Professor Says Textbooks Are Too Expensive, Quits Using Them

Ron Hammond, Phd, professor at Utah Valley State College, has quit using textbooks in his classes. Why? They’re too expensive.

The cost of textbooks is rising faster than inflation and Hammond doesn’t feel right forcing his students to purchase ever more expensive books on top of their already expensive tuition and fees.

“I think it’s immoral because of the cost of it,” Hammond told the Central Utah Daily Herald.

Instead of textbooks, Hammond has been assigning journal articles and other reading materials that his students can check out from the library or download from the internet, a practice which, if every one of their professors did it, would save students (on average) $900 a year.

It took Hammond a year to rewrite his own curriculum, after throwing out all his old textbooks. “It was worth it in the long run,” Hammond said.

We always appreciated professors who did this when we were in college. At least at our college, providing xeroxed readings from various sources via downloadable PDFs instead of multiple textbooks was common. Often we could get away with sharing the textbook with a friend or using the copy on reserve at the library.

Hooray for professors who understand that college is expensive!

UVSC prof. quits books [Daily Herald] (Thanks, Octavia!)
(Photo:MARIO RUIZ/Daily Herald)

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  1. acambras says:

    I always liked it when my college professors did what this prof has done. It really sucked to spend $100 on a textbook, open it once or twice during the semester, realize you could have gotten through the course without it, and then try to resell the book only to find that it has been superseded by a new edition. College textbooks are a tremendous scam.

  2. virtaaj says:

    Wonderful!!! I hope there are more professors like him! Yeah, college fees are rising.. whats worst is that its the average person.. the middle class who is affected…

  3. Canadian Impostor says:

    Good for him. Textbook companies are wholesale fleecing college kids.

    I loved the professors who told us we’d be using a two edition old version of the book, and that you could find them on Amazon and eBay for under $5.

  4. Nick says:

    When I teach, I usually don’t assign a textbook, I make the text optional, or I assign an old edition of a text that can be had for $5-$10 online. I never really saw the need for textbooks, as I develop my own lectures, exams and materials. That being said, there are always students who insist on having a textbook, so having them as an option is a good idea.

  5. Ray Wert Jr says:

    Not a bad idea. Considering UVSC costs about 1600 a semester that probably makes it a pretty cheap school to attended. Just wonder how it stacks up to to its competitors.

  6. traezer says:

    Ive had many professors do this as well. I love love love them with undying adoration!!!!!!!

    PS You can usually get textbooks at the library through Inter Library Loan. That is what I do. And renew the heck out of them throughout the semester. And when Ive renewed it too much I take it back, ask the librarian to check it back in, and then recheck it back out. Of course the librarian says, “well, Im not supposed to do that…but I will do it this once…” lol

    PS Am I the only one who hates it when a professor uses a text book they wrote themselves?

  7. Gloria says:

    I’m in university right now, and oftentimes professors will assign course packs of scholarly articles or selections from books, which is great since this cuts down on the number of books I have to lug home … except they’re usually bound and published by the university press, which charges outrageous prices. For a pack priced at $90 (for photocopies!) another professor would send to the local copy shop to sell to us for $15.

    I really appreciate professors trying to cut on costs for us. I also appreciate professors who assign alternate reading lists for out-of-date editions (even if they’re harder to get a hold of, with a diminishing supply) telling us they’re the same, just with different page numbers.

  8. Optimistic Prime says:

    The problem of course is a lot of the professors write the damned textbook and get a profit from it. When I was at the community college, I had a few teachers who didn’t have a text-book, and it was great. They did their own thing, and I saved money and learned what was intended as the fat was trimmed from the course.

  9. DashTheHand says:

    For that matter, why aren’t the textbooks in digital .pdf or similar format by now?

    • Ally Katch says:

      @DashTheHand: Sometimes they are… as in the case of my European History textbook. Of course, it was DRMed to the point where I could not print off pages or even move the files around in order to organize them more coherently. Useless crap, that’s what it was. The damn thing even came “zipped” in an EXE file which I was unable to open on my Linux computer, even under WINE.

  10. gorckat says:

    This should be a sign to the textbook people to put there stuff out there in digital form and make it cheaper. “Piracy” is likely keeping them from doing so, however, so it’d take some sort of college-wide liscencing scheme or something to goad them into it.

  11. AtomikB says:

    It’s ridiculous how thay have to keep coming out with new editions of textbooks every couple of years. Especially for a subject like calculus or something, which DOESN’T CHANGE and hasn’t really changed in 200 years. It’s nothing but planned obselesence by the publishers so they can squeeze a few more bucks out of you. It’s DISGUSTING!

  12. SOhp101 says:

    Wow kudos to him, unlike my other former professor who made us pay $50 for a textbook that he wrote that WASN’T EVEN FINISHED and we had limited online access to it for only the semester.

  13. zolielo says:

    Whenever I taught, which was not that much, there was no text needed. I would make my own problems, do typed handouts stemming from a mix of my old notes,and just write everything out on the white board with subject and topic headers so that a student’s notes where a real learning aid.

    I taught for profit somewhat but mainly for fun, which is why I believe I did not…

  14. ldt says:

    I’ve had a couple of professors who didn’t require texts and assigned online journal articles or gave out hand-outs instead. It was very nice, though I can see why it’s not practical for every course.

    Kind of related but not: One of my profs has amazing disdain for blue books. She thinks it’s ridiculous that some teachers require you to buy special booklets of lined paper when regular old notebook paper would suffice.

  15. ancientsociety says:

    Good for him. Before I xfer’d to a college that taught via source material, I HATED spending $100s of books that I either didn’t use or were full of misinformation.

    Textbook publishing is a SCAM. Just Read ‘Lies My Teacher Told Me’

  16. hellinmyeyes says:

    My university (Florida State) was ALWAYS on the bleeding edge of textbook editions. By the time you’re through with the class, you can’t sell the book back to the store because there’s a new edition out that they’re using.

