My preferred method for acquiring information and making decisions about textbooks is to browse the offerings at conference exhibits, talk to colleagues, and/or look through copies of books that I acquire or borrow through various means. I prefer to adopt a textbook and stay with it for many years, but sometimes a change is necessary because the textbook gets too out of date relative to a changing field or because I decide that a new textbook is better (e.g. has better explanations, is less boring, is a better fit with a course).
** This post is not about whether textbooks are worth the cost, whether publishers/bookstores/authors are gouging students by charging inflated prices for something that is, after all, just a book, and so on. I dealt with some of that last year (here and here). Feel free to leave scathing comments about your loser professor who made you buy an expensive book and then you didn't even read it but realize that you are somewhat off-topic.**
I have never made a decision about a textbook based on anything that a textbook sales representative has told me during a visit to my office. Perhaps this is because, in my experience, it is extraordinarily rare for a publishing representative to be well informed about their products. I suspect that the causes of this include:
(1) Sales reps cover a wide range of topics and can't be expert in them all;
(2) There is high turnover in the field (not sure why) so faculty are constantly encountering reps who are new to their job; and
(3) The reps trying to sell Science Books may not have a background in science. I have yet to meet one, anyway.
I am sure it is not an easy job. Sales reps show up unannounced at faculty offices and interrupt the day of someone who probably has no time to spare and who may not have a lot of respect for sales representatives in general, perhaps in part based on past experiences.
Also, for some reason the sales reps who visited me this year (e.g., last week) came at a time that was nowhere near when I have to turn in my textbook choices for the next term. I am sure they did not have a very satisfying experience trying to talk to my colleagues (or me). I could not do their job.
I have heard rumors of experienced and knowledgeable sales representatives who establish good, long-term working relationships with faculty, but unless my experience has for some reason been unusual, I'm guessing this is uncommon.
When a textbook sales representative darkens my door, I typically say "I am currently very happy with all the textbooks I am using, I am not interested in changing at this time, and I don't have time to talk now, but if you want to leave a brochure or a card with a website address, I will look at that later." I see no need to waste their time or mine.
Last week, a person unknown to me knocked tentatively on my door, and, without explaining who he was or what he wanted, asked me "Do you have a few minutes?". The answer to that is always no. I said "No". He ignored this, my first clue that he was a salesperson, told me his name and publishing company, and then told me that he has only had this job for 6 months and doesn't know much about textbooks and even less about science but he hoped that I would spend at least a few minutes telling him about my textbook needs.
I know nothing of sales, but I wonder how effective the "pity me I'm ignorant" approach works. It was not effective with me, but it's possible that his upfront statement of ignorance was a defensive response to unpleasant experiences he had had in the past with faculty who felt he was wasting their time.
Alas, I did not have time to spend with someone who wanted to sell me things I didn't want, so I directed him instead to another colleague. Evil hint o' the day: When sales representatives ignore your emphatic statement that you have no time or interest in talking with them, an excellent way to end the conversation is to direct them to another colleague, preferably one who is not a friend.
5 weeks ago