Monday, June 15, 2009

Bullshit award of the day

A textbook author in Toronto made enough money from his calculus textbook to afford a $20 million house. This is absurd on its face. There's no serious insight or leap in pedagogy involved in writing a standard textbook. That's what makes it standard. It's hard, but it shouldn't make you a millionaire.

Sorry, Seth, old sport, but the royalties on a text lie somewhere between 0 and 2%. Even if your unnamed author's book sold 100,000 copies, which would be astounding, and even if it cost $200, the price of a major law school hard copy text (and I know what they cost, believe me), the writer would be, in his wildest dreams, making $400,000, before taxes.

Here's a thought. I'm no friggin' genius and I ain't written no textbooks, but I know people who have and who sometimes save the royalty cheques because they're so ridiculously small. But anyways, Seth, here's a thought:

Maybe the guy who wrote the math text (if, he in fact exists) is some kind of friggin' math genius who invented some incredibly useful thing like a computer algorithm, and maybe, well, he's real smart.


And it turns out that he is. The house belongs to a guy -- if the facts in this blog post are correct -- who, for the past sixty years, has written the series of calculus texts that have been the standard for most of the world. . So basically, this guy is the top brain in a very important area of mathematics. He has sold millions upon millions of books, just like John Grisham, Clive Custler and the women who wrote the Harry Potter series. He saved all his life, after years and years of being the top expert in his field, to build this rather ridiculous house. The blogger suggests Prof. Stewart never made any money any other way: not from teaching, investments, consulting, inheritance. It all came from his book.
Then the blogger suggests, with a line of logic that would make Leon Trotsky blush, students steal the wealthy prof's work by (illegally) posting it on the Internet. The blogger suggests the thieves post it under a "creative commons", an option that is, in fact, only open to the copyright owner.

Well, shame on Prof. Stewart, right, Seth?
Actually, we're lucky the guy didn't leave for the States long ago.

BTW, you should see where the money you spend on AC/DC CDs goes.


Seth Godin said...

The google to the rescue:

Ottawa Watch said...

That's all the money he made in sixty years for an incredibly popular series of calculus books that's the standard text sold throughout the US.

Anonymous said...

That, Seth: What a guy! The last time I checked, calculus was hard. It was invented by a little guy named Newton. Textbooks are necessary to study advanced mathematics. You have to learn definitions, formulas, and theorems before you actually solve problems. You have to devote a lot of time and study to understanding it, before you can actually solve complex quandaries. Only then can you theorize it, teach it or write about it with any authority. To state that there is "no serious insight or leap in pedagogy" in writing a seminal maths text is simply ridiculous. It is as ridiculous as this guy stating that textbooks can be replaced by Wikipedia or that the academic press deserves to die. If this occurred, who would be the arbiter of scholarly quality in the arts, maths or sciences, and how would peer review be handled: a la Letterman top 10? The reality is that many elements of advanced scholarship should nether be open-sourced or reduced to a six month alternative MBA, as advocated by Seth.

Seth symbolizes the serious re-thinking the U.S. and other advanced industrial economies need to undertake concerning value during this mega-recession.

What ultimately is more valuable in the long-run, to society in general, the study of pure maths and sciences? Or the pursuit of permission marketing? When compared, who deserves to be paid millions of dollars for the sum of their lifetime contribution?