    Fortunately, a LOT of colleges aren’t willing to bite that quickly, and I can sell my books on half.com to their students, who are looking for a steal. I’ve sold several hundred dollars worth of them, fortunately.

    You have to imagine, though, that the classes where you’re replacing textbooks with journal articles is probably a rather specialized class, where the book is limited in print already, and the topic deserves a more in-depth discussion than the typical textbook offers. Maybe I’m wrong.

  17. anatak says:

    After buying $100+ textbooks for a couple semesters, my 1st question to each prof/TA at the beginning of the semester became, “Do I need this text book?” Will we actually use it? In what way? Some were an obvious, “YES”. Others were completely unnecessary, and it was great when the prof was honest about that. I usually made it a point to do it discretely.

    Going textbook-free is nice. By this point, these books should either quite affordable because of advances in digital printing, or digital/on-line only. Lets give the trees and printers a break.

  18. stanfrombrooklyn says:

    If you go to bookstores in countries like The Philippines or Mexico, where the college population doesn’t have a lot of money, you’ll find the very same textbooks sold in the US but for 10% of the cost. The reason is they print them on much cheaper paper and the whole book is paperbook. Most US college students would be happy to pay $15 for a textbook if the book was in paperback form and didn’t have fancy 4 color printing.

  19. Zonino says:

    I had a professor in a math class (Finite Mathematics) use a wiki-style web page to post problems and have discussions on how to solve them. The main reason I took this class was because there was no textbook… had I taken College Algebra, the text would have been $130 because it was a new edition… I wasn’t aware that math changes that much year to year.

  20. MeOhMy says:

    I quickly learned to not buy the textbooks until after a couple weeks of class when between the syllabus and the lecture style I could determine if the textbook was actually necessary. The downside to this approach was that by this point getting a used copy if I actually NEEDED a book was not likely. But I think I still made out overall.

  21. hubris says:

    The biggest new scam is textbooks that come with CDs and “interactive material”, and once you open the cellophane, you can’t return it or do anything with the damn thing. Then the profs make you do a couple of *useless* tutorials online, which invalidates the serial number, so everyone has to buy a new textbook every semester, and you can’t share with others. Big god damn scam, especially after paying 45000 a year in tution.

  22. Anitra says:

    I had a few professors who did this (no textbook or “textbook optional”) – but they were usually the ones with a freshly minted doctorate (less than 5 years). In other words, they understood the high costs of university education, they hadn’t published their work in any kind of textbook format, AND they didn’t feel entitled to make a profit off of their students.

    Seriously, someone who has been a professor for 20, 30, or even 40 years (yes, I had one that old) has no idea of the costs associated with their student’s education – except for a very few who had college-aged kids not going to the same school for free. It’s the same as any other middle-aged adult – “I was able to work and put myself through college on minimum wage – why can’t you do the same?”

  23. Spamboy says:

    It always depressed me when a pint of plasma got me more than that semester’s worth of texts when sold back to the bookstore.

  24. EmilyAnzicek says:

    I just went through the process of selecting a new textbook (as part of a committee) for a basic course I teach at a university and found that increasingly there are more and more options for making texts cheaper for students by “customizing” the text. For example, the book we selected we had published loose leaf so students could bring one chapter at a time to class, etc. and also to make it cheaper. You can also choose to have the books done in black & white to cut costs, leave out chapters not required by a department, and even put the book all online to be accessed through Blackboard or another online system. Unfortunately, it seems like the publishers are only willing to do this for large volume orders and classes required of most students at the school. Even more unfortunate is that the publisher won’t let our students sell back the loose leaf books in case there are pages missing.

  25. LTS! says:

    Agreed. My last book was purchased from a company in India.. of course they aren’t supposed to sell it to me but so what. It was over 50% less than the comparative US version, it was also in a smaller footprint and paperback which made it lighter. So it cost less, weighed less, and took up less space (length and width anyway).

    Why are we forced to pay the United States textbook tax? Seriously… if the book can print in India or wherever the hell they print it and sell for $80 why am I paying $175? Screw them and teachers who require it.

    I also had an experience with one of those “course packs”. It was $35 for 16 pieces of photocopied paper. Outrageous and made even more so by the fact that the instructor screwed up the course pack and ended up handing out free copies to everyone ANYWAY. Gah!

  26. enm4r says:

    I agree with the consensus, college textbooks are a ridiculous scam. Unless someone can explain to me why they need a new edition of $100 books every couple years, just to update a few low key phrases and switch a chapter or two around. Ironically enough, I found the most expensive books to be the first couple years, mostly the intro courses.

    Even the used textbook stores on campus were making a huge profit, buying books back for (usually, there was the rare exception) like 30% of the cost, and then jacking it up to undercut the cost of the new book.

    I had a few professors who made us by course packs instead, but those weren’t always cheaper by the time you bought it from the place that copied and bound them. I guess $50 for a course pack is better than $50 a book for 8 books that it took copies from, but still…

    The best professor I had actually used some of his grants to buy the books/packs for us. I remember showing up day one to a 200 page bound course pack that would have cost $50+ in the campus store, only to learn it was free. He figured he’d use his grants for something worthwhile, and what more worthwhile than to encourage kids to actually own the materials. The cost was probably about $100 per student per semester, and I couldn’t have been more thankful.

  27. DePaulBlueDemon says:

    If only more professors would follow suit…

    My school (DePaul University in Chicago) is on a quarter system. I have to buy books 3 times a year (the summer quarter is optional). I would love to be able to print my own materials or to purchase a edition of a textbook that is a few years old in order to save money.

    College textbooks are a total scam!

  28. cnc1019 says:

    $900 dollars seems about right although being a business major at my school meant you always had to buy new editions (many of which were written by the professor) so mine never dropped below $825 for the year and ballooned up to around $1600 one year (the cashier actually said that my semester of books at $850 was the most she had ever seen).

  29. It reminds me of a news story I saw once about publishers who basically bribe teachers (they call it a consulting fee) to make their books required for their classes. Apparently there are teachers who feel like education should be reserved for the upper classes.

