NYT Editorial Board: Hey Congress, Textbooks Are Too Expensive!

The New York Times editorial board called on Congress to make college textbooks more affordable. The measure they endorsed wouldn’t do anything Soviet like directly cap prices, but it would require textbook makers to tell professors exactly how much books would cost impoverished students.

The bill would also ban textbook makers from jacking up prices by bundling unnecessary CDs and other extras. Finally, schools would be required to publish a list of required books long before the start of classes so students could avail themselves of the free market and ferret out the cheapest prices.

Faculty should also be doing their part. Instead of assigning two expensive books and using just a few chapters of each, professors should order custom books with only the chapters they intend to assign.

Congress, though, should do what it can, because mounting textbook prices are one of a number of factors that are pushing higher education further out of reach of many young people.

The board encouraged all students to step up and join the Campaign to Reduce College Textbook Costs. Be the change you want to see and all.

That Textbook Costs How Much? $200? [NYT]
Make Textbooks Affordable [Campaign to Reduce College Textbook Costs]
H.R. 4137 – The College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007 [THOMAS]
Write Your Senator
Write Your Representative
PREVIOUSLY: How To Write To Congress
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. ptkdude says:

    Back when I was still in college a few years ago (grad 2006), I would always buy my text books from amazon.co.uk. They were the exact same editions, and even with the currency conversion they were half the cost.

  2. emdy says:

    Yay! I hope this happens before I grad in ’10!

  3. Rando says:

    I think its absolutely ridiculous that I can’t find out what book I need for class until the first day of class, then an assignment is due the next day. Sorry, I shop online, and you can kiss my ass, bookstores.

  4. Greasy Thumb Guzik says:

    Even better would be the colleges & the profs learning about ethics!

    The profs need to stop using books they’ve written as required textbooks for the course & the schools need to get some balls & stop the profs from doing that!

    The schools are complicit as they own the bookstores that sell the books & make a huge profit from that practice.

    Then the companies need to stop making minor changes to the books which causes them to become “outdated” & thus can’t be used by the next class.

    And before I hear from outraged history majors, I’m not writing about textbooks on contemporary history.
    This is about more basic stuff such as lit or math.

  5. dereksea says:

    The “new edition” trick manufacturers use is really ingenious in a way, because at my university many of my books so far have been the “newest edition” and therefore, the professor requires those as the class text, and no old editions will be supported. It pretty much forces everyone to break down and purchase. If a required book is an older edition, there are so many good places to find deals online. And although I know that books are expensive, most colleges include some figure (eg. $500-$800) in a total cost breakdown of attending before anyone even applies or accepts enrollment offers. So in a way, students have a reason to be complaining, but also, the cost of books (on average) was plainly stated before we even enrolled.

  6. sleepydumbdude says:

    I had a professor put a text book online chapter by chapter. Probably wasn’t legal but I liked it.

  7. dereksea says:

    I also loved how one of my professors pointed out that our $130 text that was required was bringing in about $55,000 of sales for the publisher. A bit mind boggling if you think about all of the other classes going on at the U, let alone all of the other U’s around the country.

  8. I’m not for price controls, but it will take a revolt of both students and staff to have anything happen in a good way. What prof is gonna turn away a kick back though?

  9. Depending on your opinion of organized religion, college textbook sales is the biggest racket out there.

  10. Phipps6505 says:

    It’s not entirely the textbook publishers. I had a case where I class I taught adopted a different text (a customer one) which was actually about $20 net cheaper to the bookstore. The campus bookstore kept the old price, while a privately run bookstore off campus reduced the price. We also adopted the practice of listing a recommended text on our syllabus along with an “acceptable” text (meaning the older editions).

    Our course has gotten into the habit of checking to see where the book is cheaper and sending out an email to all enrolled students prior to classes starting letting them know of the difference.

  11. Buran says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik: My dad’s a professor and he writes the coursebook for his course himself, since it’s a high-level specialized science discipline. He then distributes printed copies made at the university print shop, and has a password-protected PDF (it’s a reprint-rights thing; he can’t make it publicly available) available for them to download on his website.

    He does a really good job, too — he uses LaTeX (which he can typeset by hand in a text editor, just like I can write HTML by hand, but we both use WYSIWYG editors to make it faster).

    He does refer students to books but those can be had in the library, I’m pretty sure. (His course is way over my head).

    Too bad more profs don’t do this.

  12. @Greasy Thumb Guzik: That always pissed me off. Having to buy the textbook written by the teacher in the class. Is it their job to teach me that material anyway? Why make me pay twice?

    Also bundling textbooks with crap workbooks, etc is a huge ripoff. Most of the time prof don’t even use that material. So why should you have to pay for it.

  13. Madaloon says:

    Colorado already did this. It was only earlier this week that it was signed into law, so I can’t talk about how has been working.

  14. jefffromNY says:

    Its awful. Some book bundles are good, but the majority are useless. I do think that publishing the book list as you choose classes would be pretty useful.

    I have had some classes with $250 in books, when we barely use them, except for one or two days – of course you can’t do without these days’ readings but its a waste. Why couldn’t they just license a couple chapters and put them online for a few dollars?

    I spoke to a marketing professor to find out why he got rid of his custom book, even though his custom book simply took about half of the chapters in the regular book and left them as they were. This custom edition was 30% less.

    His answer: he got a trip to Argentina to use the normal edition. What crap.

  15. CumaeanSibyl says:

    The first comment on the NYT blog is great. “Students spend money on alcohol, so high textbook prices aren’t important” — yeah, I don’t really follow the logic there. The point is that students without large amounts of disposable income are the ones who suffer most from high textbook prices, and they’re the ones who need the help. Just because some students have a no-limit account at the Bank of Mom and Dad doesn’t mean they all do.

    Besides, if we give poor students the chance to buy their textbooks at Half.com, they can spend their extra money on booze, thereby bringing freedom and equality to the college experience.

  16. StevieD says:

    Most undergrad classes (and a lot of grad classes as well) are not cutting edge courses with material that is changing as we write.

    (think about it, Newton’s laws have not been overturn in the past week, the work of Eulcid is not being updated any time soon, Shakespeare is dead and the War of 1812 was almost 200 years ago).

    Therefore, the basic text books should be available BEFORE the course is started. I would expand the statement to “the basic text books should be available the THE YEAR before the course is taken”.

    In hindsight I would have love to have prepped for my college classes well before the start of the class.

    If this measure forces colleges to offer books well before the start of the course I am fully behind the measure.

  17. It’s terrible; I teach at a CC and many of my students pay more in books than in tuition. I’ve already cut optional texts and moved minor texts to “optional” as much as I can, but these books are ABSURD.

    The only perk WE get are a free copy of the latest edition of the class text, which the college pays for. (We do get sent lots of review copies, but they’re mostly pretty useless, and our textbook purchasing process is way more complicated than a single prof getting to say “use this book.”)

    The latest edition of the ethics textbook we use in all the ethics classes is a little 200-page paperback they’re charging FORTY-TWO DOLLARS for. This is a $6 book, tops. I was absolutely appalled. I’m going to start buying old editions cheap on amazon and RENT them to my students (just to be sure I get the books back). I already generally let my students go 1 to 2 editions “old” (though they’re responsible for not being assholes and saying “the reading said “chapter 3 pages 116-128″, and chapter 3 is on pages 140 to 154, so I didn’t read anything and you can’t test me on it now!”)

