A Pathway To More Affordable Certification Books?

On the subject of global media distribution, it’s no secret that many organizations only control copyrights or licensing rights within the borders of the countries they have jurisdiction in. Outside of those countries? Well, that’s another story – a different organization likely controls the rights there.

In light of this, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that while this is pretty apparent in terms of digital content, it also occurs on a similar level in the area of books and physical publishing. Publishing entities are limited to their country’s borders, and entities will thus vary around the world.

Why does this matter to the average IT person, though?

Great question! It means that if you’re looking for certification study books, there are channels you can go through in order to get your hands on course materials for a fraction of the cost that the distribution vectors here in the U.S. will charge you for these resources.

And best of all, while it’s cheating the system a bit, it’s completely legal for you.

Examining The Means

Let’s take a look at one of the books I’ve obtained recently for one of my certification tests I’m studying for. The front of the book is labelled as the “International Version” of the book, and it has a different ISBN number than the U.S. Version, but the content is otherwise 100% identical to the version of this book I’d otherwise buy from a licensed distributor here stateside.

Looking on the back of the book, we note that there’s a disclaimer on it:

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Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? Very clearly states that this book isn’t supposed to be sold by a distributor outside of the countries listed. Why is that? Well, the publisher of this book only has the right to distribute it within these countries. For the United States, a different publisher would need to produce it and/or sell it here.

How did I legally get a hold of it, then? This was accomplished by an individual in India buying the book from a licensed distributor, then re-selling it to me here Stateside and shipping it over. According to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2013, this isn’t illegal to do – and thousands of individuals do this every day to get around regulations in certain localities either on an individual level or for business reasons.

So here I am, with an official course book that I obtained, even including international shipping costs, for less than half of the cost that I’d drop on it off of Amazon brand new.

Does This Hurt The Industry?

You’ve probably guessed that a publisher who otherwise would be making some extra money for their locality is getting cheated by people who obtain books this way, and you’re not wrong.

It’s also a fair bet to assume that since the average labor cost here in the United States is higher than it is in India, for example, that it would cost more to produce books here than elsewhere. On the other hand, the shipping costs in the U.S. would almost certainly be lower than costs elsewhere for things within our country, so that fact is offsetting the difference a bit, too.

So, how much “damage” is this actually dealing to the vendor?

It’s very hard to definitively say, although it’s less than you might immediately think. This is due to several things that when added together, lower the overall value of the book content compared to the tests you’re expected to pass with their knowledge – and subsequently mitigating the damage you’re doing to a level that I’d argue is barely over inconsequential:

  1. The certification industry is a multi-billion dollar industry, and nearly every vendor these days is using IT certification programs purely as “cash cows” because IT is so dependent on them for advancement these days. Quality doesn’t mean as much in light of this, because all employers care about is the “letters behind your name” if they don’t know any better. (and most don’t)
  2. Many, but not all, books don’t equate to the test content well. To use the more recent example in my life, the CCNP exam books are a joke compared to what the exam actually covers. In the case of CCNP, I’ve actually had to spend an additional $150 on books on top of all of the Cisco-suggested resources I already had for my exam just to try and obtain the necessary knowledge the test was concerned with. Why should I shell out hundreds of extra dollars when I don’t need to for an exam that isn’t “fair”, anyway? Microsoft isn’t dissimilar to Cisco in this area, either.
  3. The markup that U.S.-based vendors charge for their local books here is vastly more than it realistically needs to be. While this is difficult to prove in terms of hard numbers, it becomes evident by comparing prices on some of the books I’ve obtained this way to their costs on Amazon for the Kindle version. If the U.S.-based vendors aren’t charging a substantially-higher markup than they need to be, then the Kindle version of all these books should be more affordable than the cost of buying a book from an Indian individual and having it shipped here, right? Amazingly, the Kindle version is almost always more expensive than a physically-printed copy from the other side of the world. This continues to reinforce that U.S. vendors are using these certifications as “cash cows”, and needless markup runs rampant.
  4. In trying to phrase this as kindly as possible and not naming specific names, my opinion is that some of this “damage” needs to be done. Far too many certification vendors are beginning to run their cert programs into the ground in terms of quality and real-world skills tested, and the concerns of many IT workers to these vendors have seemed to fall on deaf ears. Since the “stats don’t lie”, to quote the famous words of eSports analyst Alan Bester, perhaps dwindling markup profits will be enough of a real-world catalyst to these vendors that something needs to change. This certainly isn’t true of all vendors, but it is of many.

Where To Obtain International Books

The easiest place is likely eBay, although there are other private-party sources one could use.

Keep in mind that to be consistent with obtaining these books legally, you’re going to have to get them from a private party instead of through a business distributor – since that would be crossing the line into illegal territory.

Remember that this approach can also be applied to college or university books as well, and many people have already used this approach with them to the point that you may even be able to source the books you want locally, albeit second/thirdhand.

Summary

There are multiple ways to obtain certification study books for less, and this method is one of them. It’s also a way to finish your certification paths out, and then get your media resources into the hands of your colleagues so that they can do the same for an even further reduced cost to them.

At the end of the day, it’s nice to know that I don’t have to spend a veritable “arm and a leg” on books anymore.

And believe me, I read a TON of ’em.

Caleb
Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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