    @AtomikB: You’d think that as long as they’re “updating” it, they could improve upon the explanations in the text. Damn calculus.

  30. nekussa says:

    I work for a college textbook publisher. We’re a business like any other, and respond to what our market wants to buy. The unique thing about the textbook market is that it’s the instructor who decides what textbook to use in class, but it’s the student who has to buy it. The instructor may choose the book he’s been using for decades, or the one that comes bundled with the most stuff, or maybe even the one he thinks is the best. We do in fact offer electronic texts, custom texts (just the chapters you need), texts without all the extra stuff bundled, etc., but for any number of reasons your instructor may not be choosing those options. The very best thing a student can do to help is give feedback to the instructor, the department, etc. on your real opinion of the textbook and press them to investigate the alternatives.

  31. Caswell says:

    I suppose it’s a bit different in engineering. I found the texts I saved from undergrad were useful in grad school and when studying for the FE exam, and I still use a number of my textbooks from undergrad and graduate school today as a professional.

    With that in mind I didn’t protest too much when we had to buy a book that we’d end up keeping long into our careers. A lot of the professors in other disciplines who taught the “Intro to ” courses seemed to understand that the books wouldn’t be used in our professional lives and the usage of cheap course packs was much more common (and welcome).

  32. kimsama says:

    @Zonino:

    I wasn’t aware that math changes that much year to year.

    ^_^ I lol’d

  33. hoyagrrrl says:

    I just graduated from law school and would easily spend over $700 a semester on texts; I swear, they were charging by the pound and intent on permanently impairing my skeletal structure.

    Before the days of internet legal research, books of statutes had to be updated regularly as new laws were constantly being made. Publishers updated the statutes by sending out paper pamphlets (not fancy at all) that you would slip into a pocket in the back of the hardbound book. I had a Constitutional Law text that did something very similar – everyone bought a used book that was several years old and the publisher would issue a relatively inexpensive annual supplement pamphlet. This is an environmentally friendly and relatively inexpensive way to update textbooks.

  34. Lars says:

    I just finished teaching an upper level biology/biochemistry course at a liberal arts college. For my class I made all assigned reading from NCBI’s bookshelf. This resource makes the text of several outstanding books available for free online. It’s a great resource. This combined with primary literature also available online made the basis of my entire course. I have yet to see my evaluations, so I’m not sure what the students made of this approach yet. I should say that I did not do this for a cost saving purpose though. I did it because there was not one textbook that would fully serve the purposes of my own course. Thus having access to dozens of first rate textbooks online was great to cover a wider array of topics.

    Expensive text books are still excellent references though. I haven’t ditched too many of my science books and I enjoy having them. A lot of that information is useful to have in a handy single source.

  35. suburbancowboy says:

    My favorite was the professors who wrote the textbooks. Captive audience to boost the sales of their own crappy books.
    Spend over a grand on books at the beginning of the semester. Sell them for about 60 bucks 4 months later.

  36. revmatty says:

    I had a teacher (African History) who provided us with xeroxed copies of the chapters he wanted to use from most of the books for the class. Though it wasn’t about cost, it was about the fact that the books had been banned from being imported because the CIA objected to the (entirely accurate) descriptions of CIA activities in central Africa during the 60’s and 70’s.

    On a side note, my dad wrote the book for his circuit design class because in order to be tenured you had to publish a book every few years. His was the cheapest circuit design book in the bookstore, because he wasn’t interested in making a profit on it. And he gave students extra credit for finding any mistakes in it.

  37. JCookie7 says:

    I agree that the cost of textbooks is out-of-line, and a lot of that is due to gouging on the University Bookstores’ part. However, to play devil’s advocate, often times when professors offer photocopies in the form of “course packs” of articles or sections of books and textbooks, they are doing so against copyright law. At my school, there was a store that specialized in photocopying all of these articles. They got around the copyright law by having the professor provide the materials to them, and then the student would press the “copy” button. Then they would do the binding. Apparently, then they were not at fault.

    Quality journal articles and well-written books don’t come out of the blue; someone needs to pay for them.

  38. laddibugg says:

    @traezer:
    It might be cheaper to keep the book out and pay the late fee if your school is strict about the renewal policy@
    stanfrombrooklyn: the International Editions are cheaper on ebay and the like, usually they have a soft cover (which makes them lighter to carry!)@AnitraSmith:
    That’s true, but I think today’s teachers are going to be different in 30 or 40 years. The older profs of today did not spend as much (even adjusted for inflation) as students do now. Hopefully, today’s profs will continue to remember the pain.

  39. madktdisease says:

    Textbooks are such a racket. I make barely over $30k and am putting myself through school part-time. It’s tough to have books cost almost as much as the course itself. I use amazon as much as possible, but I take a lot of online courses that not only don’t have the syllabus available until the day class “starts”, but the instructor makes something based on the readings due, like, three days later, so it’s nearly impossible to get it used on amazon, even with expedited shipping.

  40. Ola says:

    I really appreciate it when teachers try to minimize/eliminate textbook usage. Sometimes the books are necessary and have more & more concise, clear information than you could get by mishmashing stuff. But new editions come out so often that it’s just silly. Most teachers try to tell you whether you can buy an older edition, but that information is often only available at the beginning of class, making pre-class bargain buys difficult.

  41. anonprof says:

    I’m a professor and, yes, textbooks are a scam and I try not to use them. Sometimes it’s unavoidable–survey classes, for one, where the material we teach is considered pretty rudimentary and thus only available in textbook form (nobody would publish an academic book or article stating the obvious). Occasionally we have no choice–departments can impose a text to standardize the material covered in large lecture classes with several sections taught by different faculty.

    Most faculty hate textbooks. They cost too much, are poorly written, often feature mistakes, and go into new editions way too often. We have nothing to do with their cost.

    Textbooks are published by multinational companies to make profit–they are one of the most lucrative forms of publishing and go into new editions because students resell books and the publishers thus have a vested interest in making the texts obsolete (so textbook publishers actually blame students reselling books for their cost). This is another reason why they aren’t going to put the content online or reduce prices.