    One serious problem is that our college bookstore has to stop selling the old editions when the publisher comes out with a new edition, INCLUDING used books students want to sell back and have the bookstore resell. I’ve been thinking of, again, with these texts we use year after year in my department, seeing if we could make an arrangement with a local used book store that wouldn’t be constrained by the textbook publishers cancelling contracts if the store has the temerity to resell the last edition used.

  18. dirithmir says:

    how about a campaign to reduce congress screwing with crap they have no business screwing with?

  19. sam1am says:

    Colleges should require students to buy ebook readers when they first get to school. Then the teacher can assign random articles, ebooks, rss feeds, etc. as reading. Electronic textbooks should cost no more than $20.

  20. sleepydumbdude says:

    Oh also what pisses me off is many schools have their own editions of books that are bundled with little books or cds. That way you can’t look on the website and get the UPC code and purchase it elsewhere for cheaper. Plus they are are laminated together so you can’t even see some of the books fully until you purchase to open it.

  21. etc says:


    My thoughts precisely.

  22. evslin says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: You’re not the only one who does this; I’ve had a significant number of teachers in the community college circuit who let students use books that are an edition or two behind.

    In fact my calculus teacher actually carried two books to class – the one the bookstore sells, and the one the bookstore sold last semester – so he could assign the right problems to the folks who bought used from other students/Amazon/ebay/wherever.

    It’s nice to see the teachers get the students’ back sometimes when it comes to the cost of these books.

  23. StevieD says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    The book is expensive because of the limited distribution, captive audience, return books

    (yes, some publishers and distributors take the excess books back from the schools)

    and to make up for the lower profit margins of mainstream books

  24. ColoradoShark says:

    @dereksea: The new edition scam is the one that really ticks me off.

    For example, I was taking a course in conversational Spanish and they were already up to the third edition. What happened, did Spanish just change a lot? Or was the original edition such a piece of crap they had to quickly come out with two new editions to fix it? Maybe a new edition every ten years to cover changes in modern usage.

    New editions of modern history? OK.
    New editions on modern physics where new things and theories are coming out regularly? OK.
    Languages? No.
    Ancient history? No.

  25. HaloZero says:

    The Problem is that sometimes those excerpts from a variety of books end up costing a bunch.

    My readers or history classes usually cost anywhere from $40-$100. They’re usually non-returnable because the professor changes things ever semester and I get saddled with these crappy excepts from a bunch of sources.

  26. ColoradoShark says:

    @evslin: This is kind of a repeat of another of my comments.

    Were there some new innovations in the field of calculus that required a new edition of the book? NO! Maybe for a doctoral student.

  27. chersolly says:

    Has anyone here used Chegg’s textbook rental service?

  28. @StevieD: I know WHY they cost more, and I don’t object to a “fair” profit, but this is NOT one of those books that’s cutting edge. It’s not even truly a “textbook.” The changes between editions are miniscule, and it’d be a $4.95 book as a mass market paperback. I think $20 would be fair considering the whole small-run (although in fact it’s so popular a text it sells more copies than many mass market paperbacks). $42 is absurd.

  29. katylostherart says:

    ok and what about stopping schools and professors from buying the newest editions of books in subjects that never change? why are they allowed to force you to buy a new edition while at the same time denying you the ability to sell back or resell the book so you can actually AFFORD to buy the new one. i can understand tech classes, history, and upper level classes needing new editions every year or two. but nothing’s changed in english since the great vowel shift and the dropping of the letter U in america. math hasn’t changed in AGES to any degree where the average bs/ba student would need the latest and greatest, nor has most science. until the leaps and bounds of most subjects actually stick around long enough to be included in a text, colleges should stop acting like businesses that just HAVE to have the newest thing to gouge out more money that a lot of people don’t have. universities should be prevented from having the bottom line be the greatest motivator for “improvements” in curriculum. it won’t hurt the students.

  30. edrebber says:

    Professors have to publish to get tenure and advance their careers.

    I suspect that a Calculus text from 50 years ago would be adequate.

    Just check out an old text book from the library and read the corresponding chapters.

  31. katylostherart says:

    @dereksea: um, i dunno about you, but i sure was shocked one year when i had a $1300 book bill. that was quite a bit more than that rough estimate they show you in the tuition plan layouts.

  32. evslin says:

    @ColoradoShark: Hah, no joke. And that was Calculus I too… not even like it was bleeding edge material or anything.

  33. @katylostherart: “ok and what about stopping schools and professors from buying the newest editions of books in subjects that never change?”

    We’re not allowed to stay with the old texts. Some professors don’t give a rat’s ass, but many of us ARE sensitive to the price pressures students face, and there’s a lot more awareness of this in the last few years as prices have skyrocketed.

    The bookstore is frequently prohibited by its contract with the publishers from continuing to sell older editions. And since these publishing conglomerates are HUGE, if you get cut off by, say, McGraw-Hill for selling the last edition of a supplemental ethics text, you might lose your entire science department’s texts too.

    Colleges don’t make profits out of moving to the newest edition. (Frankly it’s a pain in the ass; I have to rework my entire syllabus and carefully reread a textbook I’ve already read six times to make sure nothing gigantic that’s on my final exam has been removed or changed.)

    (Also, while I realize Shakespeare has been dead for 400 years, SCHOLARSHIP on Shakespeare moves forward. You don’t need a new textbook every few years, but it’s a little silly to suggest we could still be using textbooks from the 50s. An edition of the PLAY from 1950, sure, but not of the commentary.)

  34. erica.blog says:

    I got my textbooks for relatively low price by checking them out of the school library (which always had its own copy, frequently copies, of textbooks for the upcoming semester); anything I wanted/needed, I photocopied. That was because I was one of those poor students with little disposable income and needed to be creative about resources :P

    Buy a combo printer/copier (about the same price as one textbook, nowadays) and you don’t even have to pay to get the copies.

    And it’s all legal under fair use.

  35. Major-General says:

    I’m reminded of my Hebrew Bible class, where the book the professor used was last published in 1986…and was $64 used.

  36. bohemian says:

    College bookstores themselves are a massive scam. Most are owned by a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble or one of about three companies and operate on college campuses. This is why you see the new edition every year and $60 paperback books. They are there to make money, not to help the students. If you want to blame someone blame the school for letting these third party companies run their bookstores.

  37. bohemian says:

    @katylostherart: New additions every year and things like CD’s sealed in the back of books rendering them un-resellable once you use said CD are a calculated scam to prevent students from reselling books.

  38. codpilot says:

    Colleges aren’t responsible for the cost of text books. Often the books I choose for a given class will be publisher priced at $50 – $70, the bookstores (all of them) then add a minimum of 50% to 100% markup on the book!

    It has driven me mad with frustration – to the point where I am developing my own lecture notes, online pod/vid casts that I will keep updated – and no books to buy. That’s the goal – so far I’m about half way there, the time it takes to do this is extensive – and all on my own time too.

    Blame the publishers for some of the cost, blame the bookstores for the rest. And then blame the college that complains when a professor uses his own electronic text!

  39. MsSal says:

    In my experience professors are very aware of the cost of books and they do what they can. When I was in college, professors would try to cut costs by making course packets with only the relevant chapters copied into them. These were still usually $50-100 because of all the copyrights.

    If most college students were just a leetle bit smarter, they might realize that there are some pretty easy ways to make your own course packets at low cost. For example, if you have access to a free photocopier, you can get a textbook from the library and copy the chapters you need. Then you can distribute said copies to your friends and neighbors. Legal? Probably not…

  40. nardo218 says:

    @Phipps6505: At Temple in Philly, the professors in the know never used the bookstore, not only because it was a scammy expensive store, but because they were unreliable. Instead, they told everyone to go to a frightening looking ghetto Philly hole in the wall that always had the right books for the best price.

