The Baltimore Sun

Textbook publishers working to cut costs

The column "Burden of 'buy the book'" (Commentary, Dec. 23) did not portray the realities of today's textbook market.

The author called for publishers to lower the original price of textbooks, provide update manuals in place of new editions and turn larger textbooks into multi-volume sets. But the good news is that many of these fixes are already available.

Indeed, the average wholesale price of a new textbook is about $39, which means many low-cost textbooks already exist in the market.

As for breaking up large textbooks, publishers are very willing to break books into multiple parts and have been doing so for years.

Furthermore, in some cases, instructors can actually set the price of their course materials by designing custom textbooks that include as much or as little content as they think the course requires. Custom textbooks are the fastest-growing segment of the market.

Printing manuals to update textbooks would be a costly option that would add to students' expenses, and neither faculty nor students have been shown to like such updates. But in rapidly changing subject areas - such as medicine, science and technology - publishers already provide supplemental material online at much less cost.

Textbook publishers understand students' concerns about the cost of education and are aggressively working to ensure they provide multiple options with a variety of prices.

Katie Test, Washington

The writer is assistant director for higher education for the Association of American Publishers.

It's time for a pardon for Israeli spy Pollard

Let me get this straight: A Maryland man pleads guilty to spying for the Iraqi government, including the Saddam Hussein regime, and now faces a "maximum of five years in prison, a $250,000 fine and deportation" ("Laurel man an Iraqi spy," Dec. 23).

Jonathan Pollard, who was caught spying for a friendly country, has been incarcerated for 23 years as part of a life sentence.

Am I missing something here?

Perhaps a presidential pardon for Mr. Pollard is in order.

Joe Bondar, Baltimore

Take a harder line on Iranian threat

It appears that President-elect Barack Obama will take a far softer position with Iran than the one called for in Jennifer Laszlo Mizrahi's column "Facing the Iranian threat" (Commentary, Dec. 9).

But if the new administration does not apply major economic pressure to Tehran, Iran will regard the administration as weak and take it no more seriously than it took the Clinton or Bush administrations.

An even more dire scenario is the suggestion by Israeli journalist Aluf Benn in Haaretz that the United States is prepared to accept a nuclear Iran even as it offers guarantees to protect Israel under its nuclear-safety umbrella, an umbrella everyone in Israel correctly believes would be full of holes.

My own hope has been that Mr. Obama will take a far stronger line against Iran's possible acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Such a step would greatly facilitate the peace process by validating Israel's trust in America, something that will be mightily important if Israel is to give up territory for peace.

However, it looks quite possible that the U.S. instead will put pressure on Israel to make peace on terms that will only mollify everyone but the Israelis.

The way things appear to be moving in Washington and Jerusalem, I foresee a major battle looming between an overly moderate new American government that has its head in the sand and a possible future rightist Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Jack Eisenberg, Baltimore

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