Textbooks are defined as "a manual of instruction, a standard book in any branch of study". They are further defined by both the age of the person who is to study the text and the classification of the subject matter itself. Textbooks are published by speciality printers to serve every request for an undertanding of every subject that can be taught. It is a big business that requires mass volume sales to make the publications profitable. Although most textbooks are only published in printed format with hard covers, some can now be viewed online.

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Two textbooks

United States of America

In U.S. colleges, textbooks are usually chosen by the professor teaching the academic course. In most U.S. K-12 schools, a local school board votes on which textbooks to purchase from a selection of books that have been approved by the State Board of Education.

Textbooks for K-12

Termed School books, these are texts written for use in academic settings. Lower schools, especially kindergarten through 12th grade, more often refer to texts as school books. Text book is a synonym, but is more often used to describe books used by upper level classes.

School books emerged as teaching instruments with Johann Gutenberg's invention of the printing press. Early schoolbooks were used by teachers, who relied on the books for lesson guidance. Later books were printed for children, and have become the primary teaching instrument for most children since the 19th century.

CONTROVERSY: Textbook publishing in the United States of America is a business primarily aimed at two key states: California and Texas due to the state purchasing controls over the books. When publishers succeed in making a sale to either of both states they are guaranteed a large print run and therefore a profitable product. The Texas State Board of Education spends in excess of $600 million on its central purchasing of textbooks.

Unfortunately because textbook publishing is a competitive business, when mistakes occur they are costly to remedy and when objections to either the inclusion or the exclusion of material are voiced, the publishers attempt to compromise in an effort to make the sale. As a result of this procedure glaring errors have cropped up in textbooks covering almost every subject. Some are so bad as to be laughable, until both the cost factor and the use to which these books will be put, causing the laughter to turn to public anger which is often voiced in the press.

In recent years, High School textbooks of United States history have come under increasing criticism. Authors such as Howard Zinn (A People's History of the United States) and James W. Loewen (Lies My Teacher Told Me) discuss how U.S. History textbooks' mythical untruths and omissions paint a cloyingly whitewashed picture that bears little resemblance to what most students learn in University. Selectively retelling history, through textbooks or other literature, has been practiced in many societies, from ancient Rome to the Soviet Union. History textbooks are not subjected to review by professional academics, nor can authorship of a High School textbook be used to advance an academic toward tenure at a University. The content of history textbooks thus lies entirely outside the academic forum of fact and social science and is instead determined by the political forces of state adoption boards and ideological pressure groups.

College textbooks

PRICE: Many university students complain of unreasonably high textbook costs, sometimes $100 USD or more. They often claim that this represents price gouging on the part of the publisher. Furthermore, they contend that publishers print new edition of a textbook with unnecessary frequency, solely to make older editions of their books obsolete; this has the effect of squashing the used textbook market, where publishers make no money from sales.

Publishers say that textbooks are indeed as expensive to produce as their prices indicate. Textbooks have a very limited market—almost exclusively college students who need the book for a course—and would be unprofitable to produce if they were priced any lower. Textbooks are often thick, printed on heavy paper, and printed in color, all of which dramatically increase their cost. Additionally, textbooks (especially anthologies) often contain a lot of copyrighted material including photos, artwork and previously-published articles or chapters. The permissions fees for printing this material are a substantial (but often-overlooked) cost of the publishing process. Because such rights fees are based on the breadth of distribution, putting these materials on the World Wide Web is seldom an economically feasible alternative. Contrary to popular opinion, obtaining the world rights necessary to publish on the Web can actually incur more costs than would a printed textbook with limited distribution. The cost of world rights is also one reason why publishers have purposefully excluded some books from the U.S. market.

CHOICE: Sometimes students and parents claim that certain textbooks have been selected for use because of factors irrelevant to their teaching efficacy. The most common complaint at the university level is that professors will use a textbook written by themselves or their colleagues.

See also

  • Wikibooks [1] (http://wikibooks.org) - A sister project to Wikipedia whose goal is to create textbooks.
  • Four Freedoms Federation - Genie Baskir appeared before the Texas Board of Education, Textbook Selection Committee concerning content of school textbooks.

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