Henry Korn holding the very first copy of Amerikan Krazy

Henry Korn holding the very first copy of Amerikan Krazy

Had a great lunch today with Henry James Korn who’s proudly holding a copy of his latest book.

Had a great lunch today with @henryjameskorn who's proudly holding a copy of his latest book.

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Photo taken at: Porta Via Italian Foods

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Amerikan Krazy Unboxing

Unboxing of a few cartons of the hardcover of Amerikan Krazy that arrived today for the book launch at Chevalier's Books next Wednesday!

A few cartons of the hardcover of Amerikan Krazy arrived today for the book launch at Chevalier’s Books next Wednesday!

I took a quick photo series of the unboxing of the copies.

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If you haven’t RSVP’d for the reading and book signing, there’s still some room left. Please RSVP at Boffo Socko Books or on Facebook. I hope to see everyone at Chevalier’s Books on Wednesday at 7pm.

Can’t wait for Wednesday or want to read it before the book signing? You can buy the hardcover or e-book version on Amazon or wherever fine literature is sold.

 

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Book Launch for Amerikan Krazy at Chevalier’s on March 2, 2016

Join me on March 2nd for the launch of Henry James Korn's novel Amerikan Krazy.

So, I’m publishing my first book. Not a book I wrote, mind you, but a book for which I’m the actual publisher

We’re throwing a party at Chevalier’s in Los Angeles to celebrate it. Henry James Korn, a brilliant writer—so good that I went to the trouble of publishing it myself rather than just selling it, as I’ve done so often in the past—will be doing a reading and signing on March 2nd. I hope you can all join us!

RSVP via Facebook or directly at <a href=”http://boffosockobooks.com/books/authors/henry-james-korn/amerikan-krazy/#appearances”” target=”_blank”>Boffo Socko Books.

If you have to miss the launch, you may be able to catch one of his other <a href=”http://boffosockobooks.com/books/authors/henry-james-korn/amerikan-krazy/#appearances”” target=”_blank”>upcoming book signings.

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A Small Gift: Tapping the Source

A nice gift of fiction from @henryjameskorn when we met yesterday at @chevaliersbooks.
 

A nice gift of fiction from @henryjameskorn when we met yesterday @chevaliersbooks.

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Photo taken at: Chevalier’s Books

Los Angeles, California, United States of America

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How to Steal a Million

Some satiric commentary on the American condition
Msr. Charles Bonnet, painter, art forger, conman
counter-scolding his daughter who has called him a fraud
in How to Steal a Million (1966)

 

Then, just a bit later in the film:

Msr. Charles Bonnet, painter, art forger, conman
ironically speaking to his daughter after forging and selling several major artworks
in How to Steal a Million (1966)

 

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Advanced Reader Edition Giveaway of Henry James Korn’s Upcoming Amerikan Krazy

For those who just can't wait for the official launch on February 22, 2016, Boffo Socko Books is giving away five free signed copies of the advanced reader edition of Amerikan Krazy by Henry James Korn.

Many of you may have already heard, but I’m publishing books under the Boffo Socko Books imprint and our first release, a satirical novel entitled Amerikan Krazy written by Henry James Korn, is being put out on February 22, 2016, just in time to “celebrate” the race for the Presidential Election of 2016.

For a limited time, we’re giving away five free signed copies of the advanced reader edition before the official launch of the book. Along with major book review outlets, you’ll be able to have and read a copy weeks before the official launch.

You can sign up for the giveaway by January 15, 2016 at GoodReads.com.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Amerikan Krazy by Henry James Korn

Amerikan Krazy

by Henry James Korn

Giveaway ends January 15, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


Entrants will be notified on Jan 15, 2016 if they win.

We hope our friends will take a moment to register for a free GoodReads account and spend a moment to indicate that they “want to read” the book, and “follow Henry” there as an author.

If you have a moment, and feel so inclined, feel free to share a link to this post on your favorite social media outlet. Your help in spreading the word is greatly appreciated.

Members of the press, reviewers, and book bloggers can request ARC/ARE copies directly. 

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JHU Arts Entertainment Media Entrepreneurship (AEME) Group Event

Fellow Johns Hopkins Alumni come join us as we welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program,​ and current Film majors from the Film and Media Studies Intersession Course for a diverse and dynamic panel discussion featuring creative and successful Hopkins alumni working in the industry. Learn relevant information, make connections with fellow LA area alumni and talk with the current students.

Over the past several months, I’ve been helping to set up an affinity group for the Johns Hopkins Alumni Association to bring together alumni who work in areas related to the entertainment industry.

For the past several weeks, we’ve been making plans for our first official event to be held in conjunction with a week long Intersession course being offered by the Film and Media Studies Program at Hopkins.  We’re happy to announce the details for this event on January 7th and hope everyone can join us. There will be a panel discussion as well as ample time to chat with a variety of fellow alumni, current students, and faculty.

Are you a member of the Arts, Entertainment, Media, or Entrepreneurship communities in Los Angeles?

Join us as we welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program,​ and current Film majors from the Film and Media Studies Intersession Course for a diverse and dynamic panel discussion featuring creative and successful Hopkins alumni working in the industry. Learn relevant information, make connections with fellow LA area alumni and talk with the current students.