    Course packets are great but the reason they cost so much is because of the Kinkos court case in the early 1990s (around copyright infringement, again we’re talking publisher royalties). Universities have legal departments that take this seriously, hence most charge so much as they are paying royalties set by publishers to cover their loss of sales income on the excerpts we reprint. Yes some schools do turn a blind eye to this, and thus charge very little. Most don’t.

    Believe me, it makes teaching difficult. And handing out photocopied material in class (whether funded by a grant or not–not something grants can be given for, by the way) is a violation of copyright law.

  42. Echodork says:

    When I was an undergrad at Virginia Tech, we were told that it was university policy for all of the professors to incorporate a textbook into the class. Not only that, but that professors were instructed to require students to purchase the appropriate book. It was a scam all around, and several of my professors loudly proclaimed “THE BOOK IS REQUIRED FOR THIS COURSE” while vigorously shaking their heads “NO.”

    The biggest scam they hit me with was Biology. When I went to sell my book back at the end of Semester 1, they refused to buy it, citing a “new edition” was out. So I threw it in the trash. Next semester, you guessed it… same book, same edition.

  43. MorgueReader says:

    I’m intrigued by the idea put forth here by some posters that professors who write textbooks should NOT use their own textbooks for the classes they teach?

    Huh?

    Would you prefer they use a textbook someone else wrote? What would that say about their knowledge of the subject matter?

    Similarly, I guess my local Ford dealer better not drive around in a Ford? Why would someone want to use their own product?

  44. bluwapadoo says:

    I got rid of the textbook for my class because I learned it was around 70 dollars and it wasn’t even a hard cover. There is nothing about it that was necessary for the class to be taught, although it was a good aid.

    The textbook racket needs to end. There are plenty of articles on the Internet that can be used.

    Here’s a question for you: does a professor lose credibility if s/he doesn’t use a textbook? I mean part of the reason I used it was to show the students that I wasn’t making this stuff up and for them to get another perspective.

  45. kaikhor says:

    My first quarter of college, I was going to a small branch of Ohio State. During the first week of school they had a thing in the cafeteria to boost morale and give away free stuff (yeah!). One of the things they did was find out who had spent the most in text books in the cafeteria and they got something like $100. The winner was a phsych (sp?) student who had spent over $1300.

    Also, I’ve been blessed. Almost all of my family has graduated college and many (including my grandparents) have done so in the last decade, therefore learning the insane prices of text books. In the late 90’s my great aunt set up a textbook scholarship from some insurance money. Basically anyone who is biologically from my great grandmother (my mother’s mother’s mother) qualifies. The downside is, we have to buy the books out of pocket first then go to my great aunt with the receipt and be reimbursed.

  46. andrewsmash says:

    What scares me is that the same publishers that are out to “maximize their profits” (or “screw students up the A”) on college textbooks are also selling books to the various PTA’s out there who buy text books for the K-12 system. If you ever wonder why kids books have lots of pretty pictures, little text, and lots of dubious information – it’s because these publishers are making books that are attractive to the members of the PTA, who often have no training in education, and in some cases, are fairly anti-academia. And they use the same pricing structure (ridiculously high). Sure maybe they’ll offer a discount, but as Mama Smash always said “50% off of crap means your get twice the crap for the same price, and who needs that much crap.” And to those who say, “We are just giving the customer what they want.” Umm…no, you are giving the client what they want, you are taking choice away from the customer by not offering alternatives.

  47. I remember those days, both at Wichita State and at The Evergreen State College. What sucked the most was when I would try to go used, and the price gap was so small that it wasn’t worth it. And selling the damned things later… hah hah hah.

    By the time I hit TESC, if I didn’t have to buy the book–libraries are cool–I never did, and still graduated with my BA.

  48. QB says:

    I want to clear something up. I am a college instructor (physics) and a lot of the time we have as much choice as a student over textbooks. The publisher informs us that a new edition is coming out and that we can’t use or order previous editions. Over the years instructors have pushed back though. One of the reasons (at least in Physics) you now have textbooks split up into different volumes that you can buy rather than buying the full edition is that instructors asked for that to help relieve the cost burden on the students.

  49. @MorgueReader: Agreed, unless you’re a drug dealer; then, it’s a really bad idea to use the stuff you sell to others (“Mmmmm… that’s gooood cherry cocaine… [sniff]).

  50. kryx says:

    Richard Feynman wrote an interesting article about all this 8 years ago.

    Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, it is still very relevant today.

    [www.textbookleague.org]

    It is an excellent read.

  51. As a lowly adjunct, I don’t get to pick texts for intro classes yet, but I find it madly frustrating because a) the books ARE expensive and my students are not rich and b) a lot of them SUCK BALLS. I’m constantly saying, “Your authors say X, but that’s actually not true.” Beyond that, it’s frustrating to structure your course to a textbook when it’s not the way that you personally would structure the course (in liberal arts).

    I had to supplement my medical ethics text with so much outside material this year just to provide adequate coverage that I think with a few “intro” articles to the subject (which was almost all the textbook was useful for), we could be entirely in a coursepack or even online. *IF* they’ll allow me to pick my own text.

    Also if I have document services xerox things one at a time throughout the semester they don’t charge for it, whereas the same number of pages all at once becomes a “coursepack” for which they charge. So I do a lot of one-off copying so my students don’t have to pay.

    Constantly-updating math books make me furious. I’m willing to suck it up for, like, history books. But it’s STUPID for low-level math courses!

  52. kryx says:

    @kryx: Oops, my mistake, the Texbook Letter published it 8 years ago. The article itself was written decades ago. ~_~

  53. emerod says:

    @nekussa:

    I have worked for many college textbook publishers, and I considered most of their products to be useless. The production process for textbooks, like sausage, is not pretty; and the compromises and errors in the content are only slightly more egregious than the marketing techniques. The textbook publishing industry is as outdated and unscrupulous as the recording industry.

    With that said, I grant that most of the fault for the continued use of textbooks lies with lazy, ignorant instructors and the overly politicized review process.