    Pittsburgh U had the same deal, except it was in the back of a convenience store. You gave them your schedule and picked up your books at the front of the store. There was even a dumbwaiter involved.

  41. katylostherart says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: so it’s basically collusion to strangle every penny possible out of students.

    good to know. i’m in favor then of professors insisting that their students can only work from handouts and raping the university in print out costs. one $65 class fee is better than $300 in books for that same class.

    if the majority of professors really wanted to, they could make it easier on their students wallets than they think.

  42. katylostherart says:

    add your own apostrophes, i apparently can’t.

  43. nardo218 says:

    @StevieD: I always emailed the professors and asked for book info. I told them title, author, and edition was all I needed, but if they didn’t mind sending the ISBN, that’d be great too. Almost all of them got right back to me. Most professors are poor intellectuals; they’re happy to help poor students.

  44. AlexDitto says:

    It really sucks when you get into higher level classes, where the books you’re looking for are much rarer.

    There are a few things everyone should be doing:
    Plan ahead. Email professors a few months before classes, politely asking if they know which book they’ll be using. Most of them do.
    Check half.com and amazon regularly, before a few months before classes start. Deals pop up and disappear faster as classes draw nearer.
    Compare tables of contents for different editions online. If they have identical section headings, chances are the content is exactly the same, too.
    Look for international editions (usually paperbacks). I saved a hundred bucks buying a used version of a book that happened to be from Sri Lanka. The text was exactly the same.

    I’ve managed to cut my semester book bill from what should have been about 600 dollars to a little over 100 for five different textbooks. Not bad.

  45. TechnoDestructo says:

    @Greasy Thumb Guzik:

    The only time I ever saw that happen, the textbook was some softbound 15-20 dollar thing from my university’s own press.

    Now professors using expensive (and sometimes utterly terrible) textbooks written by their friends…that happened often enough to be disturbing.

  46. flidget says:

    Amazon and half.com for the things you’ll need regularly, the library for the things you’ll only need once or twice. I agree that textbook prices are outrageous, but like anything, a little research before you buy will pay off immensely.

  47. thelushie says:

    College bookstores are rarely owned by the colleges. They are owned by Barnes and Nobles, Folliet, etc who lease the space at the college.

    I had a professor/friend who did one of those custom edition bullshit books that you can’t sell back. He made quite a profit off of it. Money didn’t go through the school but straight into his pocket. Same with the study guide. I had a great time calling him a capitalist bastard. When a friend of mine took the class, the book had been returned to normal and the study guide was on reserve at the library.

    For my multivariate analysis class (class roster: 1), we used the book the professor had written. It was great.

  48. beppolina1 says:

    Textbooks are more expensive than trade books because:
    *academic and accuracy reviews — not unlike the review process for scholarly journals, except textbook reviewers are paid for their time
    *(in sciences especially) much higher production costs, for visuals etc.
    *development editing — college textbooks are actually edited, unlike nearly all trade books these days
    *permissions costs, especially for lit anthologies and comp books — all of those readings and excerpts still under copyright are increasingly expensive every year
    *paper, as a commodity, gets more expensive every year. Trade books, especially paperback, can be printed on crap paper — but textbooks need to be on more durable (and expensive) paper, and anything with a 4/c art program needs glossier and still pricier paper
    *gorgeous glossy 4/c magazines seem so inexpensive in comparison — but they’re massively subsidized by advertising. Should college textbooks be subsidized by advertisers? (I actually think this could work — lord knows college students are marketed to every waking moment in every possible medium — but can imagine the holy-hell backlash….)
    *Also, trade books: except for major titles, there’s almost no advance, no marketing, limited production value, no paid reviewing (for accuracy or otherwise — although that might change with high-profile nonfiction books?). College textbooks require significant investment in all of the above.
    *finally, trade publishers still profit from their backlists. There’s almost no backlist for college publishers to fall back on.

    If your professor is contingent or adjunct he or she probably has no say at all in what textbook you’re assigned — that’s not where the blame lies. Third-party bookstores are the skeeviest of the bunch.

  49. @katylostherart: To be honest, I don’t know what more I can do to cut costs for my students. In some classes I’m constrained to use particular textbooks, since we’re a CC and we have to meet certain syllabus standards for our classes to transfer to the state 4-year system. In other classes, developing an entire set of material that’s available out-of-copyright, CC-licensed, or under fair use would (if it were even possible), take up absurd amounts of time. Developing curriculum is a long, slow, difficult process, for which I am not paid.

    As for printing costs, I work for a state school. Printing costs cost TAXPAYERS money. And since education is counter-cyclical, our budget is being cut at the same time our enrollment is rising, and the only place extra costs can go right now is to the students. Someone pays for those printing costs, and it’s either the students or the taxpayers.

    In fact, at the beginning of the year, we get a sheet giving us printing cost differentials for using different methods; print services, for example, prints a few cents cheaper per 100 pages than using the department copier While we’re not prevented from doing massive copying jobs the expensive way if we really want to, they do encourage us to be cost-sensitive.

    In many cases course-pak printing isn’t that much cheaper than the textbook, and course-paks are TOTALLY non-returnable.

    What some of us do, as much as we can, is space our printing out over the course of the semester. (If you print a bunch at once, they turn it into a course pak and charge for it; if you print a few pages at a time, it’s a hand-out.) But, again, the cost for that xeroxing is pretty constant and those costs are coming from somewhere.

    I am working to find a local used book store that’ll work with me on carrying the ethics text we use across the curriculum (easily 300 students a semester using it), so my students can sell them the last edition, and I’ll use a dual syllabus with the current and just past editions as options.

  50. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    @dirithmir: Agreed – at least in the case of “private” institutions. This is not Congress’ business.

  51. casher824 says:

    The price of books is not the only problem though. Professors are increasingly adding more required materials that do little to help you learn and only help make their jobs easier. I have a Chemistry and Psychology class that requires “clickers” that are little more than tiny remotes that cost upwards of $30. They’re only used to answer questions submitted in class and cost almost as much as a book. This is to say nothing of bundled CD’s and solutions manuals that I have never even opened.

  52. littlealbatross says:

    @ColoradoShark: I can’t speak for spanish, but sometimes languages evolve. I’m in an American Sign Language class and am using the same book I used when I took the class close to 10 years ago in high school. Many of the signs are different or obsolete, including nearly all of the countries. My teacher says that it’s the best book on the market despite that, but there has to be a happy medium between changing every 35 seconds to add a new color picture and having pages of the book that you can’t even use to study from because you will be tested on different information.

  53. katylostherart says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: well apparently i’m in the state with the highest tax rate anyway so i’m already paying for a benefit i didn’t receive.

    it depends on the subject though. if you teach math, there is no reason the entire class needs a book. if you’re an effective teacher you can do up to at least calc 3 with handouts and proper notes and explanations in class.

    universities are just freaking ridiculous. you pay all these fees, an exhorbitant tuition and you get a crap education for the first two years being forced to relearn the basic things you should’ve been taught before the age of 16 (i’m speaking for i guess state unis and CCs and not private ivy leagues). then you spend the next three years in specialized classes that actually have something to do with what you wanted to study in the first place.

    american education needs an overhaul big time. the cost isn’t for an education any more it’s for the piece of paper at the end. we learn to regurgitate for 20k a year and never actually to think.

  54. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    I remember my 1st year biology teacher going off on a rant one day about textbooks because they were releasing yet *another* version, and the only thing different from it and the last 3 previous “updates” were that the chapters were shuffled around – presumably to make assigning homework more difficult and therefore encourage the teacher to tell everybody to get the newest edition so they could all be on the same page (no pun intended,) and a few newer pictures/different questions at the end of each chapter. The information provided was identical across the last several editions they had provided.

