Selling textbooks/going to “the dark side”

I was in my office the other day, catching up on various things (the main state of affairs for me as of late, but since the search I am chairing is in the final days, I think/hope, stuff will be “normal” busy here soon) when a textbook buyer knocked on my door. For those unfamiliar with the process/concept: a textbook buyer is someone who visits faculty offices offering to buy textbooks. They do this because the buyer and/or his company then turn around and sell these textbooks to students for a higher price. Obviously, it’s a “win” for the buyer, and it’s a “win” for most faculty since a lot of us get sent textbooks we don’t want or need all the time. It’s even a “win” of sorts for students who then have more used books to buy at a lower price.

The only one who “loses” out of this arrangement is the textbook publisher/industry. They lose money out of this process because textbook publishers send these books to faculty for free in an effort to get faculty to adopt a book for their teaching; they don’t do this so the professor can make a few bucks selling it. Needless to say, textbook publishers aren’t exactly crazy about the textbook buyback business– of course, they aren’t that crazy about used textbooks in general, but that’s a slightly different topic.

In any event, this guy came by yesterday asking if I had any textbooks to sell. My usual answer is “no, I don’t sell books,” delivered in a somewhat “holier than thou” tone of voice. Because generally speaking, I agree with the publishers on this one: it’s probably not entirely ethical to sell something that you received for educational purposes, and it probably does contribute to the rising cost of books. And besides that, it feels a little like regifting something. That’s always struck me as tacky.

But this time, I responded “no, but you’ve reminded me I need to find a book for a student of mine.” So I got up and started to rummage around my shelves a bit.

“Hey, are you using that little spiral-bound guy there?” the textbook buyer dude asked, pointing to a book that a) I’ve never used, b) I wouldn’t use, and c) I didn’t ask for in the first place.

“No,” I said. “You might want buy it?” And with a simple check of some sort of bar-code scanning data device the buyer had and an affirmative answer from him, I was off to the races. Off to what my wife jokingly referred to later as “the dark side” (she’s been selling books like this for a long time and thought my previous attitude on the subject was a tad haughty). Mostly I unloaded books that I just never ever thought I’d use and a couple of books where I had multiple copies. Ten or fewer books later, I had collected a tidy little $35.

Well, the textbook industry hasn’t exactly been kind to me in the past. And I like to earn a buck here and there. And it seems like everyone else does it. We are probably going to regift that Saturday Night Live Trivial Pursuit game someone gave us last Christmas.

Oh, the dark side indeed….

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