Students Pay to Do Publishing Industry Grunt Work

August 5, 2007 | 6

Recently perusing the course offerings for Temple University’s continuing education program here in Philadelphia, Season Evans uncovered what has to be one of the more unsavory market research strategies ever employed by the publishing companies. A course titled (and misspelled) “A Sneak Peak at Next Year’s Bestsellers,” is described as follows:

Every fall publishers introduce and promote a new crop of novels, books they hope are future bestsellers. This unprecedented course is your chance to get a sneak preview of five forthcoming novels from major publishers. You will read special advance copies of the books and then, as a class, critique each book and predict what readers and critics will say when the books are actually published. Contributing publishers will include: W.W. Norton, Knopf, Random House and others to be determined.

Though it’s not explicitly stated that the students’ output will be delivered to the publishers, it seems likely that the publishers would only participate if this were the case. As Season points out, this would mean that students will be paying the publishers to do market research for them under the guise of learning. The course is taught by Lynn Rosen, “a publishing consultant with twenty-plus years of experience in the book industry as an editor and literary agent,” though its not clear if the concept for this course came from her.

Some questions I have: do other people out there agree that this sounds unsavory? I think it is, though I’m having trouble articulating exactly why (beyond the fact that students will be paying for this “privilege.”) Also, is anyone aware of this practice going on elsewhere? Is it commonplace, or is this Temple course an anomaly?

created The Millions and is its publisher. He and his family live in New Jersey.


  1. Don't know if the course is avaliable at Temple only or elsewhere or whether publishers are behind it or if it was Rosen's idea, but it sounds like an interesting concept to me. Kind of like seeing a movie months before it hits theaters at Sundance or the Tribeca Film Festival before it hits theaters. I've gone to movies at some of those film festivals and you definitely pay for the tickets and the chance to see the movie early, so I think this is no biggie.

    And besides, look at what new books usually cost: the latest Michael Chabon was $27 and the new Harry Potter was $35. Five new books for under $100 sounds cheaper than what you'd pay at Barnes and Noble.

  2. Unsavory, yes, but it will provide the students with an invaluable service in preparing them for a lifetime of being unpaid (or at best underpaid) for their efforts by the publishing industry.

  3. Ooh, that does sound sneaky. As I was reading the description, I found myself wishing I had been privy to a course such as this when I was attending college. I suppose this course allows for one more example of "losing yourself between the pages", and you can pretend that you have already made it to your dream of becoming a well-known publisher whose opinion actually counts!

    digital books

  4. It certainly is crafty, and yes, I think a bit unsavory – if nothing else, I feel like the university should be looking out for their students. Which is to say if, for example, this is a class in the English department, then students are spending a credit reading books that may be of dubious literary merit or at least might not contribute to any sort of critical literary foundation in their education. I think I might feel differently if this class segued into an internship at a publishing house, or some other "in" in the field, but that doesn't seem to be the case…

  5. Not so unsavory.
    Another publishing blog, GalleyCat, a media inductry blog (its one of the "Bookish Blogs" listed to the right), talked with the instructor/author who came up with the course. She came up with the idea and went to the publishers, not the other way round. She taught it this summer and is doing it again in the Fall. I'm with J.T. on this one. And the books/authors listed don't seem to be of such dubious literary merit (Ann Packer? David Leavitt?).
    Crafty, yes, but in a good way. Clever even. I wish I thought of it. When I went to college I always had to pay tuition AND for my books.
    Here's a link to the GalleyCat piece:

  6. Rob, I can see both sides of it for sure. One thing I wish Ron had asked the instructor is whether she's getting a consulting fee for providing the feedback to the publishers. That would complicate this further I think.

    Also, I'm aware of the GalleyCat post. In fact, I was the one that pointed them to the story (as Ron mentions in the first sentence of his post).

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