Hosted by:
Donald Kurz ’77, Johns Hopkins University Trustee and School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board Member, and
the Arts Entertainment Media Entrepreneurship Affinity: LA Group

January 7, 2016
6:30 pm
at Omelet, LLC, 3540 Hayden Avenue, Culver City, CA 90232
No Charge for alumni and guests

RSVP now for this event.

 

For more information:
Johns Hopkins University Alumni Association AEME LA Reception
Office of Alumni Relations
800-JHU-JHU1 (548-5481)
alumevents@jhu.edu

 

As part of the reception, we’ll have a panel discussion with a variety of local alumni who work in the entertainment and media sectors.

Panelists

Jason P. Somerville, ’97
Founder and Managing Partner, EIG
Mark Swift, ’93
Screenwriter
Dalia Ganz, ’05
Director, Digital & Partnership Marketing at ABC Family
Mitch Tenzer, ’75
Partner, Ziffren Brittenham, LLP
Sunny Boling, ’99
Casting Director

 

A number of students from Hopkins will be in attendance at the event as part of an Intersession course being offered by the department. The listing for the course follows:

The Entertainment Industry in Contemporary Hollywood

This week-long course in Los Angeles gives students inside access to the entertainment industry through daily meetings and workshops with key figures in film, television, new media, and music, many of them JHU alums: directors, producers, screenwriters, studio executives, agents, exhibitors and more. We will visit studios, major agencies and production companies, and will end the week with a JHU networking event and panel discussion with alumni who work in film and television.The course runs from January 4 -8. Open to all Film and Media Studies majors and minors, with preference given to seniors. Students outside FMS may apply if slots remain open after all FMS students have registered.

Course Number: AS.061.377.60
Credits: 1
Distribution: H
Days:  Monday 1/4/2016 – Friday 1/8/2016
Times:  M – 9:00-4:00PM | Tu- 9:00-4:00PM | W- 9:00-4:00PM | Th- 9:00-4:00PM | F- 9:00-4:00PM
Instructor: Linda DeLibero

 

Update

The event was a wonderful success.  I wanted to share a few of the photos I took during the panel discussion:

20160107_202153_002
Students, alumni, and faculty look on at the Johns Hopkins Arts, Entertainment, Media, and Entrepreneurship Panel Discussion

 

20160107_193110
Johns Hopkins Arts, Entertainment, Media, and Entrepreneurship Panel Discussion featuring Dalia Ganz, Mark Swift, Jason Sommerville, and Sunny Boling.

 

Omelet group photo
Here’s just a few of the many alumni who came out to the LA meetup at Omelet! It was a pleasure to see so many graduates interested in helping the current students and young alumni break into the film industry. — with Amelia Voos, Lydia Youngman, Dael Norwitz, Cole Spivak, Juliana Veracka, Taylor Veracka, Errol Koenig, Elena Thompson, Chris Aldrich, Howie Mandel, Evelyn Jerome Alexander, Josh Siegel, Don Kurz, Grant Lease, Linda DeLibero, Kathryn Alsman, Mark Swift, Brian J. McConnell, Will Mason, Josh Raphaelson, Caitlin Duffy and Jess Ambrosetti at Omelet.
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3 Rules of Academic Blogging

3 Rules of Academic Blogging (The Chronicle of Higher Education)
Not only is the form alive and well, but one of its most vibrant subsections is in academe.

1. Pick the right platform.
2. Write whatever you want.
3. Write for the sake of writing.

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In Memoriam: Millard Kaufman, WWII Veteran and Front for Dalton Trumbo

On Veteran's day, a memoriam of writer Millard Kaufman.

O

n Veterans Day this year, which lands very near the release of the film Trumbo starring Bryan Cranston, I thought I’d take a moment to remember my old friend and mentor Millard Kaufman.

Millard not only fought for us in the war, but when he came back home he helped to defend our right to free speech and our ability to pursue happiness in a very fundamental way in his career as a screenwriter.  I often hear friends in the entertainment industry say, “This isn’t brain surgery, we’re not saving lives, here.” but in a great sense Millard was doing that in small steps throughout his career. Millard Kaufman enlisted in the Marines in 1942, served on Guadalcanal, landed at Guam with the 1st Marine Brigade (Provisional) where he wrote an article for the Marine Corps Gazette about the battle, then participated in the Battle of Okinawa with the 6th Marine Division.

Millard Kaufman

I met Millard 20 years ago in 1995 on a trip to Los Angeles with Matt Gross while we were ostensibly programming the 1995 Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium entitled “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” which coincided with the 100th anniversary of film.  Dr. John Irwin, the long-time head of the Writing Seminars Department at Johns Hopkins, had provided us with a long distance introduction as Millard was a Hopkins alum from the class of ’39. So we met him at his home in the Hollywood Hills looking out over a forested sanctuary. Over our first simple tuna fish sandwich lunch, we began a friendship that spanned the next decade and a half.

Most may remember Millard Kaufman, if at all, as the co-creator of the cartoon character Mr. Magoo, who he based on his uncle, while many others will know his Academy Award nominated films Take the High Ground (1953) or Bad Day at Black Rock (1955). I’ll always remember him for his charm, his wry wit, his ability to swear comfortably in any company, and his sense of fairness.

