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It all adds up

The most expensive textbook I bought when I was in grad school cost me $35.

That was in about 1973. Today, inflation would have pushed the price of that same book to more than $186.

Wow.

No wonder students and their families are looking to professors to do something a little different in this age of the Internet and e-publishing.

The Bryan-College Station newspaper recently reported on a discussion undertaken by Texas A&M librarians about the high cost of textbooks, and the librarians noted that research last year showed that students pay an average of $1,200 a year on books.

The librarians and students seem to be contending with recalcitrant, old-fashioned professors who refuse to update their text preferences.

This is not only not in the best long-term interests of the professors but certainly not in the best interests of students and their families who are facing ever-rising debt loads to be able to afford a college education.

In fact, reluctant profs should be called on the carpet about this kind of thing, tenure be darned.

Where movies are king

Libraries have not been just all about books for quite some time.

We're about so much more: programs, computers, databases, CD books and, yes, movies. Lots of movies.

In fact, last year patrons checked out more movie DVDs than anything else. DVDs were checked out 26,500 times. If each checkout is worth $22, that's a service value of nearly $600,000 for the year.

Right behind that number in terms of checkouts and total value were regular adult fiction books. We checked them out 20,500 times with a value of $25 for each checkout. Third in popularity were our children's books, with 20,000 checkouts for a total value of $400,000.

It's interesting to note that nearly 5,000 books were downloaded using Overdrive, our e-book consortium.

All these figures come from our end-of-year value-of-services report compiled by Library Director Carolyn Manning.

For the record, the services we offered were worth $7 for every $1 of sales tax income invested in the library district.

Better than the book

I'd say that nine times out of ten when I see a move that's based on a book, I come away thinking that the book was better.

Not so with "American Sniper," the story of Texan Chris Kyle, the former Navy SEAL credited with the most kills in U.S. military history.

When I read the book a couple of years ago right after it came out, I thought Kyle did himself a great disservice. He came off as something less than a man to be revered and honored.

On Saturday, my wife and I went to see the movie at the new theater in Kyle, and director Clint Eastwood painted a portrait of Chris Kyle that was much more sympathetic. He made Kyle seem like a good old boy, which may well be what he was before his life ended.

Eastwood has produced an excellent tribute of a movie. I recommend it; skip the book.

A valuable service

Congress is often criticized for getting nothing done.

But, here's a shout-out for the bureaucrats in D.C. for putting together a reallly useful public service.

Andrew Weber at the Law Library of Congress has reported that three types of e-mail alerts are now being sent out to those who request them.

You can now get an e-mail that a specific member of Congress has either sponsored or cosponsored legislation. Another type of alert is a daily summary of the text, cosponsor or action on a particular bill that you're watching. And the third type of alert lets you know when a new issue of the Congressional Record is available at Congress.gov.

If you've ever tried to figure out what your congressional representative is actually doing, here's a great way to find out without getting bogged down in the flotsam and jetsam of congressional jibber-jabber.

What?

Among the many, many things I just don't understand is this: How in the world do publishers price their books and ebooks?

The Douglas County Libraries at Castle Rock, Colo., has just released its February pricing comparison for 25 popular works of fiction and nonfiction in both paper and ebook categories. The report compares library pricing versus consumer pricing and prices.

Library prices for paper books are shown for two vendors and consumer prices are shown for Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Ebook prices are for libraries and for consumers. Overdrive is one of the ebook vendors, and, again, the ebook vendors are Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

So, what's so hard to understand?

Well, let's look at an example or two, and you see if you can unravel the mystery:

The book Unbroken is available to libraries for about $15 per copy. Consumers will pay almost $17 at Amazon and a little more than that at Barnes & Noble. The ebook version is $48 for libraries and $4.99 at both book-sellers.

A paperback copy of American Sniper is about $9.60 to libraries, but about $11.50 for consumers. Overdrive will pay $9.99 for the ebook, and Amazon will charge $5.90.

Gray Mountain in hardback is about $16 for libraries, but $85 to Overdrive and $9.99 for an Amazon ebook.

In other words, pricing is all over the place. I can't even begin to find a pattern or paradigm.

But, from what I see here, libraries aren't getting any bargains, either from those sellling paper books or from those selling ebooks.