10/26/2011 6:04 PM ET|
Should textbooks really cost $200?
College students have more alternatives now, such as used books, rentals and digital textbooks. But no option is perfect, making it difficult to find the right solution.
In a world where you can download a best-seller for $10 to $13, the price of college textbooks seems pretty egregious. It's not unusual for a hardcover full-color textbook to cost $200 or more.
Surely, it's time to fight back again greedy publishers and arrogant professors indifferent to the economic plight of their students.
Or . . . maybe it's not that simple.
Activists for the Student Public Interest Research Groups recently completed a multicity tour as part of their "Textbook Rebellion." The mission: to highlight the high cost of textbooks and to push for more alternatives, particularly free "open-source" textbooks.
"The (textbook) market is really dominated by these expensive publishers," said Nicole Allen, the textbook advocate for the Student PIRGs. "We want to topple the regime of these oligopolistic publishers and create a market with a lot more options to choose from."
The textbook protest comes at an interesting time. Spending on textbooks has actually dropped in the past several years, according to market research firm Student Monitor, even as prices rose. Full-time college students at four-year institutions spent an average of $534 on books in the 2010-11 academic year, down from $644 in 2005-06.
Students spent twice as much on their cellphones, the Student Monitor found. They spent more at the movies. They spent more on gas.
That doesn't excuse $200 textbooks for existing, but it does indicate that this issue -- as with most things that have to do with economics -- is more complicated than it may first appear.
At this point, I should air all my potential conflicts of interest, including:
- I'm married to a college professor. He teaches art, though, and doesn't assign textbooks.
- Three of my four books ("Your Credit Score," "Deal With Your Debt" and "Easy Money") are published by FT Press, an arm of Pearson, one of the biggest textbook publishers.
- I thought college textbooks were too expensive decades ago, back when I was a scholarship student and the campus bookstore had a near monopoly on textbook sales, both new and used. Yes, I probably did spend more on beer than books even then, but I still hated shelling out so much to the bookstore every semester.
The difference today is that college students have a wealth of options. None of those options is perfect, which can cause a lot of frustration, resentment and ransacked bank accounts. But they exist nonetheless. In the Student Monitor's survey:
- 49% of textbook spending paid for new books.
- 38% of spending paid for used books.
- 10% went for textbook rentals.
- 2% was spent on e-textbooks.
Freshmen tend to spend more on textbooks than more-seasoned students do, said Eric Weil, Student Monitor's managing partner.
"When young freshmen come on campus, they don't realize there's such a thing as a used book," Weil said. "By the end of the year, they realize having a book that's already highlighted is pretty convenient."
The majority of students (61%) said they compared prices online before buying their books, tapping into the vast bazaar of used books and rentals that can dramatically reduce textbook costs. My Facebook fans who cut textbook costs said they use a variety of sites to look for books, including Amazon.com, CampusBookRentals.com, Chegg, AbeBooks.com and Barnes & Noble. Comparison sites such as AddAll, BigWords.com, BookFinder.com and DealOz scour online booksellers to help you find the textbooks you need.
Interestingly, it's this vast, vigorous secondhand and rental market that's indirectly abetting the high cost of new textbooks.
Here's why: Creating a new textbook can be costly, and the market for most textbooks isn't that huge. Back when publishers had a captive audience, they could more or less count on being able to spread those costs of production over a certain number of buyers.
As the used and rental markets expanded, that captive audience was captive no more. So now publishers often produce "updated" versions as a way of selling more books -- spreading out the costs of production over more buyers.