  55. MercuryPDX says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: One of my college Art History teachers did the same as you. She was all about giving the students as many options (and as much of a break) as possible because a new copy of the textbook was over $125 at the college bookstore, and would most likely end up back there at the end of the semester.

    First, she told everyone where they could get the book cheaper and to only use the college bookstore as a last resort.

    There was a two edition “grace period” because we were taking the class for two-years (4 semesters), meaning if the class was using ed. 7, you could use eds. 5 or 6. She had supplemental handouts of the “missing” info from previous editions. These were a 10-page Xeroxed joke of some edited paragraphs and artworks that were added/dropped from the previous eds. (which showed us that any instructor insisting on “Current Editions Only” was completely unjustified in doing so).

    She also had 5 copies she rented to students, making their safe return at the end of each semester a condition for taking the final exam, and two copies reserved at the school library for in-library use only.

    The syllabus also had a list of less expensive “optional” texts with a disclaimer that you did not need to buy ALL of them, but you would need at least one for the final (choose one set of essay questions based on the book you bought).

    Feel free to use any/all of these. :)

  56. qwerty3020 says:

    ” depends on the subject though. if you teach math, there is no reason the entire class needs a book. if you’re an effective teacher you can do up to at least calc 3 with handouts and proper notes and explanations in class.”

    This is BS. Creating notes for an entire semester from scratch IS writing a book. A university would have to double my salary (and increase your tuition) to get me to write a book for each class I teach. On the other hand, if your professor doesn’t make notes from scratch, i.e. he or she borrows the examples and homework problems from a book in the library, that is copyright violation.

  57. Smorgasbord says:

    I saw a TV show a long time ago that said the book publishers have bought off the government agency that assigns MANDATORY books. These publishers get the contract year after year. They don’t update the books, so a lot of the information is wrong. They just keep printing the same books over and over.
    The show said the way it should be done is each school board picks the books they want. The free enterprise system will work for the price of school books and for how updated they are.
    For the parents concerned about heavy books causing medical problems, buy two sets of books: One for school, and one for home. The kid wouldn’t have to carry any books, and the parents get most of the money back when the books are returned. For those who can’t afford this, communities usually have groups that can help.

  58. SeraSera says:

    One of my government professors is some Spanish socialist who scans everything and posts it online. Best ever.

  59. EtherealStrife says:

    Uh I have to disagree with the custom textbooks/packets angle. That can get EXTREMELY expensive (a dollar per page or more) when you factor in the custom publishing and all the various licensing agreements. And you can only buy it from the publisher or your college. Textbooks will last longer if you want to hang on to them, or can be resold. Not so for packets.

    What I’d like to see is an international edition for sale in the U.S. (legally). They’re made from cheaper materials but are MUCH cheaper for the student (and have all the same content).

  60. @EtherealStrife: There are publishers now that will let you remove chapters from a textbook, reducing the price with each chapter you remove. I took a class last semester on nutrition, and they lopped around $40 off the price of the textbook by removing the chapters that they simply don’t teach. A lot of textbooks for intro courses include EVERYTHING to fit the widest number of courses, so it can make sense for a publisher to let a school treat the textbook as “modular” and remove the unneeded parts.

  61. alstein says:

    Hell, our prof said he had to require the textbook or he’d be fired, but he also said he’d never buy the book.

    I think one-third the class still bought the book. They should know better…

    My textbooks were all off half.com, spent $200, half of it on one book on econometrics, and I knew the prof assigned a ton of problems from the book.

  62. It sounds like there are some cool and enlightened professors here. At my school, many of the professors seem woefully uninformed about how they can use the extensive technology available to them through the university to save their students a buck (or maybe they’re just not interested…). For example, my university uses an online course companion, but many professors will have you buy a book for $30 rather than post the 20 pages that you need in a password-protected PDF through the online course companion. Since students have a weekly printing quota, this would be a great alternative for those not interested in having a stack of expensive books that the bookstore will offer a measly 5$ for at the end of the year.

  63. Bbbut… but… if the colleges stop assigning mandatory and expensive but mostly useless texts, how will they pay the publishers their 5- and 6-digit kickbacks?

    I give kudos to the profs that go above and beyond to consider their students wallet. And BOO! on those egomaniacs that assign their own texts.

    And if you really want to get pissed off, examine the textbook selection process for public schools. Publishers bid for contracts to supply textbooks to districts, and districts adopt curriculum based on who cuts the better deal, NOT by which one is more successful or effective.

    And don’t even get me started on the “buy a workbook per student, force the teachers to make copies” policy at most public schools.

    Your tax dollars at work!

  64. SCROTUS says:

    Seems like the main attraction of newer books is their dumbing-down features. I taught geometry at a CC a couple of years ago and, rather than using the $120 book the last instructor recommended, I recommended the Dover paperback edition of Euclid’s Elements edited by Heath. Less than $10 and much better – though a tad more difficult to read since it’s more erudite and scholarly.

  65. MercuryPDX says:

    @ceejeemcbeegee: And don’t even get me started on the “buy a workbook per student, force the teachers to make copies” policy at most public schools.

    My sister’s oldest kid is a third grader in Florida. When I was down visiting in November he asked if I could help him with his homework. I agreed and he ran off and returned with a folder containing 3 Xeroxed workbook pages. He was having a tough time with the math, so I told him to get his textbook and we’ll go over it. He gave me the blankest stare and said “I don’t have a textbook… only these.”

    I asked my sister WTF?, and she said that’s how they’ve been doing it since he started school. She was less outraged than I was. It’s shameful that they expect kids to learn without having anything for them (or even the parents) to use as a reference for when they need help.

  66. WV.Hillbilly says:

    How is this a federal issue?
    They should butt out.

  67. LiC says:

    @WV.Hillbilly: Ditto that.

    How is having the profs create special books with just the chapters they’re going to use in them a good thing? If the class isn’t offered every semester, then you won’t be able to sell the book back, and even if it is a bit cheaper, say $50 instead fo $70, I’d still rather get $40 back from my $70 paid than $0 back from the $50. If this option was more widely available, profs would prob be more likely to add in a good book chapter whenever they came across one.

  68. SAugsburger says:


    “Back when I was still in college a few years ago (grad 2006), I would always buy my text books from amazon.co.uk. They were the exact same editions, and even with the currency conversion they were half the cost.”

    I’ve heard this claim before, but when I was in college (grad 2005) I found that vast majority of the time the books cost virtually the same price at amazon.co.uk as Amazon.com and after currency conversion and shipping it would cost MORE, not less.

    Both the Calculus text and the Physics text that I remembering using as an undergrad and both are still more EXPENSIVE to to buy from the UK.

    I looked up the top 3 pages of results for Calculus in Amazon and most of the books were more expensive in Amazon.co.uk and only book with significant savings was ~38% cheaper in the UK before paying a currency transaction charge or international shipping. That is a good discount, but in actual practice such savings I found through my college years were atypical.

    The idea that the same books are half as expensive in the UK seems to be an exaggeration at best and in quite a few cases MORE expensive than buying them in the US and getting them faster.

  69. SAugsburger says:


    “Seems like the main attraction of newer books is their dumbing-down features. I taught geometry at a CC a couple of years ago and, rather than using the $120 book the last instructor recommended, I recommended the Dover paperback edition of Euclid’s Elements edited by Heath. Less than $10 and much better – though a tad more difficult to read since it’s more erudite and scholarly.”