Millard Kaufman in his youth

Apparently Hollywood itself has glossed over his contribution to helping to maintain Dalton Trumbo’s writing career in the recent release of Trumbo (2015), in which he isn’t mentioned (or portrayed on screen). [I’ll note here that I haven’t yet seen the movie, and may boycott it for the slight.] It is here in which Kaufman’s strong internal moral compass pressured him to help ensure Trumbo’s freedom of speech and, in part, his writing career. In short, the House Un-American Activities Committee’s (HUAC) pressured Trumbo which resulted in Trumbo’s being blacklisted in Hollywood and effectively destroying his writing career.

Trumbo and Kaufman shared the same agent at the time, George Willner. One day, relatively early in Kaufman’s career, Willner approached him to see if he would be willing to put his name on the script Gun Crazy that would turn into the 1950 film-noir crime classic to allow it to get made. As Millard told me many times, “I didn’t have much sense then, but at least I had sense enough to say, ‘Let me talk it over with Laurie’ [his wife].” “But we discussed it and we believed it was rotten that a man couldn’t write under his own name,” Kaufman told Daily Variety in 1992. That same year Kaufman, a board member of WGAw, officially requested that the Writers Guild take his name off the credits and replace it with Dalton Trumbo’s name. Kaufman’s fronting for Trumbo helped allow the film to get made, and Trumbo’s career to continue on, even if in the dark. As a board member of the Writer’s Guild Millard helped to restore credits to many writers of the blacklist era who were similarly slighted as a result of their politics at the time. It’s a travesty, that a film gets made highlighting this exact period in Trumbo’s life, but Millard’s small contribution to it has been all but forgotten.  Fortunately there are enough who do remember to tell the story.

Millard Kaufman

When I think of Millard and his various contributions, my favorite is always that he wrote the stunning script for Bad Day at Black Rock (MGM, 1955), a superb Western suspense film starring Spencer Tracy as a one-armed veteran facing mysterious enemies in a small desert town. The film shows how post-World War II America could be be both horrifyingly racist and cowardly, but it also showed a way out through Tracy’s character which always reminds me of Millard’s high-mindedness. It was such a great film, I was personally honored to screen it on November 3, 1995, as the premiere film in Shriver Hall after we had mounted a year-long renovation of the film equipment, screen, and sound system. The day before we were all honored to have Millard speak on “Censorship in Film” as part of the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium.

For those who never had the chance to meet him, I’m including a short 3 minute video of several clips of him talking about a variety of topics.  The Millard portrayed here is the no-holds barred man I’ll always remember. Thanks for fighting for all of us, Millard!

 

For those looking for more information about Millard Kaufman, I’ll include the following articles:

Millard Kaufman, on writing novels. Quoted in Vulture while discussing his debut novel Bowl of Cherries.

Kaufman hands to head

“…[Millard] is the only first-time novelist I’ve met who could relate first-hand writing advice from Charlie Chaplin.”

Jordan Bass, editor, McSweeney’s in Salon (April 21, 2010). 

 

4-04-2008 Los Angeles ,CA Novelist Millard Kaufman, who published his first novel, "Bowl of Cherries," at age 90, at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Mr Kaufman is a veteran of WWII , a former newspaper copy boy, and a Hollywood screenwriter. He is also co-creator of Mr Magoo. photo © Jonathan Alcorn
4-04-2008 Los Angeles ,CA
Novelist Millard Kaufman, who published his first novel, “Bowl of Cherries,” at age 90, at his home in the Brentwood section of Los Angeles. Mr Kaufman is a veteran of WWII , a former newspaper copy boy, and a Hollywood screenwriter. He is also co-creator of Mr Magoo.
photo © Jonathan Alcorn
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Johns Hopkins on film: A guide to university cameos big and small

Some thoughts on movies that shot at Johns Hopkins University

“Homewood campus, Peabody Conservatory, East Baltimore campus have made cameos big and small over the years”

Source: Johns Hopkins on film: A guide to university cameos big and small

It’s almost like they write some of this stuff just for me. Though I was already aware of most of the movies they mentioned, they did miss a few:

Washington Square (1997) directed by Agnieszka Holland in Hollywood Pictures/Caravan Pictures production has a stunning cameo of the interior of the Peabody Library – this cameo is the only reason I vaguely remember the film at all.

The Johns Hopkins Science Review (1948-1955) This production is also particularly notable as being the television debut (October 8, 1951) of actor and alum John Astin who now heads the JHU Drama program and for whom the eponymous theater in the Merrick Barn is named.

Fratricide (1966) – A very independent short black and white film (with no credits) starring professor Richard Macksey that was produced by a group of students which included later Hollywood luminaries Walter Murch (who just a few years later co-wrote THX 1138 with George Lucas), Caleb Deschanel, and Matthew Robbins, who coincidentally co-wrote Crimson Peak with Guillermo del Torro which comes out in theaters today.

I have a nagging feeling there are a few more, but they’re just not coming to me at the moment…

By the way, for those suffering through Head of State, you should know in advance that the Shriver Hall scene doesn’t appear until the very end of the movie and then plays through the credits.

