Behind the Textbook: Permissions

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My editor John and I just finalized the Table of Contents (TOC) for the next edition of Emerging. On some level it feels very early for me—I’d love to have more time to consider a couple of the readings, and get just a bit more feedback from teachers in our program as well as other reviewers. But we needed to set the TOC because Bedford needs time to get all the permissions in place. If you’re using a reader and your students ask you why they cost so much, you can assure them it’s not to fund the author’s extravagant lifestyle. Ever since I started working on this book in a custom published edition, I’ve discovered that the bulk of the cost for any reader comes from permissions—the monies paid to the authors of each essay used in the reader. The world of permissions is, simply, bizarre. In Permissions, A Survival Guide: Blunt Talk about Art as Intellectual Property, Susan Bielstein describes the labyrinth of permissions in the art world. I believe it’s much the same in the world of print. I remember the costs coming in for the custom reader: obscure pieces that I thought would be cheap ended up being exorbitant; popular pieces I thought we could never afford were perfectly reasonable; some pieces we couldn’t get because the literary agent in charge wouldn’t respond. A lot of people have asked me about a digital edition of Emerging. It’s not impossible but, from what I understand, one of the major stumbling blocks is the question of the permissions. Take a labyrinth and twist it in on itself into the fourth dimension and you have digital permissions. Hrm…the entire question would make a good article: permissions lie at the heart of textbook costs (for readers, at least); the cost of transitions from print to digital; the value of intellectual property; and so on.
About the Author
Barclay Barrios is an Associate Professor of English and Director of Writing Programs at Florida Atlantic University, where he teaches freshman composition and graduate courses in composition methodology and theory, rhetorics of the world wide web, and composing digital identities. He was Director of Instructional Technology at Rutgers University and currently serves on the board of Pedagogy. Barrios is a frequent presenter at professional conferences, and the author of Emerging.