  54. anonprof says:

    BLUWAPADOO–internet articles are no good as they aren’t refereed. Anyone can say anything online so how can you trust the material?

    Even though I prefer academic journal articles and books published by University Presses (these are where the cutting-edge research is found), I would encourage everybody to do the readings–even from textbooks. You will find things we didn’t cover in class due to time, other opinions and maybe you’ll even find something that interests you. Also, they are great review aids for tests.

  55. theblackdog says:

    Bravo to this professor! I wish there were more like him when I was in school.

    One of the worst textbook scams with is computer textbooks that come with software or extra content that must be “unlocked” online. Typically only the first person who buys the book gets to use the software, anyone who buys the book used then has to either pay a fee to get it unlocked for them, or they can’t use it at all. I hope college professors become wise to that scam as well and don’t assign any of the extra content in their classes.

    In the meantime, half.com was my best friend in college when it came to buying and selling my textbooks. I was able to buy them for cheap, and then sell them at a good price so that I got back at least half the price that I paid.

    Also, there’s very little content that changes between editions when it comes to computer or math books, so you can get away with using a cheaper previous edition and just xerox any changed pages that you need from a classmate that has a new one.

  56. @JCookie7: “they are doing so against copyright law.”

    While I know a lot of profs ARE abusing copyright, there are a lot of ways to put together coursepacks without doing so. I generally use small sections of novels/texts well within fair use (and always say “and you should SO go read this, it’s really good!”) and I specifically solicit articles FOR USE IN MY COURSE. Since I teach ethics, I usually lecture on the general ethical concepts, and then I ask professionals in the field (not academics) to write about their experiences applying the ethical concepts. I get great articles with a lot of relevant to my students that way, without any copyright concerns.

  57. Perspex says:

    @Ray Wert Jr: How does UVSC stack up? Terribly. UVSC is the school that is *everyone’s* second choice. Here in Utah, UVSC is known as the school that Mormons go to when they don’t get accepted at BYU (the Mormon-run University).

    UVSC is really a sad place.

  58. Eran9000 says:

    We are stating that we are moving to a digital, and paperless world. I was not aware that college still required so many textbooks of their students. I have just finished my first degree in Business and have not purchased one book during my studies.

    If any books were recommended, I would study at the library and xerox only parts needed, for many of these books are not even used for the entire course. In addition, the instructors provided a lot of the material by pdf on the course’s website. This way we are able to have it handy wherever there is internet (not just home).

    Education is so expensive as it is, why do we need to spend so much more money on books that mostly will not be used past the course?

  59. @andrewsmash: “are also selling books to the various PTA’s out there who buy text books for the K-12 system.”

    They’re also responsible for the swings between “phonics” and “whole language” and other sorts of K-12 educational theory swings. The textbook publishers will throw their weight behind a new educational lobby every few years becuase then if the state adopts a new curriculum, EVERYBODY BUYS NEW TEXTBOOKS. Whereas if you stick with the same curriculum, a lot of school will use 20-year-old books.

  60. @QB: How does the publisher prevent you from using older editions? I don’t see how they can actually do anything about it if you feel like teaching from an old one. (I’m not calling you a liar I just understand how that works.)

  61. G-Dog says:

    In my TV Production classes, my profs. did the same thing. I guess the school would pressure them into choosing a book, but we never used them.

  62. Xerloq says:

    I had a professor who wrote his own books, and would generate a unique serial number for each book. You had to “register” each book in order to access the quizzes. The result – the books could not be sold back.

    Worse, they were printed at the college copy-center for $5 and resold by the professor for $85.

    Crummy Econ class… AND professor.

  63. march_or_die says:

    The thing about textbooks that drives me crazy, though, are the DVDs and CDs that come with them. Unless it’s a language class I never use that stuff. Last semester I took a Logic class where the book cost 80 dollars used (I got 30 back for it at the bookstore). Of course it came with a useless CD that drove the price of the book up. The previous edition had all of the same information, but different problems-and of course the old edition was the only copy on reserve at the library!

  64. Thrust says:

    $900… If you have any computer-related classes a single book can run $200 easy, and usually you need two or three for one course.

    Two piss-offs with Textbooks. 1, the way colleges sell them used. Taking a hundred dollar book for the example. New, $100, used $75. IF you can sell it back at the end of the course (which means good enough condition, no newer version out, PLUS they still plan to use it for the next term) they buy them back for $25, and won’t often buy back ones that were used when bought. Fucking Ripoff.

    Now the other piss-off is the whole reprint issue. New version of the book comes out, everyone gets skrewed. Can’t find em used, can’t sell back the previous version. The worst part is that usually LESS THAN 10% of the book is any different.

    Three stories:
    First, I had a friend in my Microeconomics class. We were sitting there, five days before the final exam, and we noticed his book looked different than ours. Same company’s book, same series, but his was MACROeconomics. Everything we went over in class, all the assignments, readings, and page numbers for said work were all the exact same. He had the wrong bloody textbook for the entire course, and nobody knew because the only difference was the cover, and the last three pages in the final chapter.

    Then there was our book for Business Finance. It was never used. Ever. Ninety dollars and the teacher always used powerpoint or handouts the entire course.

    And worse than those was the fun with course changes some of my classmates went through. About seven of them I was in classes with were signed up for a course-preferred elective. They all bought their books, then on the first day, the teacher told them the course had switched textbooks to a different publisher’s ones. They had to buy the new, more expensive textbook, PLUS the bookstore wouldn’t allow a return since they weren’t going to be using that book at the college anymore (and yes I know that wasn’t legal for them to do).

  65. anonprof says:

    RECTILINEAR PROPAGATION –they make the books unavailable (pulp remaining unsold copies). The College Bookstore helps with this and won’t stock the older editions. Distributors, including all the used book salespeople, won’t buy back editions that are going out of print so they won’t make it into the bookstores as used copies.

