Last year CALPIRG started a campaign headed by Lilan Bowden, a third-year drama major and external director of UC Irvine’s CALPIRG chapter, against Thomson Learning, one of the largest textbook publishers in the United States, to lower unreasonably high textbook prices.
Recently, signs of efforts on Thomson Learning’s part to lower textbook prices appeared in plans for lowering the price of ‘Calculus: Early Trascendentals, Edition Five’ at UCLA next year, from the average price of $85 to an average of $68.
This action has been the result of an agreement between the UCLA bookstore and Thomson Learning. Bowden believes CALPIRG was the driving force that garnered this victory.
‘I believe that if the Cheaper Textbooks Campaign had never gotten started here at UCI and spread to the other UCs and other colleges, then there would have been no progress in encouraging Thomson Learning to lower the cost of textbooks,’ Bowden said.
Bowden explained that in order to motivate Thomson Learning to lower textbook prices it was important to get university faculty involved.
‘It’s very hard for big publishing companies to listen to the demands of students since we aren’t the ones who order the books,’ Bowden said.
Bowden said CALPIRG prompted the faculty to sign a letter to Thomson Learning encouraging them to lower book prices for students. CALPIRG was able to collect over 500 signatures nationwide targeting the math departments of the top 100 colleges in the nation.
After the negotiations, ‘Thomson Learning has refused to engage in future dialogue with students despite our repeated attempts to have a progressive dialogue with them,’ Bowden said.
Bowden believes that although Thomson Learning has only negotiated the cheaper textbook prices with UCLA, she said she would not be surprised if UCI soon followed.
‘We are hoping that this decision will continue to happen at other colleges as well, including here at UCI,’ Bowden said.
Dave Puzey, CALPIRG’s staff organizer at UCI, explained the possibilities as to why he felt lower book prices are first being offered at UCLA.
‘Even though it started here at UCI and [UCI] has been a predominant chapter, as for why it happened first at UCLA is difficult to say … maybe [Thomson Learning thought] it would pacify other schools because it’s such a big school.’
Despite a CALPIRG chairman’s declaration that the negotiation was a result of CALPIRG’s continued efforts, Adam Gaber, senior director of public relations for Thomson Learning, denies CALPIRG’s role in this agreement with the UCLA bookstore.
‘Nothing we do is related to anything that CALPIRG has said or done in the past,’ Gaber said. ‘[The new developments were] already in the works before any of this happened because we don’t change prices at the drop of a hat.’
Professor Bernard Russo, chair of UC Irvine’s math department, tries to rationalize Thomson Learning’s denial.
‘They want to divert attention away from the issue, that students and faculty are calling on them to adopt fairer practices, and instead focus attention into an attack upon CALPIRG, since they are frustrated that CALPIRG’s involvement finally allowed these long-standing concerns of students and faculty to receive some attention,’ Russo said.
Another alternative Thomson Learning is going to offer next year is the Advantage Series which will cut textbook prices by removing the graphics, number of colors, type of binding and other such content-extraneous features.
Kay Nguyen, a fourth-year anthropology major, commented on the viability of the new Advantage Series.
‘It depends on the topic of the course, because like biology, students really need clear illustrated diagrams,’ Nguyen said.
Emil Ali, a first-year undecided/undeclared major, has developed his own way of cutting costs yet catering to his own covenience.
‘I share books with my friends and we usually just take turns buying and although I could save money by buying them online, I prefer to go the bookstore.’