CALPIRG released a comprehensive report at a Jan. 29 press conference outlining the outrageous prices students pay for textbooks and publishing companies’ tactics to raise their prices.
The report entitled ‘Rip-off 101: How the Current Practices of the Publishing Industry Drive up the Cost of College Textbooks,’ surveyed the most widely-used books at colleges and universities in California and Oregon and the faculty that use these books in their curriculum.
Using this information, the report found that even though students already pay an average of $900 each year for textbooks, publishers artificially inflate textbook prices by adding ‘bundles’ to current textbooks and by producing new editions that include little or no change to the previous ones.
Lilan Bowden, a second-year theater major and CALPIRG Affordable Textbooks campaign coordinator opened the press conference by describing the burden of high textbook prices for students.
‘It’s appalling that at a time when students are contending with rapidly rising college costs, textbook publishers are playing games to increase textbook prices,’ Bowden said.
In contrast to the $900 year students are now paying, a 1997 UC survey found that students spent an average of $642 on textbooks in 1996.
Other gimmicks publishers use to drive up prices include adding extra instructional shrink-wrapped ‘bundles’ with CD-ROMs and workbooks.
Students like Phil Cheng, a third-year ICS major, believe that the extra material is a little helpful, but not worth the extra money.
‘[The bundles] are pretty unnecessary,’ Cheng said. ‘They’ll always think of other ways to raise prices so I don’t know if it would make a difference.’
ASUCI president Sammi Shaaya spoke of his own experiences with dealing with costly textbooks.
‘I could not take a class that I was interested in simply because the textbook cost too much money,’ Shaaya said.
He also encouraged students and faculty to get involved to help curtail the problem.
‘I challenge the faculty to find out which textbooks they want to buy and use cheaper books if the content is not changing,’ Shaaya said. ‘I also challenge students to use online exchanges for book swapping.’
Dean of students Sally Peterson agreed with Shaaya in saying that faculty must become involved to make a change.
‘Some faculty don’t give a thought. Not that they don’t care, but they are just not aware,’ Peterson said.
Not only are updated editions of textbooks a nuisance for students, but teachers also bear the burden of having to update their curriculum every time a new edition is introduced. Howard Tucker, a distinguished professor of mathematics, praised professors who wrote their own textbooks online.
‘There is no need to waste natural resources by publishing a book and it is also very easy to update,’ Tucker said.
Thomson Learning, the company that publishes one of the most popular textbooks, Calculus, introduced a new edition in 2003, four years after the previous one. The new copy sells for approximately $130 while a used copy of earlier editions costs anywhere from $20 to $90. This is outrageous, according to Tucker, who points out that there are only a limited number of changes a math book can have.
‘Some of this content has not changed for maybe the last 200 years,’ Tucker said.
The report has been released to several UC campuses as well as college campuses nationwide.
Legislation is currently being drafted in Washington, D.C. to address these issues including an initiative by New York Senator Chuck Schumer to give students a $1,000 tax deduction for textbooks.
In a letter issued to CALPIRG on Nov. 18, 2003 by President and CEO Pat Schroeder of the Association of American Publishers, Inc., the high cost of textbooks is attributed to the average 22 percent markup by college bookstores. The inflated prices are also a result of the shipping costs to the publisher of unused books.
‘College textbooks, by their very nature, have historically cost more to produce than a work of fiction or non-fiction published for a general audience,’ Schroeder said. ‘Textbooks aren’t big sellers like Harry Potter books. It is not mass market publishing.’
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