The Concierge Textbook?

Some time next month, I will publish on Amazon Books my new book titled Fundamentals of Environmental Economics: Solving Urban Pollution Problems.    I will set the sales price at $2 per book.  This is a “real” 300 page book filled with bad jokes, and good economic logic.   My goal is for this book to interest readers and for it to pose some stiff competition for environmental economics books that are often priced at $96 or more.      As you might have guessed, my book embraces free market environmentalism and focuses on how a “card carrying” Chicago economist thinks about how to solve a broad variety of environmental externalities.

I have discussed my project with academic friends and shared the entire manuscript with several people.  Many academic economists have said the same thing to me;  “Matt, your book is much more likely to be adopted by teachers if you provide problem sets and exams, provide power point lecture notes, and provide data sets for empirical exercises and bundle all of these additional materials in your book.”    Full service is expected and I’m only offering 1/2 a loaf.


Author: Matthew E. Kahn

Professor of Economics at UCLA.

3 thoughts on “The Concierge Textbook?”

  1. This makes perfect sense. If you supply these things, at a cost of, say, $10K in labor, that amount can be amortized over the entire run of books. If you make the professors supply that material (even if it costs them only a tenth as much) the ultimate cost to the academics if the book is adopted will be far higher, even if the price to their students is lower (which it might not really be, since the professors will have to get their investment back somehow).

    You could adopt a two-tier (or more) setup where the stripped version of the book still costs $2 and the teaching version costs $50 (and perhaps a student version with the problem sets and so forth in their proper places costs $5)

    But adopting a new textbook has serious costs for academics, and adding substantially to those costs does not make a book more attractive, even if the cover price is low.

    1. Adopting a new text does have serious costs, but that does not stop publishers from issuing trivially changed “new editions” on a 2-3 year cycle. They make major revisions on a 6-8 year cycle, about every 3rd “new edition”.

      The trivial changes aren’t too tough to deal with, but the major revisions can make major changes in structure and the content of problem sets. It’s no more effort to switch to a new textbook entirely than to make the changes involved in a major edition change.

      Publishers don’t care about much of anything except sales. To keep sales up, they change editions frequently to kill the used book market for successful books. It doesn’t matter if it’s a field where things haven’t changed much: they don’t care about costs to the professors.

  2. Matt, obviously you’re not in it for the money (and you a third coast economist? Shame!), but to get some useful ideas across and get your reward the way most academics do. So why don’t you try to crowd-source problem sets and exams, etc., and by giving credit in the book (and for each example) to the people who provide them? Include in the book a request for these additions and have your students check them out. I made a lot of money (about $5) as a graduate student, proof-reading (at $.25 per error) Richard Hamming’s book on numerical methods.

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