Johns Hopkins was a prettier more "college-y" campus, so it got cast over Harvard in "The Social Network."
More like Johns Hopkins, Fall 2009.  Johns Hopkins was a prettier more “college-y” campus, so it got cast over Harvard as Harvard in “The Social Network.”
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Henry James Korn’s Novel Amerikan Krazy is Available for Pre-Order

As a birthday present for Henry James Korn, I'm announcing the ability to pre-order his debut novel Amerikan Krazy.

Happy Birthday Henry!

The more I read of Henry James Korn‘s work, the more I love both it and him.  Nothing pleases or honors me more than to be part of the process of not only re-releasing several of his prior works, but to be part of the team releasing his debut novel. Toward that end, I’m happy to announce (on what I hope to be his best birthday yet) the availability to pre-order his forthcoming novel Amerikan Krazy on Amazon.com! If anyone loves it half as much as I do, it’s guaranteed to be a best seller.

I’ve helped him to edit and shape it for several months now and somehow never tire of reading his characters, his plot, or re-experiencing his never-ending wit or his truckloads of snark. Somehow, between the two of us, I think I’m always getting the better end of the deal in working on his book.  Either way I’m proud to call him my friend.

 

Henry Korn's novel Amerikan Krazy now available on Amazon.com
Henry Korn’s novel Amerikan Krazy now available on Amazon.com

 

Happy Birthday Henry!

 

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45th Anniversary Re-release of The Pontoon Manifesto: The Electronic Edition

For its 45th anniversary, we are truly proud to present a new and unlimited edition electronic Pontoon powered by a web-based randomizer which reorders the paragraphs at the click of a button.

A DIGITAL PONTOON

B

ack in the late sixties, my friend Henry James Korn wrote an experimental and formally innovative work of fiction entitled The Pontoon Manifesto.

 It’s had various print incarnations, some better than others in terms of relaying the intended meaning of his experiment. Forty-five years on, we are truly proud to present a new and unlimited edition electronic Pontoon powered by a web-based randomizer which reorders the paragraphs at the click of a button. This gives The Pontoon Manifesto new life in a technological form unavailable at the time of its writing.

“Henry James Korn’s Pontoon Manifesto is a pioneering modular fiction.”

Richard Kostelanetz, critic, curator, editor, and visual poet

 

This late 1960’s literary experiment anticipated major themes, characters, and plot points in Korn’s forthcoming debut novel Amerikan Krazy (Boffo Socko Books, 2015).  The Pontoon Manifesto was initially floated in a pair of early 1970’s paperback offshoots of New American Review.

For the Print Purists

In 1975, his experiment was reprinted by the poet Larry Zirlin as a limited edition artist book in the form of a deck of cards to be shuffled and read in any order.  This may be one of the best ways to read the manifesto, and limited copies of this original collector’s edition are still available — drop us a note if you are interested in acquiring a numbered/lettered and signed copy. Physical copies should also be available on Amazon.com shortly as well.

Pontoon Manifesto

We would love to have your reviews and thoughts once you’ve had the chance to check out the new “manifesto.”  Feel free to post them on GoodReads.com at your leisure.  Additional information about The Pontoon Manifesto including selected exhibitions, selected collections, and its publication history can be found here: The Pontoon Manifesto.

REVIEWS & COMMENTS

‘Thirty-three fictional beginnings to be shuffled and read in any order?’  I did it and I’m hooked.
-Alexandra Garrett, NewLetters, Beyond Baroque Foundation Los Angeles, 1975

Korn’s persona is a latter-day Huck Finn on his raft riding out of yesterday into today, graduating from innocence to the no-sense world of Tanguy, Ernst, Dali and Kafka.  This post-McLuhan Shandyesque card-read, play-book  is elegant, whimsical, politically satirical and truly surreal.
-Arlene Zekowski, Small Press Review, Dustbooks, Paradise, California, 1975

A fictional house of cards designed to destroy the everlasting sanity of librarians everywhere.
-Bill Katz, “Best Small Press Titles of 1975” Library Journal, New York, 1975

The Pontoon Manifesto can be read as many ways as it can be shuffled, creating a new plot with every reading.  In trusting his reader to create the fiction, Korn appears to believe my mind contains as many interesting possibilities as his own.
-Tom Montag, Learning to Read Again: Some Notes on Eight Recent Books, Cat’s Pajama Press, Chicago, 1976

Free from an established view of art and literature, Henry James Korn challenges us to take up the gauntlet and write our own stories.
-Loris Essary, Assembling Assembling, Pratt Graphics Center exhibition catalogue edited by Richard Kostelanetz, Assembling Press, New York, 1978


The Pontoon Manifesto electronic web edition was designed by Chris Aldrich of  Boffo Socko Books who deployed a web-based randomizer which reorders the paragraphs endlessly at the click of a button.

 

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Obituary: Wes Craven

Wes Craven Dead: Movies 'Scream', 'Nightmare on Elm Street' Horrified Viewers (The Hollywood Reporter)
Wes Craven, the famed maestro of horror known for the Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream franchises, died Sunday after a battle with brain cancer. He was 76.

Saddened to  hear that filmmaker and fellow Johns Hopkins University alum Wes Craven has passed away this afternoon. He was certainly a scholar and a gentleman and will be missed terribly.