  66. ChelseaFinigan says:

    This is a good step towards helping us students out. To be honest, I learned the most from a sports marketing teacher that never gave us any books, but rather showed examples of how he successes (and more importantly failed) in his dealings as owner of a semi-pro basketball team. I think many majors require, and NEED textbooks, but many can simply teach the material that needs to be learned. In addition most lessons can come from other books (non-textbooks). One example that I can recall is a book that still helps me to this day for a management class, Good To Great.

    With private college tuition prices expected to be $41,771 ([www.thinkfinancial.com]) I think someone needs to step up and take the students best interests into account. I commend this professor and for any professor or school that helps to keep students out of terrible debt and has the courage to let others know that this has gone on for too long.

  67. nidolke says:

    He looks like Lewis Black.

  68. vdragonmpc says:

    Thrust, You must have been Info Systems at the cancerous VCU in Richmond VA. They are ‘growing the school’ at warp speed thourgh the city. Now they have built a new business building to sit mostly empty when the old one was just fine. I had financial management and it was a joke. Guy barley used the book and we basically learned that there were great calculators out there (thanks HP for the 20$ course passer) that would get you through the moronic course. I hated with a passion the bookstore prices and it should be investigated along with financial aid why the costs of books are so insane.
    No book published is worth over 50$ The DVDs that come with a lot of tech courses are garbage and 90% of the time dont work becoause of the copyright protection… My cisco book software refused to let me use it until the vendor sent a patch for the freaking license key… And the book was 3 years old!!!! They couldnt ship with a fixed copy???

    My favorits memory was my grandmother passing away and an instructor insisted that I had to turn my paper in the day of the funeral to get full credit. (class started 1 hour before the funeral and school was 36 miles from the funeral location) It was a dumb ‘business writing class’ and was a total waste of time. I have to admit that it taught me that there are a lot of self important jackasses in the college system.

  69. myls says:

    @andrewsmash: PTA doesn’t choose the textbooks where I’m from! Perhaps you meant school boards? At the HS level, districts get to choose their own books, which is somewhat better. I agree, definitely that the textbooks have been overpriced at the K-12 level…the costs routinely exceed the amount provided in the budget for the textbooks!

  70. bohemian says:

    When I was in college textbooks were the only option, yes I am that old.
    When I was a guest instructor for the department chair at the college I worked at we did have a textbook. At least it was used for multiple classes and held some post college usefulness. For the classes I taught, I could have come up with better written materials over an afternoon and photocopied them for free.
    Because of the required textbook I was forced to teach an inferior theory and technique to students.

    After this I worked on a project where a college bookstore was the client. I learned all about the total textbook scam. The one the book sellers hate the most is students selling books to other students. This is the largest portion of why they force books into new editions constantly.

    My S.O. is currently back in school and the book system is a joke. Books are easily $100 each and I have a stack of them downstairs that are either only worth about $2 – $6 each and some the bookstore won’t buy back at all. Even on half.com the books don’t have enough value to bother posting them.

  71. bohemian says:

    You know that a high speed older photocopy machine is not that expensive. I see them given away for free on freecycle and craigslist. Some enterprising students could go together on one book and pirate their own copies. I am sure though, the book industry would develop their own RIAA style police squad to counter this.

  72. waffffffle says:

    The trend I am seeing has been a migration from textbooks to course packets, which are also expensive due to the reason mentioned above, and now transition to online materials.

    The online materials are required for the student to learn and most students don’t like to use them on the computer so before classes students are lining up waiting to print out hundreds of pages of course materials. Some colleges charge for all this printing. The transition to digital is actually resulting in the cost and labor burden of course packets being pushed onto the students and the computer labs. Some college computer labs can print 1 million pages a month. Not good for the environment and not necessarily good for the wallet either.

  73. Marce says:

    I have plenty of professors who are doing this as much as possible. What doesn’t help? IT policies that say you may not print “textbooks” from the Internet–even if your teacher sends them to you. Boo, IT.

    Another professor wrote his own textbook and sells it for $15 each semester to students, making nothing off it because the $15 goes straight to his printing company.

  74. MeOhMy says:

    RE: Professors using their own texts, it depends on the circumstances.
    For isntance at my alma mater there was a class that was required for EVERY STUDENT, the text book was written by 2 faculty members, and a new “edition” was published every year even though every year some snarky student compiles a list of typos that have not been fixed. The bookstore will not buy them back nor sell them used. You can of course get the text from an upperclassman, BUT the text also came with an online subscription to some site that you needed to complete one of the units. The subscription expires at the end of the semester so if you get a used copy, you still don’t have all the pieces.

    This is obviously a ridiculous and lucrative scam.

    OTOH I had a professor who had us using her own CS book. She basically gave us galleys and declared us proofreaders for the as-yet-unpublished next edition. She stood by her work, but she recognized the conflict of interest in forcing your students to pay for your own textbook.

    Last comment:
    During my senior year the BN-owned campus bookstore declared that in order to get a full refund for returning a book, you had to have a drop form. Their excuse was preventing students from photocopying relevant sections and then returning the books, but it seems to me they just wanted to gouge as much as possible.

  75. 3drage says:

    @acambras: You pretty much caught every point I was going to post in here. Good job :)

    I worked at a college, and the sad part is that text book publishers hound instructors constantly about whether they’ve had a chance to review this or that new print. It’s good to see some instructors out there doing away with text books. I’d say on average I’d read maybe 25% of my college text books in some classes but usually I would read 2% and not give the book a second glance. Scamsville.

  76. ElenorR says:

    I am going to play a little devil’s advocate here (even though I came to the comment stream late.)

    My prof wrote text books and he explained to me why the books are so expensive. Unlike a popular fiction or even non-fiction title that can on the shelf at a bookstore for years and still sell, a text book has to make all the money put into it within the first year of its publication. Textbooks simply don’t have a shelf life or the wide distribution of commercial books.

    The book has to pay the writer(s), the publisher, and for the materials (paper, binding, CDs) within 12 months of being published. Depending on the press, it sometimes take that long for a text to break even.

    Textbooks are not a money business, for every book that gets accepted in multiple colleges (and thus warrants cheaper pricing), there are 10 books that are used for one or two semesters at a community college, never to be heard from again.

