"International Editions" of academic textbooks

A lot of academic textbooks written in English that are used in universities around the world carry an “International Edition - Not for sale in the U.S.” label, often together with a note saying that if you bought the book in the U.S. you should be aware that somebody along the distribution chain has done something wrong (my paraphrase). I have seen both “International edictions” and U.S. editions of the same book, and while I did not compare them word for word my impression is that they are essentially identical.

My personal theory to explain what this is about is discriminatory pricing. Maybe students in the U.S. are willing to pay more, or used to paying more, for books than their counterparts abroad, and publishing companies want to take advantage of this by pricing the books in each market according to what the appropriate market conditions will bear.

My questions now:

  1. Is this assumption correct?

If yes:

  1. Is it legal? I know rather little about American antitrust law, but I have some familiarity with its EU counterpart (where it’s called competition law), and there discriminatory pricing is one of the textbook examples of an evident abuse of a dominant position, which is usually unlawful.

  2. Is this strategy effective? I would guess that either it shouldn’t be too difficult for students to get the significantly cheaper international editions - either online from suppliers abroad, or through friends abroad, or simply from brick-and-mortar bookstores which don’t give a damn about U.S. vs international editions and simply sell the cheaper stuff to customes.

We certainly don’t get International editions in Canada. textbook pricing is a disgrace. Remember that each separate book is a separate monopoly. We academics could do something about it if we wanted to, but we don’t (either want to or do it).

I once wrote to five textbook publishers to ask their price when I was choosing a book for a course. Two of them didn’t answer, one replied that that was proprietary information (!!) and the other two answered. I chose the cheaper of those two.

I suppose the way to find out is to price a book on Amazon.com and then do it on Amazon.uk. I do know this. A book I cowrote sold for about 55 in the US in 1985, but cost an Australian Aus 175.

Discriminatory pricing is not necessarily illegal. Barring of grey-market imports is also not necessarily illegal.

Copyright holders, in particular, are granted extra rights to partition markets between domestic and international markets.

And, I’m not an expert on antitrust law, but I don’t believe “dominant position” is the operative term in American law. It’s “monopoly power” and it has to do with the power to raise or lower prices with respect to competitors. If you’re the publisher of a book, you hold a legal monopoly; you have no competitors, by definition.

You could probably travel to some exotic locale, buy all of your books there, and fly back, and save more on the cost of the books than you spend on airfare (and get a vacation out of it, to boot). But I’ve never heard of students doing that. The only students I’ve ever encountered using international editions are folks from those places to begin with. I don’t know why other students don’t (perhaps they’ve never even heard of international-edition textbooks?), but the fact remains, so apparently the discriminatory pricing does work.

My edition of Jackson I bought for a third of the price over the internet. I kind of regret it because it’s paperback, the pages are thin, and the font is slightly smaller. But it did the trick, and it has a sticker on it that says “Only for sale in Myanmar”.

They’re widely available on eBay, at tremendous savings even after shipping, which ranges from free to $20 or so.

For example, here’s an organic chemistry textbook on Amazon. Amazon sells it for $156, which is already 30% off the school bookstore or cover price. Meanwhile, here’s the international edition of that book on eBay for $76, with free shipping from Singapore. So it’s a bit of a no-brainer, and American students buy the international editions all the time.

What’s to regret about that? That would make it easier to burn in effigy after you’re done with the class, wouldn’t it?

(why hasn’t anyone ever written a decent graduate E&M book, anyway?)

(:slight_smile: but I actually came to love Jackson. Better than any QFT book IMO, although it’s unfair to compare)

20 years or so ago I knew people who went to school in Taiwan and who had “international editions” of standard textbooks. The cover was clearly made from a bad color Xerox of the real cover. I’m guessing that the textbook publisher didn’t copyright it in Myanmar in your case, and the reason it says not to bring it into the US is that importing a pirated edition is illegal.

So, the question is, is this international edition done by the publisher, or is it copied locally.

No moral judgment here - I have Jules Verne books from the 19th century which were pirated also. Doing the same thing in the US for European books was a big business back then.

Actually it’s a “Wiley Student Edition”, “Especially designed for students in developing countries at a reduced price”. It says it cannot be exported. I wasn’t perfect in my memory of it, but I found what looks to be the same on the internet, here’s a link: a1books.co.in

I accidentally got an international edition of my Biology textbook (ordered the American one, but they sent the International and wouldn’t exchange it). It was pretty much fine, except that the pagination differed, so I had to look at a classmate’s American edition to figure out what content was assigned on the syllabus. Plus, it lacked the questions at the end of each chapter. Since those weren’t ever assigned, it wasn’t a big deal for me, but I’d be wary of a math text where you need all the questions in the right order to do your homework.

If I recall correctly, when my publisher was preparing the international edition of the math textbook I’m a coauthor on, they modified some of the exercises in each exercise set so that the international and domestic editions would not be identical. That could be a problem for a student trying to use the international edition here.

Some of my students have lucked out buying on Amazon and receiving the international edition, in that the content is virtually identical. Other students, unfortunately, have not and have receiving international editions that do not contain the same information as the American edition.

I really don’t give a damn how the students get the textbook, as long as IF they run into problems because they’re trying to use the fourth edition and we’re on the eight edition, they don’t whine to me about it.l

The hardback version of the text Perception of the Visual Environment is available from Amazon for $129.95, but two of Amazon’s 3rd party sellers are currently offering it, new (same edition), at $2.94! It is true that a paperback edition has just been published, also at $129.95, but it is not updated or revised!

None of these appear to be “international editions,” but it does illustrate the fact that textbook pricing is completely screwy. Why would anyone buy the paperback at this absurd price, when you could get the hardback for the exact same price, or for just 2.26% of that price? :confused:

The experiences of my students indicate that often, even if the textbook is not labeled as an international edition, that’s the edition they get. Or the get an edition that’s not what’s portrayed - an earlier edition, or one that’s a partial edition.

Thanks for all the replies. Looks like the reason behind “International” editions is indeed primarily pricing on the publisher’s side.

Well, maybe that’s more of a European perspective, with European countries being much smaller than the U.S. and consequently people travelling abroad more often than the average American; but I’m pretty sure that at any given point of time, I have at least half a dozen friends who are either currently in another country, or will be travelling to one within, say, two weeks. It would be relatively easy for me to ask one of them to buy the international edition of a textbook and either bring it back home, or to mail it to me (I’ve done similar things for friends or relatives as well). It wouldn’t be much of an effort, and the savings could be huge,

Not in this case, anyway. I actually bought one of the cheap hardbacks of this from Alibris a couple of months ago. I think it was more like $5 than $2.94, but the paperback had not yet come out then. It is perfectly complete, in brand new condition, and with good quality paper, printing and binding. There is absolutely no indication of it being an “international” or any other special sort of edition. (The publisher is German, but they want $129.95, in the USA at any rate, for either the paperback or the hardback.) It is possible, I guess, that these copies were originally for sale outside the USA, but there is certainly nothing wrong with the one I got.

Just out of interest, I checked amazon.co.uk. There it is £79.00 for hardback or paperback from Amazon, or £5.15 new from third party sellers (or £10 used!).

You know it’s pretty easy to find these books for sale on the internet, right?


Yes I do, see my original post. I was just replying to Chronos’ post that, beside online orders, buying the books in a physical bookstore abroad would be much of a hassle for the average student, which I do not think it would be.