Sparks

1. This was a nice contract for me to sign, after a lot of work by a lot of people, and a serious focus on the needs of students and faculty. I’m glad we’re able to offer textbook rental programs next year, as anything that gives students more parity and power in the broken market of college textbook sales is a good thing. A quick textbook economics lesson: In a world where the people who pick the products (teachers) don’t pay for the products, and where the people who pay for the products (students) don’t get to pick the products, the supply-demand curve relationships that normally drive quantity sold and price paid are removed. Since the resultant textbook market is nearly perfectly inelastic with regard to demand (e.g. students have to get the books, no matter what they cost), the producers of the products (publishers) have few barriers to setting prices far higher than they need to be, with the results being greater profits in their corporate coffers ($$$$$$$). This has gotten even worse in recent years as the number of publishers has dwindled rapidly through mergers and acquisitions, giving the survivors even more latitude to gouge the young people of our nation. I would consider the textbook publishing industry to be right up there with Big Pharmaceutical (also a broken market, just substitute doctors for teachers, patients for students, and pharmaceutical companies for publishers) in their venality and corrupt, never-ending efforts to create expensive, ever-changing products, that are either unnecessary or just slightly different from what came before, requiring you to re-purchase something that didn’t really need to be tweaked in the first place. Most consumers tend to blame the operators and retailers for the textbook pricing problem, but I’ve seen the numbers and the margins throughout the process, and the biggest, most heinous offenders are clearly, absolutely the publishers. (Retailers make more money from a margin standpoint on branded merchandise and sundries, just for the record). So here’s hoping that faculty choose to adopt textbooks that can be rented, and here’s hoping that students do indeed rent them. Boo to you, Big Textbook Publishing!

2. I don’t get out to see live music much these days, having burnt out on it over a couple of decades of reviewing and booking it, but Marcia and I did make a quick swing through Valentine’s last night to catch Gay Tastee with The Detroying Angel, and then Che Guevara T-Shirt. Tastee (formerly of Beef and The Wasted) offered an acoustic set, accompanied by the Angel on piano, of his bracing, stirring songs, delivered in his trademark howl from deep within his soul. He remains a singular talent, an eccentric local gem who deserves to be more widely heard and appreciated. I consider him to be one of the best songwriters this area has ever produced. Che Guevara T-Shirt followed with a great set of knotty, angular rock numbers that found a hot, sweet spot in the pocket somewhere between Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band and the Pixies. I’d reviewed their album a couple of years ago, and see all their members playing with other bands, but hadn’t yet caught them live in this incarnation yet, so was glad to be able to go out and hear how well it all worked in the flesh.

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