ask a scatterbrain: textbook payola

Posted for an unnamed friend:

A college textbook representative, upon learning I was dropping a book I formerly used in a large class, wrote:

Is there ANYTHING that I can do to help make it possible for you to use at least one of our titles?  …

If it could make a difference for you, I’m sure that I could arrange for you to do some paid  reviewing for us, or even just provide you a grant to support something special for your course — like a couple of videos that we can purchase for you, or perhaps a grant of a gift card to a really nice restaurant that you can use in your professional life to interview work assistants, or entertain visiting sociologists.

I was as surprised by the blatant payola attempt as I was by my own naivete at seeing it for the first time. Is this common? Does it work?

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

7 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: textbook payola”

  1. I’ve had reps pitch this sort of thing but, like doctors and pharma companies, I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have any effect on me. If you want to talk about it some more, though, come on over to Durham and I can treat you to lunch at the Magnolia Grill.

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  2. I’m sure it works (why else would they do it?). Though I didn’t know it happened. And it makes me feel dirty. I love the attempt to make it sound above ground (you use the bribe for professional services).

    I think you should call out the publisher. Consequences, no? Then again, if it’s common practice, why signal out one person…

    On an unrelated note: my book comes out this spring. If you want to assign it, let’s chat at ASA. Lunch? My treat, of course.

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  3. There is a continuum of impropriety. It’s one thing to let a publisher buy you coffee, or give you a book at ASA. Lunch is getting warmer. There is also the timing issue — this seems worse because it is after the decision has already been made on the educational merits, presumably, and their books didn’t make the cut.

    I’m not sure where to draw the line, practically, though this is obviously wrong. Could be: If a student found out, and complained to the dean and the dean called you up to find out what the deal was, would you be embarrassed? Or: if grainy black-and-white hidden camera footage surfaced, would they show it in slow motion with ominous music?

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  4. I imagine you have to be a teacher of the large sections for this to be a possibility (I’ve never been approached this way) and, even then, I’ll bet it is the occasional desperate rep that would stoop so low. If it works, I’m guessing the only way to find out is with a post at an anonymous forum like rateyourstudents.com

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  5. I have only been teaching large sections of Intro for four years, but I have seen the reps, and they are indeed desperate. Turnover is so great that each publisher has sent 5 or 6 reps my way in four years. It looks like the worst job in publishing. (Still, no way have I seen bribes like this–that is crazy!)

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