The Millionaire Next Door

America’s College Students Subsidize Those In Third World

A recent article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “In India, Academics Defend Photocopying of Textbooks for Course Packs,”  highlights the wealth and income differences among nations.   I understand that the price of college textbooks designated for the American market is the highest in the world.  But I have encountered college students here who have purchased  English language textbooks for dramatically lower prices that were published for the Indian market.  I believe that publishers as well as marketers of a variety of products (from pharmaceuticals to motor vehicles) adjust their prices in a way that reflects variations in wealth and income among nations. 

But price concessions don’t seem to go far enough in satisfying some consumers in third world countries.  As alluded to in the Chronicle article, there are many “photo copy service shops” surrounding colleges and universities in India.  They are perpetually busy photocopying chapters from textbooks and then assembling them in so-called “course packs.” When publishers [and I expect authors] object to the reproduction of copyright protected materials, “the opponents’ portrayal of wealthy, Western publishers trying to wring funds from poor Indian students has helped trigger a global outcry.”

When a student in the United States pays full price for a textbook, he really is not only paying for his book.  He is paying, actually subsidizing, students in India who may never pay for the same print version textbook.   Publishers and authors for that matter couldn’t stay in business if everyone, including American students, go the photocopy route.  The price to pay, however, when you live in a prosperous country like we do is that we will be subsidizing the consumption lifestyle of other less fortunate countries.  Even domestically, 50% of American households pay no income tax.  This can only exist in an environment where the other 50% earns a high enough income to subsidize those who don’t.

3 thoughts on “America’s College Students Subsidize Those In Third World”

  1. I’m not sure I understand the logic in your last paragraph – if the price of textbooks were not kept so artificially high by publishers, there would be less of (or even no) need to subsidize others. It’s an artificially created problem, right?

  2. I’m not sure that the textbook to taxes analogy plays out. Also, buyers in the US are not “subsidizing” Indian textbooks unless the publishers are selling them there at a loss. As I understand it, Indian students somehow get there hands on a copy and then photocopy it. Sure, the publisher looses a potential source of revenue, but it is not forced to raise prices in the US as a result. The price in the US is set where the market puts it. There are all sorts of products that are sold for different prices in different parts of the world — only in cases where there is a huge R&D cost that has to be recovered over the years (think pharmaceuticals) is the US buyer who pays more actually “subsidizing” anything.

    As for the tax comment, I fear this blog has once again veered into a political stand which I think is irrelevant to the millionaire next door philosophy and lifestyle. I’ve always thought that the millionaire next door worries about his financial inflow and outflow and does not pay attention to how is neighbor is earning or spending his money.

  3. The buyers of the school books are indeed bankrolling the Indian knock-offs. The Indian students and/or school system(s) did not give any money, time, knowledge, or other means to make the books. To subsidize means to support with money – which the publishers seemingly have done with lower book prices in India for the same books. The subsidizing is also indirect, since the folks doing this are stealing the knowledge and work of others.

    The U.S. school systems are rightfully paying for these books, which helps give the company sales and hopefully a profit. These same books are sold in India at a lower price, but sales are likely down because of the “photo copy service shops” and others.

    There is no such thing as something for nothing.

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