Textbooks Publishers Using "Packets" To Fight Used Book Market

Students who prefer to shop for textbooks online are encountering a hitch in their efforts. University and College courses are increasingly using bundled versions of textbooks that come with their own ISBN number. School book stores sell the packets as a single item, because their contents don’t come itemized.

Reader Kristin Blick, a student at Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy, NY., writes:

I usually save a huge amount of money on my books by buying them used online, renting them or borrowing from fellow students, but this semester it’s become impossible because of these “textbook packets” the school is demanding I get.  I have no way of knowing what the packet is made up of, and they won’t sell me individual pieces.

Don’t blame school book stores, though. Blame textbook publishers first. Often, they’ll offer popular textbooks only as part of larger packets, concealing the specific titles in the packets shipped to stores. To make matters even more difficult, the packets may be customized for a given school.

Still, school faculty members share at least some of the blame. Stephen Stegman, the manager of HVCC’s book store, told Consumerist that the recently passed Higher Education Act requires publishers to provide a list of packet contents to faculty members who select them.

Academic faculty being only human, they will often neglect to adequately publish the information. Thus, the only way for students to figure out what courses actually require is to buy a packet and open it up.

Our advice? Contact the faculty member responsible for selecting course materials, which will differ and different schools. If a class is a core requirement in the English department, for example, contact the English department and ask for an itemized list of the textbook packet contents, then publicize the hell out of it.

Textbook packets have been around for several years now. If any of you readers have discovered a better workaround, such as a web forum with itemized list of popular packet contents, please mention it in the comments and we’ll update this post.

(Photo: Rob Wall)

Want more consumer news? Visit our parent organization, Consumer Reports, for the latest on scams, recalls, and other consumer issues.