Obituary: Wes Craven, Horror Maestro, Dies at 76 – Hollywood Reporter 

Wes Craven
Wes Craven
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To Purchase, Rent, or Pirate? The Broken Economics of Textbooks in the Digital Age

What's wrong with the economics of the textbook industry, and what students, parents, professors, and universities can do to mitigate the ever-rising price of textbooks.

I

t’s the beginning of yet another quarter/semester (or ovester, if you prefer) and a new crop of inquiries have come up around selling back used textbooks and purchasing new textbooks for upcoming classes. I’m not talking about the philosophical discussion about choosing your own textbooks that I’ve mentioned before. I’m considering, in the digital era,

What are the best options for purchasing, renting, or utilizing textbook products in what is a relatively quickly shifting market?

The popular press has a variety of evergreen stories that hit the wire at the beginning of each semester that scratch just the surface of the broader textbook issue or focus on one tiny upstart company that promises to drastically disrupt the market (yet somehow never does), but these articles never delve just a bit deeper into the market to give a broader array of ideas and, more importantly, solutions for the students/parents who are spending the bulk of the money to support the inequalities the market has built.

I aim to facilitate some of this digging and revealing based on years of personal book buying experience as well as having specified textbooks as an instructor in the past.

Reading Formats

Most current students won’t have been born late enough that electronic files for books and texts will have been common enough to prefer them over physical texts, but with practice and time, many will prefer electronic texts in the long term, particularly as one can highlight, mark up, and more easily search, store, and even carry electronic texts.

Before taking a look at the pure economics of the market for the various forms of purchase, resale, or even renting, one should first figure out one’s preference for reading format. There are obviously many different means of learning (visual, auditory, experiential, etc.) which some will prefer over others, so try to tailor your “texts” to your preferred learning style as much as possible. For those who prefer auditory learning modes, be sure to check out alternatives like Audible or the wealth of online video/audio materials that have proliferated in the MOOC revolution. For those who are visual learners or who learn best by reading, do you prefer ebook formats over physical books?  There are many studies showing the benefit of one over the other, but some of this comes down to personal preference and how comfortable one is with particular formats.  Most current students won’t have been born late enough that electronic files for books and texts will have been common enough to prefer them over physical texts, but with practice and time, many will prefer electronic texts in the long term, particularly as one can highlight, mark up, and more easily search, store, and even carry electronic texts.  It’s taken me (an avowed paper native) several years, but I now vastly prefer to have books in electronic format for some of the reasons indicated above in addition to the fact that I can carry a library of 2,500+ books with me almost anywhere I go. I also love being able to almost instantly download anything that I don’t currently own but may need/want.

The one caveat I’ll mention, particularly for visual learners (or those with pseudo-photographic or eidetic memory), is that they attempt to keep a two-page reading format on their e-reading devices as their long-term memory for reading will increase with the ability to place the knowledge on the part of the page(s) where they originally encountered it (that is, I remember seeing that particular item on the top left, or middle right portion of a particular page.) Sometimes this isn’t always possible due to an e-reader’s formatting capabilities or the readability of the size of the text (for example, a .pdf file on a Kindle DX would be preferable to the same file on a much smaller smartphone) , but for many it can be quite helpful. Personally, I can remember where particular words and grammatical constructs appeared in my 10th grade Latin text many years later while I would be very unlikely to be able to do this with the presentation of some modern-day e-readers or alternate technologies like rapid serial visual presentation (RSVP).

bookstore-bookshelves-1024x768

 

Purchasing Options

Purchasing to Keep

Personally, as a student and a bibliophile (read: bibliomaniac), I would typically purchase all of the physical texts for all of my classes.  I know this isn’t a realizable reality for everyone, so, for the rest, I would recommend purchasing all of the texts (physical or electronic, depending on one’s preference for personal use) in one’s main area of study, which one could then keep for the long term and not sell back. This allows one to build a library that will serve as a long term reference for one’s primary area(s) of study.

Renting vs Short-term Ownership

In general, I’m opposed to renting books or purchasing them for a semester or year and then returning them for a partial refund. It’s rarely a great solution for the end consumer who ends up losing the greater value of the textbook. Even books returned and sold later as used, often go for many multiples of their turn in price the following term, so if it’s a newer or recent edition, it’s probably better to hold on to it for a few months and then sell it for a used price, slightly lower than the college bookstore’s going rate.

Free Texts

For tangential texts in classes I know I don’t want to keep for the long term, I’d usually find online versions or borrow (for free) from the local college or public library (many books are available electronically through the library or are borrow-able through the library reserve room.)

Most public libraries use systems like Overdrive, Axis 360 (Baker & Taylor), Adobe Digital Editions, 3M Cloud Library, etc. to allow students to check out a broad array of fiction and non-fiction for free for loan terms from as short as a week up to a month or more. Additionally well-known websites like the Project Gutenberg and Archive.org have lots of commonly used texts available for free download in a broad variety of formats.  This includes a lot of classic fiction, philosophy, and other texts used in the humanities. Essentially most works published in the United States prior to 1923 and many additional texts published after this as well can be found in the public domain. Additional information on what is in the public domain can be found here: Copyright Term and Public Domain in the United States.