    I agree. The solution to cheaper books is to switch to cheaper books. I had a friend who was struggling with Trig so I bought him Singapore Math’s College Math Volume I & II (two years worth of material) for ~$55 including shipping. The volumes cover a little trig, pre-calc, and intro calculus for a fraction of the price most traditional US Books would cost. There is no reason a lower division math book needs to be expensive.

    Either the publisher & author are gauging you or they are spending a lot of money on expensive graphics that aren’t necessary.

    I will agree that these cheaper books tend to be slightly less friendly, but they are often a tenth to the quarter of the price of popular textbooks.

  70. blkhwk86 says:

    As horrible as it sounds, sometimes I have to have a drink before going to get my books. Luckily, this quarter they only cost $300 but only $150 is returnable. Textbooks are expensive, but so is college and living. I’m in my 4th year at a 4 year in california. It’s pretty expensive but you jut pay it and go. I have to agree they are expensive, but there are ways around it from people i’ve seen. Most people say get books with special chapters. F*CK NO! I’m sorry. For those who think it’s “great” the problem is that you can’t sell it back and get money! That is why i can only return $150 of book money. I joke with everyone that I have $150 in firewood in my backpack and it’s two readers. One way people get around these hurdles is buying international editions or finding the PDF online. Another thing is to find someone who took it the quarter before and borrow it from them.

    I know a lot of people are jaded by the prices and pay them anyways and go. Luckily, if you do it right, you can write them off on taxes just like college tuition. You have to be inventive and resourceful when it comes to finding textbooks in order to keep the price down. I”ve had quarters where I paid $600 for textbooks and it’s three times a year.

  71. SAugsburger says:


    “What I’d like to see is an international edition for sale in the U.S. (legally). They’re made from cheaper materials but are MUCH cheaper for the student (and have all the same content).”

    They are often the same material, but not ALWAYS. I remember hearing about a few cases in which the foreign versions weren’t identical.

  72. battra92 says:

    Please! Keep the Government OUT OF THIS! 100% of the time Congress acts, they make it worse.

    This is a prime example of where the free market could easily fix a problem.

    First off, colleges have a monopoly in their bookstores. If the local Barnes & Noble, Borders, Mom & Pop bookstore etc. could find out what books are needed by a certain college they could very easily work out a cheaper price therefore taking away customers from the college bookstore who would have to lower prices to keep customers.

    Second, you need better professors. I had a Math professor in college who told us the first day of class that he hated the college bookstore and didn’t even tell them the book he ordered and that there were dozens of copies of the book on Amazon used and new and if we couldn’t get them ourselves (some kids didn’t have credit cards) to talk to him and he’d order it for them and they could pay him.

    I liked that guy. We need more teachers like him because, contrary to popular belief, things like English, Math etc. really don’t change at all.

  73. barfoo says:

    To those saying Congress/the Feds have no business getting involved: two points. The Federal government spends billions of dollars on higher education, not just directly supporting it, funding research through NSF/NIH, backing student loans, and assisting military personnel with their education. So it has an interest in keeping the cost down.

    Depending on what exactly they do, banning “bundling” (e.g. of unnecessary extra material) may not be that different from regulation of other markets (e.g., banning the bundling of financing with purchases). And some practices (such as dictating which editions a bookstore can sell) verge on the oligopolistic if not monopolistic.

  74. lockdog says:

    Be thankful you’re not in the arts. Drafting and Rendering, sure the two textbooks were just a paltry $150. But materials clocked in around $800. Furniture Design: I stuck to cheap stuff, mostly rough cut ash. $300 was enough to just barely make it through a coffee table and two end table. I had classmates working in stuff like copper sheets, marble, casting in bronze, carving mahogany. Lets just say the university doesn’t provide that stuff. I lot or serious arts students could spend around $2k a semester just on materials.

  75. @SAugsburger: “The solution to cheaper books is to switch to cheaper books.”

    I’ve been teaching a “history of ideas” course this semester, $85 textbook, and I’m recommending in my end-of-semester report that since 90% of the material is long out of copyright, even in translation, we make better use of those internets everyone’s so keen on and use Gutenberg and CCEL texts as much as possible. We only do a couple of contemporary fellows, and I think we should be able to manage them in either $6 penguin editions or articles from journals.

    I’m not sure if this will fly, for a variety of reasons, but the department’s big on incorporating technology, and this isn’t an intro course but a text-focused course, so explanatory textbook notes aren’t necessary, so I’m crossing my fingers.

  76. SAugsburger says:


    “I got my textbooks for relatively low price by checking them out of the school library (which always had its own copy, frequently copies, of textbooks for the upcoming semester); anything I wanted/needed, I photocopied. That was because I was one of those poor students with little disposable income and needed to be creative about resources :P

    Buy a combo printer/copier (about the same price as one textbook, nowadays) and you don’t even have to pay to get the copies.

    And it’s all legal under fair use.”

    IANAL, but I recall that there is court precedent that your photocopy of the book is NOT fair use even for what you are doing with the book.

    Even though you are unlikely to get caught there is still the cost of the copy (paper + toner) to consider. For paperbacks that are not regular textbooks, you are unlikely to save anything and even if you do the bound book is far more convenient than carries a bunch of loose papers. If it is less than a few bucks difference I would buy the bound copy. You can resell the paperback and maybe even come out ahead price wise compared to the photocopies.

    For regular textbooks (~1000) if you do it as monochrome (loses the color, but saves on cost) you would still spend $30-$50 just for the paper and toner. It is *definitely* cheaper, but saying that you didn’t have to pay for anything for the copies is BS. Except for some *very* expensive books the hassle factor just seems to high to me.

  77. FrankReality says:

    Don’t be surprised the professors who specify textbooks at major universities get significant kickbacks/gifts from the publishers for selecting their books.

  78. SAugsburger says:

    I find it humorous that so many people talk about profs getting kickbacks from publishers w/o a shred of evidence. More often than not the prof didn’t even select the text at ALL. When I was in college several profs said outright that they didn’t like xyz textbook, but they didn’t pick it. Except in some upper division courses or in graduate level work where curriculum sometimes is so narrow that only a couple profs are even qualified to pick coursebooks does the prof who teaches the class often involved in the process of selecting the coursebook.

    Furthermore, except at some pretty elite institutions having a prof assign his or own book is pretty rare. I went to a research institution where virtually all the profs had a doctoral degrees and be doctors they literally published or perished. Most of the faculty had multipage CVs that only listed the highlights of their published work and I can only remembering being assigned the profs work once.

    As some people at Reddit might say “pictures or it didn’t happen.”

  79. k6richar says:

    I am just finishing a 4th year physics course where the prof didn’t even use a book. He had scans of his own handwritten notes and typed up his own assignment questions. as for my other courses rarely was what textbook we used important. Two physics textbooks on the same subject will almost always cover 95% of the same material.

  80. Bitmapped says:

    I coordinate an undergraduate gen ed-type course and we use a custom textbook. I know exactly what the publisher charges the bookstore for our textbook/software bundle and have worked to drive that cost down, but a lot of the times the bookstores just eat the savings when I have managed to get the cost dropped.

    Another weird bookstore-related issue is that when you have required software, used books aren’t always cheaper. In our case, a bundle of new book and new software ends up cheaper than getting the new software license with a used book.

  81. Bitmapped says:


    I don’t know where you got your figures about custom book prices, but they are definitely not accurate. For the course I manage, we used a custom version because we wanted to incorporate items from Volumes 1 and 2 of a book. We’re at well under 10 cents per page with full-color printing and a lot of custo prep work.

