Invisible Adjunct reports on a common scam in academia: profs being offered a significant sum of money to “review” a textbook, with the catch being that they have to test it out on their students, who must buy it. This one has been going on for at least a few years, as I know I was offered the opportunity to participate in a couple such “reviews” when I was at Troy State. Like professor Williams, I declined. Clearly, this practice is unethical; although I guess it would be murkier if the prof indeed liked the book and would have adopted it without compensation.

Another somewhat related controversy is the practice of professors selling review copies of books sent by textbook representatives. The argument, which is largely theoretical given the scale of such things, is that selling free copies of books to the secondary market scroungers that come by most schools in droves in order to resell them to bookstores will lead to increased prices for the students. How? Well, textbook prices are insanely high to begin with because 1) economies of scale for all but the most core books aren’t great, 2) books in many subjects have a short shelf life and 3) once a book has sold for one adoption cycle, it then has to compete with used copies of itself!

My policy on this issue was fairly simple: If a book arrived unsolicited, I felt perfectly free to sell it to the book vultures and, later, using such outlets as Half.com. If I requested an examination copy of the book but didn’t adopt it after said examination, I either returned it to the publisher (if they wanted it back; most didn’t) or kept it on my shelf for reference. I figured that, despite arguments made by some, selling books for resale on the used market was a net plus to students, since it added one very clean “used” copy to the inventory while only adding an infinitescimile amount to the price of the new books. Thus, really, the “victim” was the publisher. And, if the publisher is going to send mass mailings of books out to professors rather than seeing if specific professors wanted to review the book, it was their fault.

Update (12:33 6-23) Henry Farrell is leading a sheltered existence.

FILED UNDER: Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John Lemon says:

    Scam schmam. My students were wondering why they were assigned a textbook in microbiology and I just told them to shut up.

  2. Hmm. The most I’ve ever gotten to review a book was $500, and that was for one of the best-selling Linux books on the market (I also got $1000 for writing about eight pages of it). $4k sounds deeply fishy, particularly for a textbook.

    That being said, I wouldn’t have ethical qualms if I (a) genuinely liked the book and (b) disclosed the fact I was getting paid to my class.