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.