    Having international editions available in the US would be nice where feasible. I’ve been through grad school for Computer Science and had friends from India who bought the exact same books for 10-15% of the price over there.

  82. karmaghost says:

    A lot of my graduate classes listed 5 or more books as “required.” Had I bought them as required, I would have been out hundreds of dollars. I didn’t buy a single one of them and I haven’t been any less successful in my classes than anybody else. Textbooks are a complete joke.

  83. mgy says:

    @karmaghost: This is exactly my approach.

    The cheapest way to buy textbooks? Not buy them at all.

  84. JollyJumjuck says:

    And when book publishers cry about losing profits to copyright-infringers who download their books for free, I have a very, very hard time being sympathetic.

  85. donner_froh says:


    “First off, colleges have a monopoly in their bookstores. If the local Barnes & Noble, Borders, Mom & Pop bookstore etc. could find out what books are needed by a certain college they could very easily work out a cheaper price therefore taking away customers from the college bookstore who would have to lower prices to keep customers.”

    Many college bookstores are run by a division of Barnes and Noble that is completely separate from the trade bookstore division. The trade bookstores don’t carry textbooks and try not to order them.

  86. P_Smith says:

    Roughly half the cost of textbooks is the printing, the paper and ink stage. Half of the cost could be eliminated by distributing books as PDF files. Even the evil of DRM-encrypted PDF books would be tolerable if the prices were dropped to 50-60% of what they are now.

    And given the fact that many students nowadays have laptops or PDAs which can read PDFs (even $300 palmtops like the Eee PC can do it) the only reason not to have PDFs is greed. E-books would reduce the students’ weight load – students should be burrowing, not be a burro.

    It’s exactly the same issue as MP3s: greed of the publishers is leading to criminal behaviour by students. If I were a student today, I’d pay a classmate 25% of the cost of his books and scan them into my computer. An entire textbook could be done in a weekend, and a semester of books done in a few weeks.

    Is that a hint for students to do that, to break the law and make illegal copies? Or course not. What do you think I am, an unethical book publisher?

  87. Concerned_Citizen says:

    Two commercial books with a few chapters used are way cheaper than buying one custom book. CUSTOM BOOKS CANNOT BE BOUGHT ONLINE USED. This is because they aren’t available anywhere but the college you go to. And no 3rd party will buy them outside your college town. It’s nice of congress to screw everything up. They should require teachers buy commercially available books. Custom books are the worst thing for any student.

  88. Concerned_Citizen says:

    @Bitmapped: I find it sad you don’t realize the software you peddle is useless to students. NO ONE USES IT! Basic physics hasn’t changed for over a hundred years. No reason people have to order your custom book or your custom useless software.

  89. P_Smith says:


    Are you going to say that these aren’t evidence?

    Problems, Scandals, and the Possibility of “Textbookgate”


    ‘Harvard bookstore: Our prices are “property”‘

    (translation: Writing the prices for comparison shopping is not allowed)


    The first has a link to the second, plus some of the second’s content:



    Scroll down to “Napsters for textbooks? Or legal alternatives?”


    And from The Consumerist itself:


  90. matt314159 says:

    When I was in school I used to always buy the “international Edition” of the course text if it was available. Same book, same page layout and numbering, same content and graphics, except the paper was a bit thinner, it was paperback, and sometimes had B&W graphics. I usually paid 50% of the typical amazon price for the US version of the text, and about 1/4 of what the bookstore was selling it for.

    I went to a private school, so we weren’t as constrained as some schools might be. our Business Statistics teacher used a book printed in 2001 (this was 2004) so most of us got our books online for like $10 bucks. I actualy bought three, and sold them to some classmates who were going to have to pay $70 at the bookstore for the same used edition. Bought two extra copies at around $10 each, sold them to the classmates at $40 each, it was win-win-win! (little office joke there)

  91. redhand32 says:

    Textbooks at the college book store is the cash cow of colleges and universities. The high prices are a way of siphoning off financial aid. It’s a dirty little scam.

    Use Half.com (e-Bay) fro textbooks and almost any other. I just bought a popular hardback book retail $27. Half’com same book $12.

    When these college humps start to see empty book stores they’ll catch on.

  92. Angryrider says:

    It better happen quick! Financial Aid only gives me so much money, and I can only afford a few books at a time!

  93. rockdork says:

    My experience as a professor:

    Kickbacks? Are you kidding?? Never encountered that.

    Textbook companies push ‘educational supplements’ such as CDs and workbooks as being no extra cost to the students. These are a scam to prevent book buybacks, clear and simple. About once or twice a year a textbook company will approach me to write one of these ‘supplements.’ I tell ’em to get lost.

    In my intro geology course I let students use the last few editions of the textbook, or even another textbook altogether. The deal is that they must translate which chapters apply to the syllabus – not hard to do. Most choose the current edition anyway because they have the resources to purchase it and its the simplest thing to do. But at least they have the option to use an alternative book.

  94. DangerousLiberal says:

    As a college professor who is also concerned about textbook prices, I want to be sympathetic. But the spectacular displays of ignorance of higher education, instructional methods, and of basic market economics (which is all good, because our president says so) makes it really, really hard to take much of this discussion seriously. It would be good to come armed, as some of the posters do here, with facts. But the idea that textbook publishing is more or less a greedy and corrupt enterprise is wrong.

    If you want ethical challenges, refer to the one (at least) post who says that he checks out the textbook and keeps it the whole semester (thereby denying others the use of the book)–that’s nice for you.

    Finally, I wrote my own textbook for a publisher who has kept costs down, and I wait a long time between editions because I want there to be a good used book market before going the the next edition (my publisher doesn’t like it, but they get it, and that’s why they are my publisher). Of course, our dream as college professors is that some students actually do the reading; clearly, many of you proudly claim you don’t. Might work for you, but not in my classes, and not at my school.

  95. DangerousLiberal says:

    @redhand32: Evidence of this? Numbers? Proof?

    Never mind…didn’t think so.

  96. kromelizard says:

    Books should be free and you shouldn’t have to read them! Pony rides for everyone!

  97. Avery says:

    But the idea that textbook publishing is more or less a greedy and corrupt enterprise is wrong.

    Really now? So you’re claiming the monopoly a publisher gets has no effect on their prices whatsoever, and they publish at the lowest price they can out of the goodness of their hearts?

    How very nice of them! And I’m sure the fact that when I buy a trade-market textbook it only costs $10 is simply a meaningless coincidence.

  98. DangerousLiberal says:

    Please think first, then type: press runs for text books are usually lower than for mass market books, so unit costs are higher. Plus there are other outlets for sales for trade books besides education. In some disciplines–the sciences–books are expensive to produce because many people help write them, they require color illustrations, etc. Some of these features are there because of student and teacher demand to make concepts clearer.

    Profs should take into account the costs of books. I do. Is this a perfectly functioning market with perfect information? No. Do such markets exist? No. Is it a monopoly? No, as any academic conference’s book exhibit will show. But it’s not a typical market either.

    Conspiracy theorize all you want, but there are simple solutions, many of which are reviewed here, that may help influence the market price of books. But having state legislators and Congress weigh in on this can only make a bad situation worse.

    Finally, in some cases, a prof will teach better using a newer and/or more expensive book. Of course, as several posters at least imply, an education is a secondary consideration, if that.

