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Shoddy Books

  1. Jan 10, 2016 #1
    I saw a $75 textbook on Amazon that I wanted. But every book I've bought from Amazon has been so badly made that I consider this a last resort. While wondering what to do, I came across this.

    "First a rant: What has happened to the once high art of bookbinding? I have hardcover books, with sewn-in signatures, that have stood up well to decades of extensive use. Some softcover books, particularly the older ones from Dover Publications, have also stood up well. But virtually the entire publishing industry seems to have given up on the idea of making well-constructed books for reasonable prices. "Clifford Algebra to Geometric Calculus", with its poorly glued spine and paper cover, is my outstanding example of the _worst_ of this trend. Even though I handle my books with reasonable care, my not-inexpensive softcover of "Clifford Algebra to Geometric Calculus" started to fall apart almost immediately, before I even made it halfway through Chapter 1. I would have purchased the hardcover version with a "library binding", but the extra expense (more than $150) was so extravagant as to be beyond my means." -- Gregory Grunberg.

    Did he really mean that a hardcover cost $150 more? Or $150 total?

    I checked out used book on eBay but they cost significantly more than new.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 10, 2016 #2


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    Do you blame Amazon for this in some way?
  4. Jan 10, 2016 #3
    I don't know. I haven't bought many books so I can't compare.

    I DO know that in my youth I bought LP albums through the mail at a discount price. They always fell apart. Albums I bought at the store never did. So it is possible for large-volume distributors to order special shoddy goods.

    So, is there somewhere I can buy books that don't fall apart, or are all modern books like that?
  5. Jan 10, 2016 #4


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    Amazon doesn't make books and I'm not aware that any publishers make books specifically to sell on Amazon, although given their dominance in the book market it certainly would not be unreasonable. Still, I don't think publishers build books based on where they are going to sell.
  6. Jan 10, 2016 #5


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    Amazon is primarily a distributor. It is the manufacturer of the books who is responsible for the quality, or the publisher, assuming the publisher oversees the manufacture. It seems industry is about cutting costs and returning more on investment, even if it reduces quality of the product.
  7. Jan 10, 2016 #6
    In my experience there has always been a certain percentage of poorly constructed books. I borrow newer books from the Library all the time and most of them seem pretty sturdy. But, I also buy older books all the time and it's not all that rare to find among them ones that are falling apart, both hardcover and paperback.

    However, it could be that textbook publishers, in particular, are getting sloppy, since the strategy now seems to be to "update" them every year in order to force students to buy the new version. In other words, last years text will be out of date this year, so why bother constructing it to last 50 years?

    If this problem is real, it may be that it's exclusively a textbook problem, not a problem with books in general.
  8. Jan 10, 2016 #7

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    Quality bookbinding costs money. Smyth sewn books are the best - and the most expensive. Quarter-binding is rare, and half-binding or full leather is rare still. People don't want to pay for this quality.
  9. Jan 10, 2016 #8

    I'm sitting here with a shelf full of textbooks 20 and 40 years old and none of them is falling apart.

    I have a trigonometry text book from the 1940's. The paper is so dense if feels like lifting a rock. The content also is superior to anything else I've seen.
  10. Jan 10, 2016 #9
    I believe you, but the question is whether you would have bought them if they were falling apart. Personally, I don't mind shelling out a dollar at the swap meet for a 40 year old book with loose pages or a cracked spine if I am interested in the information in it.

    Again, I believe you, but I think if you did a more thorough survey of books from the 40's you'd find poor quality ones as well. Finding the bad ones is a matter of finding sellers who will try to sell anything. A good bookseller wouldn't acquire or try to sell a book in very poor condition.
  11. Jan 10, 2016 #10
    I bought them new. My professors assigned them, so I didn't have any choice. I've got 29 of these textbooks and they are all doing fine, so the probability of a bad one must have been low.

    I question whether those Amazon books would sell in a bookstore. I think they would fall apart on the shelf before they could be sold.
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2016
  12. Jan 10, 2016 #11
    OK, I have checked my books and you might be right. The college texts I have are all structurally sound, some of them going back to 1915. Some of them have separate pieces of paper folded and stuffed into them by students over the years giving the impression of loose pages, but that's illusory.
    Like I said earlier, I wouldn't be surprised if publishers now treat college texts as 'disposable,' not intended to last more than a semester. You take last years text, shuffle it around a little, reprint it calling it an "updated" edition implying that last years is already hopelessly out of date, and that's enough smoke and mirrors to justify students having to buy a new text.
  13. Jan 10, 2016 #12


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    You should also check to see if these books are meant to be sold in the us. Books made for sale in Asia are very poor quality and are not allowed to be sold in the US, but you will find these illegal sources selling on Amazon. It is up to you to check.
  14. Jan 10, 2016 #13
    I've had some problems with horrible binding too, but thankfully it's easy to fix. All you need is some Elmer's school glue (any washable, acid-free glue will do, so don't get ripped off spending $40 on a tub of bookbinding glue that the hipster running your used book store told you to get), a fine-tipped paintbrush or even Q-tips, and rubber bands.

