Over at JBE Online Books, Buddhologists Charles Prebish and Damien Keown have an intriguing piece entitled “Religious Studies eTextbooks: A Modest Experiment”. In it, they write:
One decade later, it was becoming overwhelmingly apparent that textbook costs were mirroring the price explosion that had rocked the world of scholarly journals; and in subsequent years, our failing economy has only added to the dilemma. Today, for example, the retail cost of Mary Pat Fisher’s highly popular 7th edition of Living Religions is about $100., Warren Matthews’ fine World Religions sells for almost $110, and Robert Ellwood’s still popular Many People, Many Faiths (9th edition) costs nearly $90. For colleagues teaching in our discipline—Buddhist Studies—the situation is perhaps worse. One of the most successful introductory volumes on the Buddhist tradition is the course text now called Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction by Richard H. Robinson (the original author), Willard Johnson, and Thanissaro Bhikkhu. It’s a great book, but it costs $75. Since it is also important to have our students read textual materials, we need to add a book of scripture extracts like John Strong’s wonderful volumeThe Buddhist Experience: Sources and Interpretations. But that book sells for about $80, so students using those two volumes in an introductory course need to pony up more than $150.00 at the start. Even if one finds a solid but more economically priced introductory text, like Donald Mitchell’sBuddhism: Introducing the Buddhist Experience, which sells for $40, once you add in a volume of scriptures, the cost to students is still at least $100. To make matters worse, many students will buy the books, but do not even read them. Instead, in our new technological era, students’ avenue of entry into the subject matter of our field is often through the Internet. Then, at semester’s end, they simply sell the textbooks to a buyback dealer or their campus bookstore, and lose all but a few dollars of their original investment, while the bookstore or buyback dealer reaps a whirlwind of profit on the second (or third) time around.
Is there some reasonable way around this “lose-lose” situation in which the students lose money, the publishers ultimately lose money through book resales (forcing new editions to be published as a possible antidote, driving prices still higher), and the authors lose money as well in lost royalties…while the bookstores reap multiple-time profits? At a time when students are spending many hundreds of dollars per semester on textbooks, and thus putting an enormous strain on their personal and family finances, is it possible to turn this unfortunate circumstance into a “win-win” situation that puts cash back in students’ wallets, rewards authors for the often thankless task of writing excellent textbooks, provides great resources to students engaged in studying religions, and acknowledges what we all too clearly have learned in recent times: students live vast portions of their lives embraced by technology? Many, if not most students are rarely without their cellphone in their hand. They’re constantly calling, or texting their colleagues. Their iPods are dangling from their earphones. Twitter is the new craze, and many students now sit in their wi-fi classrooms surfing the Internet instead of listening to their professors’ lectures. One recent day, not too long ago, one of us walked out of class behind one of our students who immediately started texting someone on his cellphone. The student became so engrossed in his texting (or maybe even sexting) that he walked squarely into a lamppost, spilling coffee all over himself and breaking his eyeglasses! In 2004, we decided to embrace this new technology as a means of finding an alternative to continually rocketing textbook costs. We started the Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books project (http://www.jbeonlinebooks.org).
Read the rest here.