  99. alstein says:


    Maybe you aren’t the problem, but a lot of your colleagues in other places are. If a book costs $180+, (and yes, I have seen books for that price), more students will decide the benefit of the $180 outweighs the benefit of getting the book (especially if the prof has a rep for not using the book much, which is increasingly happening- with the internet students get this information more)

    As for me, I’ll only get books if I consider the price fair, or if the prof uses the book. As for state legislators weighing in, the issue is the universities are more interested in raising costs to make money to cover rising enrollments then keeping costs down.

    I did have a prof admit to receiving a kickback from a book in one class. Another prof told us that while it’s illegal- she suggests getting international textbooks from Asia. A third prof stated that his last two years he never bought a textbook, as he thought they were a waste of money, but if he didn’t make the textbook “mandatory”, he would be fired (He makes a point not to use it)

    Also, this is my second attempt at school (I am doing a lot better post-military) With a 5 year time lag, prices have more then doubled.

    The only way the problem can be solved is by reducing the demand for these overpriced textbooks- and that’s largely on the universities and professors.

  100. zeep says:

    My school has this lovely little scam where in a couple of the classes required for every student they get customized editions. These editions are almost identical as the ones you could buy for much cheaper online(not even new editions or anything) but they have some sort of quiz/paperwork in the front that must be turned in for a significant portion of the grade, no copies allowed. Not only can you not buy used, in fact you can’t buy from anywhere but the offical bookstore, but it’s useless at the end of the semester. Because these classes are required to graduate the publishers are assured a significant number of purchases every semester. Somebody want to convince me somebody is not getting some sort of kickback for that.

  101. thelushie says:

    @SAugsburger: I got my information out of the horse’s mouth. I think hearing it out of the professor is pretty good evidence. I asked because, at first, I didn’t believe it despite it coming out of another individual in the department. It was true. And students were stuck with a useless textbook.

    I buy my textbooks. It is the starting point for the papers we write. In my graduate program, we don’t have traditional papers, we write, discuss, and apply the information. Lots of papers and lit reviews.

    Dangerousliberal, I agree with you that it is unethical to keep a textbook out of the library all semester. At my last school, we had someone in my program who did that. The professors became wise to it and put the book on reserve at the library. We could take it and make copies if we wanted to, but we could not take it out and keep it as our own. If I end up teaching at a university (god forbid), I will do that too. It is only fair.

  102. u1itn0w2day says:

    The education INDUSTRY is not unlike any other-they are there to make a profit.And that they do using the altrustive motives and/or dreams and desires of the students.And you question the price and your against education.

    And like the real estate industry the student loan INDUSTRY is starting to suffer delinquencies.And they are suffering because the end customer-the education industry capitalized on the fact ‘that somebody else’ was paying for it in the form of a loan.Just as is the public education INDUSTRY-they seem to forget the taxpayers are paying for that as well.

    Don’t get me wrong;you still have anal retentive academic purist who feels that if it’s not the latest and greatest it’s useless.

    As recommended perhaps not only should students get the book information ahead they also should get the subject matter in more detail.I passed calculus using a lot of supplemental material like Schuams & others as much as I did the required text.

  103. DangerousLiberal says:

    @thelushie: In social science we call this the N of 1 problem: One observation or data point does not make a data set, or a trend. I think that there may be some incentives for using some textbnooks, but I am not sure they are “kickbacks.” Unless one equates a kickback with a salary.

    I do agree about the profs putting the texts on reserve–I do that every term for the exact reason you list, and most profs I know do as well.

    @arstal: Yes, some of my colleagues are the problem, and some (by no means all) of us are sensitive to the book price problem. Of course, in some disciplines, all books are really expensive: the books in econ or engineering are more expensive, but maybe there’s a cost/benefit thing happening here–they cost a lot because people wo write (and read) these books have higher income potential than poli sci majors.

    @u1itn0w2day: I am not sure I get your point, except to note with some admiration that you passed calc without the textbook–not an easy feat. Here’s a cheap book to consider as well: Strunk and White’s Elements of Style.

  104. I formerly worked for a textbook publisher in the production department and I can say for sure that having custom published editions with specific chapters would be logistically impossible and would probably end up costing MORE than a complete edition.

    I don’t work in that industry any more, so I don’t say this because I have some interest in the textbook industry being profitable, BUT: Producing a textbook is incredibly, incredibly, incredibly expensive compared to just about any other type of publishing. Not only you have to pay writers, but image rights are major part of book budgets nowadays due to a perception in the education industry that you need lots of graphics in them, even for college textbooks. Also, the sheer number of state and local textbook boards is a huge regulatory expense.

    I was a college student not too long ago, too, so I’m sympathetic, but you have to be realistic about the expenses associated with these things, especially in incredibly specialized fields like IT/the sciences/etc.

  105. thelushie says:

    That PhD (in a social science) I am working for means nothing now that you explained to me that one observation doesn’t make a data set. Yeah, no shit, sherlock. I never even hinted that all professors did it. My old mentor told everyone that yeah the book is there, but don’t buy it if you plan on coming to class everyday (and with his classes, that was the only way you would pass).

    What I meant is the opprotunity is out there. I know of one who took it. There are others who take it as it would not be offered unless it was profitable. And you can call it incentive, commission, or extra beer money but what it comes down to is a kickback to use the book.

  106. thelushie says:


    And considering you are a professor, one word applies: bias. You are bias to your profession. And yes, you may not be a problem, but alot of your colleagues are.

  107. SisterHavana says:

    I couldn’t believe the prices of books when I went to school. In one class I had a book that was a regular trade-size paperback – the size that costs around $14.95 at the bookstore if it’s a novel or nonfiction book. As a textbook? $50. Crazy!

    And I also loved the astronomy book that was packaged with a CD that we never used. Since it had the CD, there were only new copies available, and the bookstore wouldn’t buy it back. This book (paperback) was around $150 or so.

    Most of my professors had a set of textbooks on reserve or used a reader that we got at a copy shop. Of course, in a lot of my English classes we had novels or short story/essay collections that were very easily available at the library or at a normal bookstore. : )

  108. alstein says:

    Well, I’m taking both this time- and the poli sci books cost just as much- equivalent level of courses- I signed up for a hard poli sci course to help get a job instead of a fluff course. Figured I could afford the GPA hit.

    I see your point about the expenditures- I assumed that at first was the reason until I saw some other book prices that my gf at the time had to pay. It was actually worse, but she has no common sense when it comes to finances- I had more ability to look for deals, and a better sense of what profs didn’t use the book (ratemyprofessor.com helped)

    I don’t believe in complaining without solution- my solution is that the profs handle this by taking effort to drive down book costs. Otherwise, you are going to see enrollment drops and more students doing worse due to not getting book or infringing the copyright (I am assuming that there is at least a weak positive correlation between having the book and doing well in the class- though there likely be plenty of interaction terms involved as well)

  109. Oh, you got me started. This is one of my personal pet peeves. This semester, I paid $160 for a freshman calculus textbook. The bookstore wanted $200,. but I managed to find it at Amazon Marketplace. Still, it’s ridiculous. You can easily run up a $600 tab for books each and every semester you’re in school, and you’d be lucky to get 10% of that back on resale.

  110. venomroses says:

    My teachers allow us to use old editions if we can find them, they told us that most new edition are just newer questions at the end of a chapter, or moving of chapters, or sometimes a small error in the answers. (I’m in chemistry). Most of the teachers even go to the trouble of listing the pages for for reading in the older edition as well as posting the “new” questions online for people who don’t have the new book.

  111. venomroses says:

    an add on:

    About the book bundling thing… I bought my chem 101 text separately because at the time I did not have enough money to purchase the combined textbook/study guide/full answer book package. I was leaving that college to go to another one and was going to sell my book back… but because I did not purchase the 250$ package, and bought the 120$ textbook separately, they were only going to give me 20$ for it!

