucks and large sport utility vehicles have dropped sharply.

In another first, fuel-sipping four-cylinder engines surpassed six-cylinder models in popularity in April.

It would be nice if this would also lead to a demand for the government to increase research into alternative energy sources and to wean us off of imported fossil fuels.

But if history is any indicator, there’s no reason to be optimistic.

When prices drop to a level that most people will accept as “normal”, they’ll go back to buying oversized ego machines.