In 1983 the text book “Introduction to Geotechnical Engineering” cost $40. Fast forward to 2017 and today this book costs a staggering $209 + mailing fees on Amazon.
The average US inflation rate since 1983 is 2.7%. Adjusting for inflation this book should today cost $97. A cost of $209 is an annual increase of 2.4% over average annual inflation.
Puzzled, I searched Amazon for geotechnical textbooks targeted to undergraduates and found to my astonishment there were several books, each over $200.
These prices are egregious; it is time that those who truly have the interests of college students at heart, take a stand. To this end, I introduce the Oink Oink Awards, given to the three most expensive undergraduate text books for the year.
For 2017 these are:
1. Principles of Geotechnical Engineering published by CL Engineering, authored by Braja M. Das and Khaled Sobhan, and sold at $242
2. Foundation Design: Principles and Practices published also by Pearson, authored by Donald P. Coduto, William A. Kitch, and Man-chu Ronald Yeung, and sold at $215
3. An Introduction to Geotechnical Engineering published by Pearson, authored by Robert D. Holtz and William D. Kovacs, and sold at $209.
These are now official members of the Oink Oink Academy Hall of Shame, Class of 2017.
I did have an email interchange with the lead authors of these books. Braja Das wrote me: ” I am alerting the the legal team of my publisher about it.” Bob Holtz, Donald Coduto and I had a productive conversation. In the end all authors claimed they had no control of prices and that they were as frustrated as the rest of us with these price hikes. In short, it appears that responsibility for gouging youngsters with these ever increasing prices lies publishing companies are. Today, when information is frictionless and costs little, perhaps the age of the textbook as we know it, is over.
That being said, others wrote me that it was not clear that the authors were free from blame and that at least one on this list (the most expensive) had a reputation of churning his books by constantly introducing new editions with tiny changes, forcing each batch of students to keep buying the newer versions.
Here is what *you* can do to help: If you teach geotechnical engineering, do not use these expensive books for your classes. If you teach geotechnical engineering, but successfully do so with much cheaper resources, let us know how. If so motivated write (or work with me in writing) a textbook to sell at around $15. (See this book, a classic in its field: A Field Guide to Genetic Programming by Riccardo Poli et al. available today, new on Amazon for $16.). If you know of egregiously priced textbooks in other areas of Civil engineering, email me details–future Oink-Oink Awards will include these areas as well.
If you are an administrator, make it a rule that no teacher can enforce a certain text book as being absolutely required for a class; better yet, force them to use low price text books and use the extent to which they do this during their evaluation.
If you are a student and your teacher wants you to use one of these expensive books, write me and let me know. I will contact the professor and work with him/her to find a cheaper alternative.
Finally, forward this information to others: I have reserved the site oinkoinkawards.com to use if ever this movement gains traction.
As always, do let me know your thoughts using the comment feature of this blog.
Note: I sent the material above as an email to my geotechnical colleagues and the responses I got were pretty interesting. I summarize these below.
- Edition churning. One person wrote to me that he felt that Braja Das was engaging in needlessly coming out with new editions of books, simply to get a new sales cycle going. Microsoft used to do likewise before the advent of cloud based rented software. Curious I ran a query on Amazon for Prof. Das to see if he was indeed churning out editions. The results were very interesting. Should you wish to run the query yourself, click this link.
- One professor wrote me that he takes great care to use older editions because they were cheaper and, interestingly, because he felt that geotechnical engineering was a rather stagnant field, with hardly any innovations that required a new edition of a book every year!
- Others wrote to me recommending text books that cost far less, but which they felt, did the job. Looking through the table of contents and their index, I agree with them. After all, when I learned soil mechanics and foundation engineering, my text book was a cheap book printed by some author in India whose name I do not recall. The book cost Rs. 25 then which then was all of $2.50. This book gave me sufficient background to do well at Purdue and MIT so I don’t see any need for pretentious, hoighty-toighty, high falutin, bogus, needlessly expensive text books. Anyway, one book that really stood out to me was this one–I don’t know really how good it is but it seems to have decent reviews: Smith’s Elements of Soil Mechanics, 9th Edition Ian Smith ISBN: 978-0-470-67339-3 488 pages September 2014, Wiley-Blackwell available for $52