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How much are the college book stores making off the books. Its not just the publishers. The college itself is in bed with them. It costs you 100 dollars for a book that the instructor swears up and down you will need and by the time the class is over you have never even needed to open that book. Then they "generously" offer to buy back the book from you maybe giving you 10 dollars for it at the end of semester. The next semester students have the option of buying that book used for a reduced price of 80 dollars. Tell me that isnt taking advantage of a group of people that are already struggling for money. While they are raping you for book costs, the cost of tuition steadily goes up while classes offered goes down and the level of teaching in those classes goes down. I had several classes that were expensive yet all you did was show up and a teachers aid pushed play on a vcr and that was the days lesson, excuse me but i could do that at home without paying your huge salary or that of the dean who makes more per year than the president of the united states. Then there are all the other school policies like freshmen must live in the dorm or student apartment. I lived in a student apartment, i was paying the same amount per month that I would have if i had rented off campus, there were 3 other people paying the same amount living in my apartment. If I were allowed by school rules to live off campus I would have at least had a bedroom and bathroom to myself. There are many classes that require you to purchase other specialized items, I had a drafting class that was all done on computers that required me to purchase a board and squares and drafting pencils all that were never used or mentioned by the instructor during the semester. They continue to tell you that you need to have an education to make more money and have a better job in this country. Unfortunately thats all bull unless you want to be a doctor or a lawyer. Even being an engineer or draftsman or certified skilled laboror costs you more to go to school than its worth. There are people with multiple degrees looking for work out there and the only places hiring pay them the same as if they were high school dropouts. No point in wasting your time in college and paying thousands of dollars for an education when your just going to end up working at wal mart.
Here is what needs to be done, start a book store across the street from the college. Dont gouge students for the books be as fair as you can. You wont need to jack your prices up because every single student will shop at your store. Or maybe we just need the Chinese to print copies at a fraction of the cost ignoring copy rights like they do with every thing else.
If that's not cheating us, I don't know what is.
College books were/are too expensive. I paid for my own college, so when my parents asked what I wanted for my birthday (which thankfully was the end of August, same time as classes were starting) and what I wanted for Christmas, I only asked that they help me buy my books. They did, and this was such a great relief. I mean seriously, $500+ for ONE semester in books after thousands in room/board/meal plans??? Too much... Especially when you don't get even half back for your books when you sell back. There really is no reason for these books to be this expensive!
You know, this semester has been my most expensive as far as books, at first I tried getting all my books in actual book style new and used that would have cost me $950, then I got the idea of buying two books from the bookstore and getting the other two online (digital versions, bad idea by the way) I still ended up paying over $780 for books.
I think the MOB has stopped with laundering money and drugs and went to selling college textbooks
When I was in college getting my Bachelors Degree (Chemical Engineering) and then my Masters Degree (Civil/Environmental Engineering) back in the 90's I spent a lot of money on books for my core courses. I also spent a lot of money on books for my electives too. The engineering books were always the most expensive and I never sold them back. Most of the elective books I did sell back unless they were for something like law or other good technical courses I took.
It's funny. When I was in college I thought I was getting robbed blind paying 100s of dollars for my books. That was, until I got my first job. All those engineering books have always been on the shelves of my office whereever I have worked. They get referenced often. There are thousands of dollars of them. But they have enabled me to make enough money to pay for them over and over again and like I said are still useful today.
Sometimes investments are good things to make. And sometimes you don't realize how good an investment is at the time.
This yet another example of uncontrolled "capitalism" working its finest.
Big publishers charge unregulated prices for the cost of books. Teachers pick the books (and I wouldn't be surprised if the publishers return the favor to teachers, much like pharmaceaticals (sp) return favors to the doctors who write their prescriptions.
What I love is the excuse every few years for a "new edition" that forces you to buy a NEW book. So many times in college, when the "new" edition was the only one in stock, you could find someone with the older edition. Funny part is that the number of edits from the older to the newest edition are probably fewer than 10.
Yet, the price of the book has increased 50% over the cost of the previous version when it was new. So that $200 Chemistry book Edition FOUR has 5 minor edits (read: fixed typos or other grammar issues) and replaced the $150 THIRD edition of the exact same book.
And they think College students will believe that it cost $50 more to print the newest book. Is that BEFORE or AFTER they have earned their degrees?
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