The truth behind the price for course packs
    Outside view of Quartet Digital Publishing. Photo by Jason Mast / North By Northwestern

    Seventy-five dollars. That’s how much some Northwestern students had to pay for a course pack this quarter. Even more students had to shell out $30 or $40 for collections of photocopied sheets. What makes these essentially glorified binders cost so much?

    “The majority of the pricing is based off of the page count,” said Mercedes Landazuri, the general manager of Quartet Digital Publishing. “The more pages, the more expensive the course pack will be.”

    Other factors that contribute to the total cost include the number of color pages or inserts, how much time it takes to assemble the course pack and the clearance fee for printing copyrighted materials.

    “For some specific sources we have to jump through some crazy hoops, getting the permission numbers can be kind of expensive,” Landazuri said.

    While the professor decides what readings they want included in the course pack for their class, Quartet purchases the permission to use the copyrighted material. Jack Doppelt, a Medill professor, says the permission costs or clearance fees are necessary to ensure that authors receive proper compensation for their work. On many college campuses, especially in large lecture classes, professors will often assign only portions of an author’s work without requiring students to purchase the full book or journal in which the author was originally published. In these cases, course packs represent a loss in profit for the creator.

    “If it’s a 600 person class multiplied by all the universities in the United States, that’s a lot of money the author could be making,” Doppelt said.

    Without protections on the piece, there is also the possibility the author would lose more money if students shared or reproduced the work.

    “Before there was a protected way to distribute materials in a class ... the fear was that any time you take materials and produce them in some way without protecting them you are in effect, opening up opportunities for other people to take that work without paying for it,” Doppelt said.

    Doppelt has moved the majority of the readings for his classes online to avoid making students pay for copyrighted materials. He takes advantage of fair use clauses in copyright laws. Under fair use, a limited number of chapters from books can be reproduced for educational purposes without breaking copyright. Fair use also allows institutions to make material available on a password-protected site. Instead of sending a bundle of photocopies to Quartet, Doppelt places links to particular readings on Canvas, a private site. This ensures that the readings are only viewed by the current members of his class, protecting the piece and the author’s potential profits.

    Kurt Munson, acting head of access services at Northwestern University Library also uses Canvas to get materials to students through Course Reserves.

    “Course Reserves is protected. It is the University mechanism to provide access for courses to materials that the library has already purchased on behalf of the university,” Munson said.

    The materials certainly don’t come cheap. Subscriptions to different databases often cost thousands of dollars, but Munson notes that they allow any Northwestern student to gain access.

    “We’re doing that for the entire university. That’s everybody up here in Evanston. That’s the whole medical campus and all the affiliated hospitals and the law school and NU-Q,” Munson said. “So it’s far more effective for the university to centralize this in the library and then you all have access to it.”

    It’s an especially effective alternative to course packs for students because the subscriptions are, in part, already paid for by Northwestern students.

    “There’s no reason that you as students should have to pay for something twice.” Munson said, “Your tuition covers the cost for library subscriptions to materials, so we might as well use those as opposed to students having to purchase the course pack.”


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