    Much of the money spent by text book sellers is aimed at getting teachers to buy contracts for a particular book and the instructors never seem to understand the cost of receiving 4 or 5 text books for free in any given semester as the company tries to sell them on a new text. They have to fill these texts with bells and whistles just to get the professor’s attention. My professor calls the process the “Last Free Lunch in America” because of all the schwag they get.

    There are instructors who do realize this promotions process only raises the cost. These professors keep a book edition until they are forced out of it, who don’t use text books or who choose the cheapest editions possible.

    But from someone who worked for a professor who published his own texts, there was little money in it, less glory, and the only reason he published his own book was because he was tired of using substandard materials, so he made his own. He wasn’t out to gouge his students and had no problem with students buying used copies and always made copies available to those students who chose not to buy a book.

  77. royal72 says:

    good for him! nice to see a teacher using their brain and care more about teaching, than the politics of the pencil pushers and their quotas.

  78. firefruze says:

    You can tell that the publishers really “care” for students when after about 2 years a brand new version of the text comes out making old text useless as they are changed not enough so that the content is drastically different but just enough to screw you over in your class. These publishers aren’t going broke any time soon , Thompson a very large Canadian publisher is worth a few billion dollars alone. For any incoming post secondary students, buying you texts used is teh way to go!!

  79. MrEvil says:

    Textbooks are terrible, but what’s worse is that some classes with an online component (like some English classes) you have to buy a book when all you needed was the access code for the online portion. Last semester I did an English class and NEVER used the books, but I had to have that code so I could submit my essays.

    However, my college puts forth an effort to get students cheaper books. One of the speech classes got Thompson to make a special “Amarillo College Edition” of a $90 book. The college sells their special edition (which is done on cheap paper in B&W) for less than a used copy of the old book.

    What else sucked was this one class that taught you how to use Word and Excel. The book(s) were almost $300 in the bundle. I borrowed a friend’s copy of the lab book (the lecture book could have been titled shit I already know) and copied all 11 lab assignments and did them in ONE day. I still had to pay $70 or so for the software for the online lab-tests. At least Thompson sold that seperately.

  80. mac-phisto says:

    heheh. i only bought texts my freshman year. after that, i found lacking one was a very convenient way to find a cute study partner. ;)

  81. shizaquawn says:

    At my old university, they had a program where they would charge a $15 for each class you had signed up for … in exchange, you could “rent” whatever books you needed. If you didn’t need textbooks for the class, you could get your $15 back, though it was a hassle to do it.

    It was a pretty sweet system, I think. I don’t know why more schools don’t adopt something similar, especially for Intro classes where the information doesn’t change all that much.

  82. Melikoth says:

    Most people get their books before the semester starts, but I always wait until the second week of class before I purchase any of them. Reason being, I dropped a class last semester, but the bookstore only has a short return policy, so I dropped the class and was stuck with 5 books. Another class I had required 4 books, but as it turns out they were for “reference” purposes and I didn’t even need them.

    Sadly, being in a computer field, tech books are highly over priced. I have one professor who is of the mind that anything you need to know can probably be found on the internet. During tests he even lets us use the internet, since his reasoning is that in the real world, you will have that available to you.

  83. etinterrapax says:

    Sometimes when I adjunct, I have to use the text the school assigns, and sometimes I can choose my own. I hate that CD-ROMs are packaged with everything also; never really use them. I’m in English, so I have a lot of options in terms of course packs and other readings, but I’m really irritated with the way that publishers will try to conceal the retail cost of books from faculty so that we’ll just assign whatever looks good, without regard to the price to the student. I go to the effort, but a lot of teachers don’t.

    I always mention on the first day of class that anyone who cannot afford the books should talk to me. I can almost always get one from the department or from my own library, and I get a copy of it put on reserve in the university library. And I tell about half.com and Amazon Marketplace, and the book-buyback scam. Most of the time, I keep my own course books, but I’ll sell them if I’m sure I’ll never use them again. I’ve had very good luck getting 80% of retail on Amazon.

  84. quiksilver says:

    Yay! Good for him.

    I had a class where the teacher wrote his own book but wasn’t published yet, so he had our class proof read it from PDF documents. What made it better was that he was an awesome writer for a physics teacher.

  85. Dont Know Me? You Are Me. says:

    @ElenorR: It’s generally true that textbook authors don’t do it for the money. But the publishers are RAKING IT IN! Don’t believe that poor-publisher sob story one bit. They are ratcheting up profits because they know their days are numbered.

    Someone already mentioned the recording-industry analogy, right-on. In this age, there is less and less need all the time for publishers and bookstores. Content creators should be connecting directly with their customers.

  86. Donathius says:

    I’ve actually had a class from Dr. Hammond and I found him to be an excellent teacher. It was one of those lower-division class that they make everyone take. As I recall we didn’t have a textbook. Instead we bought some stuff from the bookstore that he wrote for the class. It wasn’t expensive at all. It was somewhere in the neighborhood of $5-6 since it was basically just some xeroxed stuff.

  87. zeroraveson says:

    At my school (the University of Florida) almost all of my professors have used these course packs, or assigned a softcover collection of articles costing around $20.

    In the few classes where the professor has been an author, its either been at cost or a photocopied edition of the actual book. Besides that, all textbooks I have had to look at have had non-circulating copies in the university library.

  88. alhypo says:

    Fair warning: A blatant plug follows.

    For those with professors who still require textbooks for their class I would recommend AbeBooks.com.

    You just enter the ISBN of the textbook you need and their search engine lists people who have imported the international version and are selling it domestically. The international versions are generally softbound and drastically cheaper, but otherwise identical to the US edition.

    Every book has a message on the cover to the effect of “Not for sale in the United States.” So hopefully you’re not embarrassed by such things. Bookstores never sell these because they would loose their distribution contracts.

    If you plan on keeping your textbooks this is the way to go, hands down. But if you resell books after you are done with them you should consider the resale value (but remember: you never know when a new edition might come out rendering your book worthless). Plus you need to order a few weeks in advance to be sure they will arrive on time (or pay extra for shipping).