    For pages or sections of pages that have fallen out, brush some glue into the crease where the pages fell out of, then just slide the fallen pages back in. After an hour or two, when the glue has lost its stickiness but has yet to start fully drying, run a butter knife through all of the pages that you put back in and near where you made the repair to prevent pages from gluing together, make sure you can still flip pages easily. Then put the rubber bands around the closed book, and compress the closed book under something flat and heavy overnight, by morning the pages will be just as secure as when the book was new, just open it slowly the first couple times to detach any pages that might have gotten stuck together by any residual glue. I've done this with both hard and softcover.

    If the binding has separated from the spine, all you need to do is drizzle some of the Elmer's glue into the space between the binding and the spine, and then put rubber bands on in such a way as to force the spine and binding together, and let sit overnight.

    Caveat though, I've only done this on books with heavier paper that can survive the peeling apart stage, something that uses very fine paper like Horowitz's Art of Electronics would probably liquefy in your hands if you tried this.

    That's illegal?
  15. Jan 10, 2016 #14
    The textbook market changed in the 80's or so as I recall. Textbook prices went up. Students started to sell their used books. Sales dropped. Professors (or publishers? I dunno) retaliated by issuing an updated version every year. It was pretty much the same as the old one, but the homework problems were rearranged so that when assigned "problems 3,9,27, and 33 on page 297" you had to have the new edition. It never crossed my mind that the new edition would be better in any way.
  16. Jan 10, 2016 #15
    How can I tell?
  17. Jan 10, 2016 #16


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    It usually says. But I'll look some more, we've had threads on these junky Asian books before.
  18. Jan 11, 2016 #17
    As Evo says, a message stating that the book is not sold in the US or so and for international students only will be printed on the cover. I used to buy one book (about computer OS) written by an American writer I would like to not name fully here and could read such a message. Concerning the book content quality, I truly love it. It uses easy English, formal styles and is colorful. I love all visual images that really help push forward my understandings.
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
  19. Jan 11, 2016 #18
    Check out the charts on this site:
    https://www.aei.org/publication/the-new-era-of-the-400-college-textbook-which-is-part-of-the-unsustainable-higher-education-bubble/ [Broken]
    Students are a captive market: they have to buy the book assigned and can't shop around for better deals.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  20. Jan 11, 2016 #19
    I've bought advanced biology, advanced physics and chemistry from Amazon this summer and they are all right. I haven't used them much, though. :-)
    I also read quite a lot and I didn't notice lower quality of binding.
    What I noticed is much lower quality of new domestic appliances. But that's another story :-)
  21. Jan 11, 2016 #20
    My sister's career is selling home appliances. She says even $5000 refrigerators are engineered to fail in a few years.
  22. Jan 11, 2016 #21
    Actually I sympathize with the writers of physics textbooks. They are very difficult to write and sales are low. I think that $150 for a good textbook is a good deal. I've checked out some free textbooks available online and they weren't worth it.

    Professors are underpaid. They collude to boost one another's income by assigning one another's textbooks. I don't blame them.
    If I were a student and was caught in the "new edition" game, I would buy an "obsolete" edition cheap then get Xerox copies of the problem sets from the other students.

    I'm glad I kept most of my textbooks, and regret the few I got rid of or avoided buying in the first place. I feel sorry for students who can't afford to keep their books for reference.
    As for whether the "higher education bubble is unsustainable," I say it can go on forever. It may be a losing game on average, but it can continue as long as not having a degree is perceived as worse. People will gamble at bad odds if the alternative is being a permanent loser.

    I have a cousin who owns a small software consulting company and they place no value on degrees. He hires people with certificates from large vendors like Microsoft.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 7, 2017
  23. Jan 11, 2016 #22


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    It must've been printed after the War. Wartime books used very thin paper and smaller page sizes to save material, and some of the bindings were not as durable.

    Another problem you find often in older texts is that the paper used is not acid-free, and the books printed with this stuff slowly decompose over the years, regardless of whether you use them or not.
  24. Jan 11, 2016 #23
    I am unclear about the collusion.
    But this is really smart of you! You sound like my professor. :-p
    I couldn't keep most of my books, which is a sad thing. At the same time I also realize that I don't remember anything said in the books I have read after some time. :DD
    It is probably because I am becoming old now but I find I become more interested in or inspired towards the ideas or words used in a particular passage of a page than about how accurately the books should have been written.
    Lemme know more please so that I can try applying for a position in there. :biggrin:
  25. Jan 11, 2016 #24

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    Do you have any evidence for this? Both of the textbook authors I know well got $1/book. Maybe it's up to $2/book now. Either you are writing a widely-used intro text, in which case the "collusion" doesn't matter, or you're not, in which case you aren't making any money even with the "collusion".
  26. Jan 11, 2016 #25
    Then I don't know what's going on. Why do professors buy into the "new edition" scam?
    Last edited: Jan 11, 2016
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