Why pay $10-20 for a classic book like Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan when you can find copies for free online, unless of course you’re getting a huge amount of additional scholarship and additional notes along with it.

Often college students forget that they’re not just stuck with their local institutional library, so I’ll remind everyone to check out their local public library(s) as well as other nearby institutional libraries and inter-library loan options which may give them longer term loan terms.

General Economics in the Textbook Market

One of the most important changes in the textbook market that every buyer should be aware of: last year in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. the US Supreme Court upheld the ability for US-based students to buy copies of textbooks printed in foreign countries (often at huge cut-rate prices) [see also Ars Technica]. This means that searching online bookstores in India, Indonesia, Pakistan, etc. will often find the EXACT same textbooks (usually with slightly different ISBNs, and slightly cheaper paper) for HUGE discounts in the 60-95% range.

Example: I recently bought an international edition of Walter Rudin’s Principles of Mathematical Analysis (Amazon $121) for $5 (and it even happened to ship from within the US for $3). Not only was this 96% off of the cover price, but it was 78% off of Amazon’s rental price!  How amazing is it to spend almost as much to purchase a book as it is to ship it to yourself!? I’ll also note here that the first edition of this book appeared in 1964 and this very popular third edition is from 1976, so it isn’t an example of “edition creep”, but it’s still got a tremendous mark up in relation to other common analysis texts which list on Amazon for $35-50.

HintAbe Books (a subsidiary of Amazon) is better than most at finding/sourcing international editions of textbooks.

For some of the most expensive math/science/engineering texts one can buy an edition one or two earlier than the current one. In these cases, the main text changes very little, if any, and the primary difference is usually additional problems in the homework sections (which causes small discrepancies in page number counts). If necessary, the problem sets can be easily obtained via the reserve room in the library or by briefly borrowing/photocopying problems from classmates who have the current edition. The constant “edition-churning” by publishers is mean to help prop up high textbook prices.

Definition: “Edition Churning” or “Edition Creep“: a common practice of textbook publishers of adding scant new material, if any, to textbooks on a yearly or every-other-yearly basis thereby making older editions seem prematurely obsolete and thereby propping up the prices of their textbooks. Professors who blithely utilize the newest edition of a texbook are often unknowingly complicit in propping up prices in these situations.

Book Outlets

Bookstores

One may find some usefulness or convenience in traditional bookstores, particularly Barnes & Noble, the last of the freestanding big box retailers. If you’re a member of their affinity program and get an additional discount for ordering books directly through them, then it may not be a horrible idea to do so. Still, they’re paying for a relatively large overhead and it’s likely that you’ll find cheaper prices elsewhere.

Campus bookstores

These are becoming increasingly lean and many may begin disappearing over the next decade or so, much the way many traditional bookstores have disappeared in the last decade with the increasing competition online.  Because many students aren’t the best at price comparison, however, and because of their position in the economic chain, many are managing to hang on quite well.  Keep in mind that many campus bookstores have fine print deals in which they’ll match or beat pricing you find online, so be sure to take advantage of this fact, particularly when shipping from many services will make an equivalent online purchase a few dollars more expensive.

Used bookstores

There are fewer and fewer of these around these days and even fewer textbook-specific stores that traditionally sprouted up next to major campuses.  This last type may not be a horrible place to shop, but they’re likely to specialize in used texts of only official texts. Otherwise, general used bookstores are more likely to specialize in paperbacks and popular used fiction and have very lean textbook selection, if any.

Online Retailers

Naturally when shopping for textbooks there are a veritable wealth of websites to shop around online including: Amazon, Alibris, Barnes & Noble, AbeBooks, Google Play, Half/EBay. Chegg, Valore, CampusBookRentals, TextBooks.com, and ECampus. But in the Web2.0 world, we can now uses websites with even larger volumes of data and meta-data as a clearing-house for our shopping. So instead of shopping and doing price comparison at the dozens of competing sites, why not use a meta-site to do the comparison for us algorithmically and much more quickly.

Meta-Retailers

There are a variety of meta-retailer shopping methods including several browser plugins and comparison sites (Chrome, Firefox, InvisibleHand, PriceBlink, PriceGong, etc.) that one can install to provide pricing comparisons, so that, for example, while shopping on Amazon, one will see lower priced offerings from their competitors. However, possibly the best website I’ve come across for cross-site book comparisons is GetTextbooks.com. One can easily search for textbooks (by author, title, ISBN, etc.) and get back a list of retailers with copies that is sortable by price (including shipping) as well as by new/used and even by rental availability. They even highlight one entry algorithmicly to indicate their recommended “best value”.

A screencapture of GetTextbook.com's search and sort functionality and layout
Example of GetTextbooks.com‘s search/sort functionality

Similar to GetTextbooks is the webservice SlugBooks, though it doesn’t appear to search as many sites or present as much data.

When searching for potential textbooks, don’t forget that one can “showroom” the book in one’s local bookstore or even at one’s local library(s). This is particularly useful if one is debating whether or not to take a particular class, or if one is kicking tires to see if it’s really the best book for them, or if they should be looking at other textbooks.