  112. something_unique_and_descriptive says:

    Somebody may have already said this, I didn’t read all the comments.

    How about they get the cost of tuition under control first. I just paid $677 for one four credit class… that’s ONE class. That doesn’t even count the $75 parking permit (which I do need, I live <20 miles from campus, no public transport)… or the $50 application fee… or the $55 Acceptance fee. And I don’t live on campus, that would be a couple grand more. And I don’t even go to an “expensive” school

  113. ironchef says:

    textbooks are a scam.

    Seriously…how often does calculus textbooks need to be updated? It’s not like the material is getting stale.

  114. dsolimini says:

    Its worth noting that in Virginia, this is already the law. At public colleges, the campus bookstores are required to tell the prof. how much their order will cost and the prof has to sign that he/she got the information. VA law also has unbundling provisions. Google around for the “textbook market fairness act” and the “textbook market reform act.”

  115. dtmoore says:

    One of my professions said something like this on the first day.

    “Our first test is a general intelligence test, raise your hand if you bought your book from the University book store.

    You fail, please return your book and order one from half.com, we won’t be using the text for 2 weeks.”

  116. Daniel-Bham says:

    I had three different editions of one of my English books in college. (Withdrew/Withdrew/Completed) and the only difference between them was the ordering of the chapters. The books had the exact same material, they just presented in a different order.

    I think they just pushed each chapter forward one, and the last chapter ended up being chapter one each time.

  117. Ex_EA_Slave says:

    What’s wrong with buying used copies? Or buy new, go photocopy what you need, then return it?

  118. barty says:

    @evslin: I had a finance professor that did the same thing. The US edition was seriously overpriced, most students warned each other not to buy it, but instead get the paperback “International” edition that was about 70% less. Apart from some supplemental information at the end which the prof made handouts of anyway, the international edition was IDENTICAL to the US one, apart from being a paperback. Since the pages were off, he usually had to list the reading assignments for both editions. He couldn’t officially endorse what we did, but he certainly didn’t impede us from doing what we did. Off the record, he thought the book pricing was as insane as we did.

    My last two years of school, about 95% of my textbooks were bought from other students, Half.com or Amazon. I got hard up for a book for a stupid anthropology class (most useless course I’ve ever taken) that nobody had the most current version available used and ended up having to shell out the new price for it. I took delight in selling books back to the bookstore that I had bought online for a pittance for 20% more than what I paid for them.

  119. MikeL says:

    You call yourselves college students? What a whining bunch of wimps!

    Back in my day we didn’t buy any pathetic used books or spend hours over a hot xerox, secretly photocopying texts at night in the department office.

    Nah, we were real American college students. We followed nerdy drunken upperclassmen as they left the Student Union pub and mugged ’em for their books. That’s how ya do it.


  120. dreamcatcher2 says:

    “Instead of assigning two expensive books and using just a few chapters of each, professors should order custom books with only the chapters they intend to assign.”

    Making the resale value approximately $2.

    I haven’t had very many textbooks since my first two years of college, because at this point most of my classes revolve around primary sources or free online secondary sources.

  121. BlyGilmore says:

    Honestly by my junior year I stopped buying a lot of the “required” books. A quick glimpse of the syllabus most professors handed out clearly told you which books you needed and which were just supplemental.

    And a lot of the classes you could get by without a book just by going to all the lectures.

  122. ehlaren says:

    Not only are the bookstores ripping you off on new books but they are ripping you off on used as well. In the cases where they can actually keep the previous year’s version to sell they buy low sell high.

    I remember taking some books back to see how much I would get back. Used versions selling for 80 bucks with their student buyback price being 5 dollars. I actually told a cashier once that the paper in the book would net me more then 5$ using it to wipe my rear instead of toilet paper.

    Needless to say I have a bunch of books that I used in college in my bookshelf. Maybe my kids will some day find something interesting in them.

  123. DangerousLiberal says:

    @thelushie: You still don’t have evidence of kickbacks, because you’ve not defined a kickback. Yes, I am bias [sic] because I see things as a prof, but I also understand things from the students’ perspective, which is why I try to keep the costs of the books I assign to a reasonable level. Meanwhile, you, not me, are impugning the integrity of authors, publishers, and professors, on the basis of scant evidence–and the playground taunt. Was I short with you–yes, perhaps, and I apologize. But I was also writing to the broader readership on this blog, a number of which seem to have gone further than you and have confused urban myth with evidence. As a social scientist, you can see why this can be really frustrating.

    I can say this: neither I nor my colleagues in the social sciences, based on my recent very unscientific poll (N<10) have taken any incentives (except for some nice pens they have at the booths). Those of us who have written texts do accept royalty payments; I also liberally give away copies of the book when I pay for it. So there–now we have data! Let’s run a t-test!

  124. EtherealStrife says:

    @Bitmapped: The dollar plus per page figure comes from an Economic Anthropology class I enrolled in at UCI. One of the required texts was a custom job, with scans of the required pages stapled together with a nice official cover page that listed all the copyrights. $70-something, and it was ~50 pages. I’d rather buy the 3-4 books that went into it and sell them back when I’m done with the course. It wasn’t a core class so I just dropped it.

    And as I and others have said, custom jobs are worthless when the class is over. Even international editions can fetch most/all of their purchase price when the quarter is over.

    My favorite method was when professor put up pdfs of all the required readings, reducing the student cost to 0. The only trouble was one generous professor who made the final open book. *grumble*

  125. @dreamcatcher2: Custom books are probably more okay in-major (where you intend to keep the book) than in survey courses, where resale is a more likely goal.

    But seriously, I get a free class every semester I teach, and I really liked my custom book … even though resale was lower. Cheaper than the full text or two half-texts, fit our curriculum better. But virtually all local resale is within the same school, so they’re resellable to the same population unless they change editions.

    (I didn’t resell mine, I kept it for reference.)

  126. RvLeshrac says:

    @Eyebrows McGee:

    Except that literary commentary hasn’t advanced. At all.

    I’m a fan of the Twain approach to “literary analysis” anyway. The authors who provide an analysis of their own texts are pretentious assholes, while those third-parties who engage in literary analysis are simply assholes.

    This immediately leads, of course, to a variety of assertions from literary professors, the most common of which is that of “clarification.” If an author’s intent was not “clear” from the text itself, then the work either has no further analysis beyond what is written on the pages or the author was so inept that their work does not deserve further scrutiny.

    Unfortunately, it is largely only the living authors that are capable of defending their works. At least we’ve had such luminaries as Twain, Tolkien, and C.S. Lewis to set the critics aright.

    The essential point here is these books should not be bothered with, nor should the courses. They’re an unnecessary expense.

    The irony here is that my college lit books were some of my most expensive, and yet contained the largest amount of recycled, public-domain text. If you wish to analyze Shakespeare in a class, perhaps it would be best to ask students to purchase a volume of Shakespeare for $10, rather than an irrelevant textbook for $80.

    (I’ve frequently failed to understand how these courses are graded, as well. Literary critics will immediately tell you that they are analyzing art, while simultaneously attempting to convince you that they have the only correct understanding of it. Chances are that when everyone thinks they’re right, no one is.)

    The crux is this: every professor thinks that his or her subject is the “most important” and that it is most deserving of the newest texts. If they did not engage in such jackassery, this would not be an issue.

    The only textbooks which should require yearly updates, save for corrections, are those of the sciences and modern histories. Artistic criticism is opinion, when it is not outright fiction, and one is rarely in need of outside aids when teaching creative writing.