Seven Hundred Physics and Math Professors from Over One Hundred Universities Call on Thomson Learning to Stop Unnecessary Textbook Revisions

For Immediate Release

WASHINGTON (April 7, 2005) – As a prominent publisher continues to issue “new” editions of textbooks that are not significantly “new”, hundreds of college physics and mathematics professors issued a joint call to action. The call to action was sparked by the latest research from the Student PIRGs that found that new textbook revisions reduce the availability of used books, which are 45% cheaper than new books. With students paying an average of $900 a year for textbooks – one-fifth of in-state tuition at a four-year university – the faculty objected to a practice that adds nothing significant to the learning experience and serves to make college costs even more burdensome for students.

The call to action, signed by over seven hundred mathematics and physics faculty at over 150 of the largest and most prestigious universities nationwide, calls on Thomson Learning to stop issuing new editions of its widely-used introductory calculus and physics books until there is significantly new content to justify a revision.

Recent reports by the Student PIRGs have found that that students are paying an average of $900 a year for textbooks, and that college textbook prices have increased four times the rate of inflation for other finished goods since 1994.

The State PIRGs’ research found that one of the major ways publishers increase textbook costs is by frequently issuing new textbook editions – often with very few content changes. New editions force used textbook editions – which are an average of 45% cheaper than new textbooks – off the market. There were many extreme examples – a new copy of the 6th Campbell’s Biology, published by Pearson, was found to be 97% more expensive than a used copy of the previous edition.

In addition, the research found that publishers then increase the price of a new textbook edition by an average of 12%, or twice the rate of inflation. Houghton Mifflin’s Macroeconomics textbook increased in price at four times the rate of inflation between the fifth and sixth editions, issued three years apart.

Among the examples cited in the Student PIRGs’ research and by the faculty members were two of Thomson Learning’s widely used Calculus and Physics textbooks:

  • Physics for Scientists and Engineers, 6th edition ($134.96, 2004) and 5th edition (2000).
  • Calculus: Early Transcendentals, 5th edition ($132.26, 2003) and 4th edition (1999).

In both instances, the differences between the two editions are minimal, and the differences that do exist, such as some of the new problem sets and technological tools, could have been easily provided via supplement verses an entirely new edition.

“There are of course good reasons for writing a new edition of a textbook. Three such reasons are: there is new material to be taught, there is a new understanding of how to present the material, or there is a new audience for the book. In introductory physics, the nature of the subject is such that new material almost never occurs at the level that can justify an entire new textbook, and the audience is relatively stable. This leaves only substantial educational improvements, which also don’t occur that often. In my role as one of the people selecting textbooks, I have often raised this issue with publishers,” said Dr. Michael Dennin, Chair of the UC Irvine Physics Department’s Undergraduate Committee, and one of the faculty members leading the call to action.

While publishers themselves have been careful not to admit that they issue new editions with the intent of defeating the used book market, many academics and industry observers have all but concluded this motive.

In an opinion editorial published in the New York Times, Erwin V. Cohen, a former publishing industry executive for the Academic Press wrote, “Publishers release new editions of successful textbooks every few years – not to improve content, although that may be a byproduct – but to discourage the sales of used books by making them seem obsolete.”

“Many of them admit that one of their main reasons for publishing new editions is to counteract losses to the used book market,” said Dr. Dennin.

The call to action includes the following requests to Thomson Learning:

  • Continue to publish the current edition of these textbooks until there has been significantly new content in these fields, applications of these fields, and/or the teaching of these fields that would justify an update.
  • For the foreseeable future, offer new problem sets, tutorials and other ancillary teaching aids as an optional supplement that faculty may choose to order.
  • Ensure that company sales representatives distribute materials that include all of the company’s textbooks and related instructional materials, prices, and the length of time the company intends to keep these products on the market.

To date, textbook publishers – including Thomson Learning – have refused to acknowledge their role in this problem, despite large amounts of correspondence between students, faculty members, and publishers. All of the current correspondence can be found at

Many professors, frustrated by the publishers’ unresponsiveness, are switching publishers or attempting other alternatives in an effort to reduce textbook prices for their students:

  • UC Santa Cruz Physics professor Dr. Dave Dorfan, frustrated with the physics textbooks he was using, convinced Wiley to reprint a 1980 version of a physics textbook that he says is just as good – and much cheaper – than current books on the market. The book – sold in two volumes – sells for $78.
  • Duke University professor Dr. Robert Brown is writing his own physics textbook that he plans to post online for free.
  • Texas A&M professor Wayne Saslow wrote an introductory physics book, and insisted to his publisher (Academic) that it be published without color. The book sells for under $70.
  • UCLA Math professor Dr. Ronald Miech negotiated a 20% cut in the price of Thomson Learning introductory Calculus books.

About the Student PIRGs

The Student Public Interest Research Groups (Student PIRGs) is a national network of non-profit, non-partisan student advocacy groups that work on public interest issues pertaining to the environment, consumer protection and government reform.

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