From an economic standpoint, keep in mind there is usually more availability and selection on editions bought a month or so before the start of classes, as often-used texts are used by thousands of students over the world, thus creating a spot market for used texts at semester and quarter starts. Professors often list their textbooks when class listings for future semesters are released, so students surfing for the best deals for used textbooks can very often find them in mid-semester (or mid-quarter) well before the purchasing rush begins for any/most titles.

Black Market

And finally, there is also the black market (also known as outright theft), which is usually spoken of in back-channels either online or in person. Most mainstream articles which reference this portion of the market usually refer tangentially to a grey market in which one student passes along a .pdf or other pirated file to fellow students rather than individual students being enterprising enough to go out hunting for their own files.

Most will know of or have heard about websites like PirateBay, but there are a variety of lesser-known torrent sites which are typically hosted in foreign countries which extend beyond the reach of the United States Copyright law enforcement.  Increasingly, mega-pirate websites in the vein of the now-defunct Library.nu (or previously Gigapedia) or the slowly dying empire of Library Genesis are hiding all over the web and become quick and easy clearing houses for pirated copies of ebooks, typically in .pdf or .djvu formats, though many are in .epub, .mobi, .azw, or alternate e-book formats. The typical set up for these sites is one or more illegal file repositories for allowing downloads with one (or more) primary hubs that don’t necessarily store the pirated materials, but instead serve as a searchable hub which points to the files.

Creative advanced searches for book authors, titles, ISBNs along with the words .pdf, .djvu, torrent, etc. can often reveal portions of this dark web.  Naturally, caveat emptor applies heavily to these types of sites as often files can be corrupted or contain viruses to unwary or unwitting thieves.  Many of these sites may attempt to extract a small token monthly fee as a subscription or will rely heavily on serving banner advertising to help to offset large web hosting and traffic fees associated with their maintenance, though it is posited that many of them make in the millions of dollars in profit annually due to advertising arrangements, though this is incredibly hard to validate given the nature of these types of markets and how they operate.

Rather than stoop as low as finding textbooks on the black market this way, students should place pressure on their professors, the faculty of their departments, and their colleges or universities to help assist in smoothing out some of the pricing inequities in the system (see below). In the long run, this will not only tend to help them, but many future generations of students who will be left adrift in the market otherwise.

Long Term Solution(s) to Improving the Textbook Market

The biggest primary issue facing the overpriced textbook market is that the end consumers of the textbooks aren’t really firmly in charge of the decision of which textbook to purchase. This is why I advocate that students research and decide by themselves which textbook they’re going to use and whether or not they really need to make that purchase.  Instead, individual professors or the departments for which they work are dictating the textbooks that will be purchased.  The game theory dynamics behind this small decision are the massive fulcrum which allows the publishing industry to dictate their own terms.  Students (and parents) should, in a sense, unionize and make their voices heard not only to the professors, but to the departments and even the colleges/universities which they’re attending.  If universities took a strong stance on how the markets worked, either for or against them and their students, they could create strong market-moving forces to drastically decrease the cost of textbooks.

The other larger issue is that market forces aren’t allowed to play out naturally in the college textbook market. Publishers lean on professors and departments to “adopt” overpriced textbooks. These departments in turn “require” these texts and students aren’t questioning enough to use other texts for fear of not succeeding in courses. If the system were questioned, they’d realize that instead of their $200-300 textbook, they could easily purchase alternate, equivalent, and often even better textbooks for $20-50. To put things into perspective, the time, effort, energy, and production cost for the typical book isn’t drastically different than the average textbook, yet we’re not paying $250 for a copy of the average new hardcover on the best seller list. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that universities, departments, and professors are colluding with publishers, but they’re certainly not helping to make the system better.

I’ve always taken the view that the ‘required’ textbook was really just a ‘suggestion’. (Have you ever known a professor to fail a student for not purchasing the ‘required’ textbook?!)

In past generations, one of the first jobs of a student was to select their own textbook. Reverting back to this paradigm may help to drastically change the economics of the situation. For the interested students, I’ve written a bit about the philosophy and mechanics here: On Choosing Your Own Textbooks.

Basic economics 101 theory of supply and demand would typically indicate to us that basic textbooks for subjects like calculus, intro physics, or chemistry that are used by very large numbers of students should be not only numerous, but also very cheap, while more specialized books like Lie Groups and Lie Algebras or Electromagnetic Theory should be less numerous and also more expensive.  Unfortunately and remarkably, the most popular calculus textbooks are 2-5 times more expensive than their advanced abstract mathematical brethren and similarly for introductory physics texts versus EM theory books.

