MBA Textbooks: Inter- Or Not Inter-(national) Edition

by on April 18th, 2010

The Beat The GMAT team is pleased to introduce a new contributing writer, beatvitbeatvit is a BTG community member who is currently enrolled in George Washington University’s Part-Time MBA program.  He will be regularly contributing articles to share his perspective of life as a part-time MBA student.  Be sure to check out his blog, or ask him questions about his experiences in this forum thread.

Over the weekend I had to order the textbook required for my Human Capital Management course which started today. When I looked up on the internet the required book from the syllabus (A Framework for Human Resource Management 5th Edition, ISBN-13: 978-0136041535), I was not shocked to see the list price of $132. What’s new? I already got over the shock of the textbook prices which I had when I ordered my first books for the fall term at the beginning of my MBA program. It was also soothing to know that so far I had not paid list price for any of the textbooks that I had to buy in the course of my MBA studies. Except for the Course Pack in Managerial Accounting, which is a different story.

Besides, even on the selling price was “mere” $92, or around $75 from their marketplace. I still felt that it was quite steep, given that the book for my Business Ethics course ( Case Studies in Business Ethics, 6th Edition), which was approximately the same by volume, and also in a soft cover, cost me around $50 back in fall. So I decided to do a bit more of internet scouting beyond amazon, to see if I could find a better bargain.

What I found was the multiple books offered on Ebay. The price for those was around $50, after you factor in shipping costs. I got very excited, until I went to those sellers and realized that all the books offered by them at this low price were International Edition. That was disappointing, because I have already had some experience with non-standard editions of the textbook in one of my MBA classes before. The two concerns I had this time:

  • Whether the content, including pagination, is identical. It’s important, as often professors give you assigned reading citing the pages from the textbook to read;
  • I did not fill quite comfortable flashing in the class what I thought was an “illegally sold” copy of the textbook

This sense of illegality I somehow got on my previous search for a cheap textbook last term. But then on one of the sellers’ sites I found a link to an article about the controversy surrounding the international editions of the college textbooks.

In a nutshell, it is not illegal to sell (and therefore, to buy) those books to US buyers, as long as they have been legally purchased by seller from the publisher, and there is clear and prominent disclosure that this is international edition of the textbook. The publishers have been fighting this re-sale of their international edition books back to US students, but it seems so far they have not prevailed. They have some tactical victories, like convincing, or coersing, not to allow listing of those books on its US site. That’s why I was not able to find anything below $70 on They also use scare tactics, by putting on the cover text like “Not for Sale in the USA or Canada” and “If you purchased this book within the United States or Canada you should be aware that it has been wrongfully imported withouth the approval of the Publisher or the Author”. But for all I know, as appears from the article in New York Times mentioned above, they lost their appeal at Supreme Court so far.

I might be wrong, but I think that earlier the publishers’ wording used to be stronger or more confusing to make appearance of illegality of purchasing these textbooks by the US students. However, if you read it carefully, it does not prevent anyone from buying it from abroad the US.

My particular book was shipped to me from Hong Kong. I ordered it on Saturday and received by UPS on Tuesday, just in time for my Wednesday class. It is new. The cover and ISBN are different, but I compared the contents with the original US edition book, which one of the classmates had, and all chapters and subtitles are on the same numbered pages.

I would still be probably wary of buying international edition if it had a CD or internet material inclosed, and I new specifically that professor would require use of those supplements. But otherwise I think I will be looking deliberately for international editions of the textbooks in the future, as long as it stays legal, and the savings are so enormous. Good reading to all of you, “international readers”. For me, the reading feels so much better at $50, than it could be at over $90 :)

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