Saturday, September 22, 2012

Art History - a set text book with no pictures!

The Ontario College of Art and Design's set text for a course called Global Visual and Material Culture: Prehistory to 1800 is an art book costing $180 with no images of art in it.

I kid you not.

A sample copy of the text - complete with blank boxes which refer
reproduced here for the purpose of review and criticism

As you can see the book contains blank squares which should have images.  Apparently the tutors commissioned the book (now who'd already guessed this would be a home-grown innovation?) but the piblishers failed to clear the copyright for the images in time for publication.

This is the letter from OCAD to the students
Global Visual & Material Culture: Beginnings to 1800 is a custom textbook that basically combines threetextbooks into one:
1. Art History, 4th ed. by Stokstad and Cothren – excerpts from the full 1150-page text.Volume One would retail for $144.
2. Graphic Design History: A Critical Guide, 2nd ed. by Drucker/McVarish – excerpts.This volume would retail for $92.
3. A custom reader with all the additional material we have added (which includes printed images)and would cost approximately $65 – $75 (see page iii of text for list of items).
You have also been given access to electronic versions of the full Stokstad/Cothren and Drucker/McVarish texts with all the images.
The book is complete as printed and is not missing pictures because we didn’t get copyright clearance in time. If we had opted for print clearance of all the Stokstad and Drucker images, the text would have cost over $800.

The notion is that the students should spend $180 for an art book with no images and then find them online.  Furthermore this textbook is an amalgam of text from three books which have already been published - so is yet another publishing wheeze to extract the last cent from every book ever published?

So let's examine the issues from different perspectives

The student perspective

  • they are required to buy a new book (ie no second hand copies available) for $180 - which is very poor value for money in anybody's book!
  • the book is an amalgamation of three existing books - all of which will be available second-hand
  • they have to buy a book they can't resell because it has no images
Conclusion:  Nobody spent any time considering the price of the publication from the perspective of the student

The copyright perspective
  • the school's argument is that the book would have cost $800 if they'd managed to get the copyright licence to print the pictures
  • there are no works of art which were created prior to 1800 which are still in copyright
  • the only relevant copyright relates to that of the photographer
  • There is no need to clear copyright if the student accesses images available online
Conclusion:  We have an Art School and a publisher which have come up with a solution which pays absolutely no regard to a student's time financial or time budgets or the accessibility of images online for free.

The sustainable perspective
  • how many trees got cut down and how much money has it cost to print large black spaces with a line round and a reference to another book where the image can be found?
  • why aren't existing text books being recommended?  
    • What is the added value of this particular text and these particular images over other textbooks or other available online resources which are available for a great deal less money?  
    • Why is this book so much better than the book that was used last year for precisely the same course?
  • why is a text book being recommended at all - as opposed to an ebook or an online version of teacher's notes which reference readily available images online.
Conclusion:  OCAD needs to review its policy on sustainability with particular reference to commissioned textbooks

Another perspective

Very many museums and other organisations now make images available online.  I personally find that very many of these are superior to images printed in a book.  

Here, for example, are the COMPLETELY FREE links to the two images highlighted in the above page:
If OCAD and the publishers had got together to produce an art ebook which had html links embedded into the title of each referenced artwork, then the students could view the works more easily online.

This would also provide scope to considerably reduce the cost of the book given that the text, as I understand, it comes from books which have already been published.

and finally......

The links below are to references to this farce and the comments are particularly interesting. 
All I can say is that there would appear to be a compelling argument for determining course design and content with particular reference to the affordability and effectivness of course materials.

[UPDATE:  This incident is now making the television news - see CTV - Art book without pictures raises perennial issue of pricey textbooks ]


  1. is this for real?!? how unbelievably lame! ill stick with my very old copy of Stokstad's Art History!!! i remember paying, what i thought, was a fortune at the time for that book, but i knew i would keep it forever, so i didnt mind paying the price. (and i reference it all the time) What are you supposed to do with an imageless book? LAME!!!

  2. Hi Katherine,
    If you've been continuing to follow this story you'll note that the solution that was arrived at prior to the start of the course was indeed an effort on the part of OCAD University to save students a significant amount of money.

    OCAD University has accepted full responsibility for a flawed learning system, and is working with the students and publisher to make things right.

    The publisher has accepted full responsibility for producing a flawed product (you can read an article that includes quotes from yesterday's forum, attended by the publisher, on the Toronto Star website, for example). This article also outlines the steps the publisher is taking to address the problem for students affected this term.

    The copyright aspect is far more nuanced than your article relays. There is a good discussion of these nuances on Brent Ashley's blog, the father of the OCAD University student that originally broke this story on his blog.

    Finally, while we appreciated students' suggestions to make the learning system entirely digital (related to your comment about saving trees), the reality is that about half of students surveyed have difficulty reading large amounts of text on a screen. While OCAD University is very committed to sustainability (as evidenced by its policies, task force, and sustainability office and the curricular focus, including the ability for students to minor in Sustainable Design) there is still a strong demand for printed materials, both for ease of use and for accessibility reasons.

    We thank you for your interest in this story, and your engagement on these important issues.
    Sarah Mulholland
    Media & Communications Officer
    OCAD University
    Toronto, ON

  3. Sarah - thank for taking the trouble to respond and for providing the links to "what happened next"

    To my mind your response still doesn't address the issue that a vast amount of art images which are available online for FREE (ie there are no copyright issues) and are qualitatively better than the ones in a print publication.

    Nor does it address the fact that the explosion in publishing right now is ebooks. Next time students tell you they can't deal with reading a lot of text online ask them how many own a Kindle and when was the last time they bought a novel as a paperback!

    The reality is that the future of publishing is digital and that publishers are currently going out of business because they didn't get to grips with addressing the change in the business model fast enough. They're seeking to recoup that through high costs of ebooks - but this will not last for long as there are too many authors who now entirely bypass publishers when publishing.

    I stand by my basic view that there is no way that any student should have to pay as much money as this for a text book. Nor should paper be wasted in this way.

    Books for students should cost an awful lot less than they do. The cost of the book is entirely related to:
    * print production ON PAPER
    * small print run
    * designing a course without any regard whatsoever for the cost to the student

    What students need are ebooks written for iPads and Kindles which are text with many of the images presented as embedded hyperlinks to images which are online and accessible. That way the book is written in a way which can be accessed wherever students have access to wifi but can always be read just with the text wherever. eBook costs are also the same irrespective of the size of the print run - except insofar as there is remuneration to the author for original text. You don't have to spread the cost of the print and binding costs over a small print run because there is no print run. The rest of the costs are not scale dependent. ebooks can also be updated at any time. The most they might require is a new ISBN number.

    There's also a case for saying that one source (ie a book) is no longer the ideal learning model when so much is available online for free - although I readily admit that this could also do with improvement.

    I too like art books as books and have a huge library of them. However I actually access most art images I want to study online simply because they are so much better than those one sees in most publications.

    I still think this whole episode has had the makings of a complete farce. I am not at all surprised to hear that the publisher wants to get the problematic books out of circulation as soon as possible. If I were the students I'd start finding out just how much they'd pay not to be reminded of one the biggest faux pas in recent publishing memory!


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