To drastically cut down on these market inequities, when possible, Colleges and Universities should:

  • Heavily discourage “edition creep” or “edition churning” when there really aren’t major changes to textbooks. In an online and connected society, it’s easy enough to add supplemental errata or small amounts of supplemental material by means of the web.
  • Quit making institution-specific readers and sub-editions of books for a specific department
  • If they’re going to make departmental level textbook choices, they should shoulder the burden of purchasing all the textbooks in quantity (and taking quantity discounts).  I’ll note here, that students shouldn’t encourage institutions to bundle the price of textbooks into their tuition as then there is a “dark curtain,” which allows institutions to take the drastic mark-ups for themselves instead of allowing the publishers to take it or passing it along to their students. Cross-reference Benjamin Ginsberg’s article Administrators Ate My Tuition or his much longer text The Fall of the Faculty (Oxford University Press, 2013).
  • Discourage the use of unpopularly used textbooks written by their own faculty. Perhaps a market share of 5-10% or more should be required for a common textbook to be usable by a department, and, until that point, the professor should compete aggressively to build market share? This may help encourage professors to write new original texts instead of producing yet-another-introductory-calculus-textbook that no one needs.
  • Discourage packaged electronic supplemental materials, which
    • are rarely used by students,
    • could be supplied online for free as a supplement,
    • and often double or triple the price of a textbook package.
  • Strongly encourage professors to supply larger lists of relatively equivalent books and encourage their students to make their purchase choices individually.
  • Consider barring textbook sales on campus and relying on the larger competitive market to supply textbooks to students.

Calibre: E-book and Document Management Made Simple

As an added bonus, for those with rather large (or rapidly growing) e-book collections, I highly recommend downloading and using the free Calibre Library software. For my 2000+ e-books and documents, this is an indispensable program that is to books as iTunes is to music. I also use it to download dozens of magazines and newspapers on a daily basis for reading on my Kindle. I love that it’s under constant development with weekly updates for improved functionality. It works on all major OSes and is compatible with almost every e-reader on the planet.  Additionally, plug-ins and a myriad of settings allow for additional extensibility for integration with other e-book software and web services (for example: integration with GoodReads or the ability to add additional data and meta-data to one’s books.)

 Further Reading

Be sure to read through the commentary on some of these posts for some additional great information.

What other textbook purchasing services and advice can you offer the market?

I invite everyone to include their comments and advice below as I’m sure I haven’t covered the topic completely or there are bound to be new players in the space increasing competition as time goes by.

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Recap of Our Little Free Library Grand Opening

A big "Thank You!" to all those who helped make our Little Free Library Grand Opening so successful.

First a major note of thanks to everyone who helped to make the launch of Little Free Library Branch #8424 a fantastic success.  Everyone’s support and encouragement is truly appreciated.

When I was setting up, I naturally brought a book to read, but I did it mostly thinking that only two people might actually stop by. (Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that this is a pretty nerdy and a very local pursuit. It’s easy to click “like” on a post; it’s a whole other thing to visit a small neighborhood library even one with free oatmeal cookies.) Fortunately and very pleasantly, there was a steady stream of people from start to finish, so much so that, as the host, I didn’t get to chat with the visitors as much as I would have liked. Apologies to those I couldn’t chat with more, and even moreso to those who heard answers to the same questions multiple times.

In the end, we had over 20 people and a few pets stop by our little event.

A Double Drive-by… booking?!

Under the heading of “Only in LA” I’ll mention that, the highlight of our grand opening was what I can only describe as a double “drive-by booking.” Fortunately no one was hurt.

About 20 minutes into the event a car drove up with two bibliophiles. They each had a book to donate, but apparently didn’t have the time to park and actually stop for a glass of tea or any cookies. So they simply dropped off their books anonymously and then drove immediately off into the sunset. A few minutes later, another car drove up and did the same thing: they donated a book, said hello, and then proceeded on their way without joining the party!  Maybe they had an important book signing or a library event to rush off to? Maybe the library police were chasing them for late fines?  The mafia probably would have called foul as they didn’t technically put a foot on the curb or call us out, but hopefully this is as dangerous as things get in the Little Free Library world. One of the donated books had its South Pasadena Library serial number filed off, possibly to keep it from being traced, but authorities are working diligently on the case.

As if the double drive-by wasn’t odd enough, we also had a minivan drove by with a brief stop to ask what was going on. The driver mentioned that the car of several people happened to include two librarians, so apparently we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for possible additional drive-by bookings.

Thanks for the Donations!

Special thanks go to Adam and Darren who dropped off 3 books. And to Delilah from down the street who was responsible for our first children’s book donation. And we can’t forget the massive donation of 8 books of literary fiction from Jeffrey Stewart making the largest, single one time donation. Several other neighbors dropped books off, and many browsed and found something interesting to take with them. I have to admit that I’m glad that I live in a neighborhood with such great taste in books.

The award for the longest distance donation goes to Samantha Marks who donated a signed copy of her new book A Fatal Family Secret which she shipped from Ellicott City, Maryland just in time for the Grand Opening. It counts as the newest book in our collection as it was just published in May. Since it was checked out almost as soon as it entered the collection, it also rates as our quickest check out; those in a rush may want to pick up a copy at Amazon or other fine booksellers.

In all we had a total of  26 donations for our Grand Opening, bringing our grand total to 49, so far.

As a special mention, the award for the furthest distance traveled to make our grand opening goes to Jocelyn, who came from London on her way to Oklahoma!

Again, a big “Thank You!” to everyone who helped to make our Grand Opening such a lovely success! We look forward to seeing everyone come back soon!

Website and Social Media

For those who weren’t able to stop by, we’re now open 24/7 365 days a year.  You can visit our branch online at its own website or by means of your favorite social media platform:

 

The oatmeal cookies and iced tea we served at the opening.
The oatmeal cookies and iced tea we served at the opening.
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