    I am only a satisfied customer of the site and have no vested interest in it.

  89. cheezel says:

    Full disclosure: I work for a publisher. I don’t get why textbook publishers are being vilified for making money? Like any business with shareholders, they need to show growth. Authors don’t write the books for free, editors don’t work for free. It’s a costly business and tons of cash goes into developing products. Believe it or not, folks do work very hard to write quality texts….

    I’m not sure how it’s the fault of the publisher that students are only using 5% of their text – seems like the fault there should fall on the students shoulders. After all, presumably they are enrolled in the class to learn….

  90. Trackback says:

    Rumor of the Day: We won’t know for a few hours if Harry dies, but Mickey Kaus is hearing whispers that the demise of TimesSelect could be imminent. Mark this day on the calendar as the first time ever we read a Kaus item and said, “Oh, please let it be true!”

  91. syntheticlogic says:

    The college I attend (Case Western Reserve University) also makes these “course packs” for professors who don’t want to assign a text book. The difference is these “course packs” which are essentially Xeroxed notes or selected chapters from different text books are often more expensive than a standard used text book. One class I took had a course pack consisting of about 120 3-hole-punched sheets of notes sold for $120. The kicker was that the professor did nothing during class but project the EXACT same notes on the board and read verbatim from them. Of course, you can’t return a course pack as the book store won’t take them back.

  92. Buffalo_Bagels says:

    Ahhh….Is there a better scam than college text books and those who publish and sell them?

    I can relate to all the horror stories here. Additionally, I hated when some of my professors wanted us to buy books that they’ve written, even though there were better alternatives out there.

    Some student-friendly professors usually posted required reading as PDFs on their web sites, so all you had to do was download them. But they would usually require one or two books to be purchased anyway.

    All English Comp classes did not require books at all, since all readings were just portions of books that were xeroxed and put together in a packet, which ran about $25. I only had one other class in a different field that did this, and to this day I’m baffled as to why only very few professor do this. Of course, this won’t work for all courses, but I had many classes were plenty of the information in the book were either of little relevance, or were covered by the professor in class. Why not then pick the most important parts of the book and make it into a nice, cheap packet?

  93. karimagon says:

    Copyright law gets even hairier when you’re a music major like me. Many of my classes have required listening assignments and projects using recordings. Good thing my school turns a blind eye to copyright infringement– I don’t need the RIAA breathing down my neck when I’m just trying to do my schoolwork.

  94. BadDolphin says:

    Given the quality of the content, most college textbooks that I’ve seen are quite a bargain even at full price.

  95. synergy says:

    Yes! Someone else who’s read “Lies My Teacher Taught Me”! The author is a really cool guy, too.

    Just a week or so ago I went to Half Price Books and saw most of my science textbooks which I paid $100-$150 for (sure, 10 yrs ago) at the bargain price of $5-$6. :(

  96. Fitz21and1 says:

    The problem with all this supply-and-demand defense of textbook costs is that supply-and-demand is a concept based on an open market, while at many universities the textbook market is a strict monopoly. “Customizing content” only makes this worse. At my university the only way to find out what books are required for a class is to find them on efollet.com ‘s sub-site for that class, so you can then buy it online from them. However, many times they just give a partial title, no author or only one of several authors, and no edition, so you can’t go get the book elsewhere.
    They don’t give ISBN, even though it’s clearly the way they organize their system because when I go back to price my used books to sell back I’m asked to use ISBN. Then they tell me my $160 book is worth $15, and I see them sell it in a month for $110. Looooove monopolistic market abuse and 600%+ profit margin.

  97. anams0184 says:

    I always hated when it came time to buy books. Being a Business major at a private school always meant that I’d end up buying a book that was either a new edition or something that the professor decided to write. I’ve paid over $1200 numerous times for my books (which is RIDICULOUS!!) and then when it came time to sell back the books that you just don’t have the need for you’re lucky if you get $10 for a book that you probably didnt even open the entire semester. It’s a total scam. But I did learn that by either hunting for the books online or buying them from an off-campus bookstore was always cheaper than buying them from the campus bookstore. Also scouting out the classes a semester before you take them and just going up to random students who already have the book and asking them to see if they were gonna sell was also a good way to save money…that way you both walk out better off. they make more money off the book and you can get it for a lot cheaper..plus maybe get lucky and have some good notes in there.

  98. superqueen23 says:

    I studied abroad in England for a year. The first semester, I received my syllabi to find out that instead of having certain required books, all of my classes had numerous recommended texts. When I asked an English friend how I know which ones I should buy, she informed me that in order to be listed as highly recommended, there had to be enough copies of the book on hand at the library for every student in the copy to take one out. I checked out the library at my home school the next year to discover that they did not have a single copy of any of the newest editions of my textbooks. It was actually a policy that they could not have them. Talk about not having the best interest of your students in mind.

  99. anita_job says:

    I almost never bought textbooks in college (I was a history major). The information that a professor believes is the most important is contained in the lecture. Textbooks are really for reference, and if I had taken a ton of math/science courses, then I probably would have had no choice but to buy them.

    I decided to stop buying books when I spent $400 my first semester in college and sold the almost unused books back to the store for $5 a piece.

    The books I did buy I got from half.com or used from Amazon.

  100. nardo218 says:

    @ElenorR: Unlike a popular fiction or even non-fiction title that can on the shelf at a bookstore for years and still sell

    Popular fiction books stay on the shelf for *one month* unless they’re bestsellers.

  101. techwriter says:

    Great job! I wish my professors did this when I was in college. I routinely spent well over $700 on my books per semester. That combined with tuition was overwhelming. The best remedy I had in college was use online book price comparison search engines. They compared on-line books prices so I knew where to get the cheapest textbooks. The one I am using now is called SmartBookFinder.com, [www.smartbookfinder.com.] My textbook cost went from $700 to $250, which was at least a lot more reasonable. Thanks again professor for being a trail blazer!