An unsettling way to start the New Year

I wrote the author of a very popular scientific book related to chemistry and physics and got a rather disturbing reply back.  The book was first published around 10 years ago, with a second edition a few years later because the field was changing so quickly (not because the author was greedy as sometimes happens with widely used textbooks).  So I wondered if a third edition was in the works and wrote the author.

I got the following (edited) response back.

” Alas, the energy and time to accomplish a 3rd edition has eluded me up to this point. And, bit torrent pirate copies haven’t exactly increased my motivation.”

So how often do you think other authors of good scientific books have similar thoughts (and behavior)?   Statistics on this sort of thing will be impossible to get in the same way that negative results aren’t published.

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  • James  On January 6, 2012 at 10:40 am

    I’m not surprised. Traditional book publishing is an excellent way to build prestige and to connect with an audience, but the economics are very poor for the author. After the publishing house takes its cut, the net proceeds to an author on a $50 book can be in the neighborhood of ~$5 (or less) per unit.

  • luysii  On January 6, 2012 at 10:48 am

    Maybe now, but a cellist friend (George Struble) wrote THE textbook in assembly language programming for the IBM 360 (Copyright 1975) and put his kids through college with the proceeds. I never talked to Don and Judy Voet about how much money they made from their very excellent textbook of biochemistry, but they have sold 250 K copies.

    • James  On January 11, 2012 at 10:15 am

      True. If you can get your book to be the course textbook for an undergraduate survey course, that’s a life-changing event.
      I wonder how much textbook economics will change in the next five years, with tablets and digital publishing and the like.

  • Curious Wavefunction  On January 17, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Amusing fact: Atkins is probably the only chemist who has literally made millions from his textbook. I don’t know about the Voets, but I am sure Stryer and Lehninger must have done quite well since their textbooks are very popular even in developing countries.

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