According to a study by the Public Interest Research Group released on Feb. 1, textbook prices are skyrocketing and publishers are not doing enough to keep costs under control.
For the study entitled, ‘Ripoff 101: Second Edition,’ PIRG looked at the five most purchased textbooks at 59 college campuses nationwide. UC Irvine was not among the campuses studied, although UC campuses in Berkeley, San Diego, Santa Cruz and Los Angeles were among those chosen.
An average student at a four-year college will spend a total of $3,600 on textbooks throughout their entire college career, according to the report.
Although the assertion that textbooks are becoming more expensive should not come as a shock to UCI students, the rate at which prices are increasing may be a surprise.
‘Textbook prices are increasing at more than four times the inflation rate for all finished goods,’ according to the study. ‘The wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994, while prices charged for all finished goods increased only 14 percent. Similarly, the prices charged by publishers for general books increased just 19 percent during the same time period.’ These figures are based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Producer Price Index.
Much of the report focused on the alleged tactics used by textbook publishers to drive up profit margins at the expense of students.
For example, the report states that textbooks retail at much higher prices in the United States than elsewhere around the world, a possible indication that prices here are higher than they need to be.
The sixth edition of ‘Physics for Scientists and Engineers,’ published by Thomson Learning, sells for $134.96 in the United States. The same book sells for significantly less in the United Kingdom, Africa and the Middle East.
Another tactic that publishers use to force students to pay more for books, according to PIRG, is packaging unnecessary materials, such as CD-ROMs or workbooks, with required course books.
In the study, half of all books examined were packaged with such materials. Of these, more than half were not available without the included materials.
When unpackaged editions of textbooks were available, the bundled editions were typically 10 percent more expensive than the unbundled books. One extreme example cited in the report was a chemistry textbook that cost $223.75 in a bundle and $152 alone.
The practice of bundling books is particularly troublesome because according to the report, so few teachers use the additional materials.
Sixty-five percent of faculty members interviewed for PIRG’s 2004 report said that they used such materials ‘rarely’ or ‘never.’
Publishing new editions of textbooks is also used to drive up costs to students, PIRG alleged.
‘The most widely purchased textbooks on college campuses have new editions published every three years on average,’ according to the report. ‘New editions of the textbooks surveyed cost, on average, 45 percent more than used copies of the previous edition. When issuing new editions, most publishers raise the prices of their books. Of the textbooks surveyed, new textbook prices jumped 12 percent on average between the previous and current edition, almost twice the rate of inflation between 2000 and 2003.’
According to the report, often, the new editions contain little new information. Seventy-six percent of faculty surveyed for the report said that new editions are justified less than half of the time that they are published.
The report called for publishers to lower textbook prices.
‘Publishers should produce and price textbooks to be as inexpensive as possible without sacrificing educational value, produce new textbook editions only when educationally necessary, offer faculty and students the option to purchase textbooks unbundled,’ the report stated.
The report also recommended that faculty ‘use their decision-making power to demand substance over bells and whistles and consider cost and the viability and accessibility of previous editions secondary only to educational value when selecting books for their courses.’
Students were encouraged to support on-campus and online bookswaps in order to ensure an adequate supply of low-cost used books.
Textbook publishers, in spite of such allegations, say that they have students’ concerns in mind.
‘Pearson empathizes with students’ concerns about college affordability and with their financial burdens,’ said Rod Granger, communications writer for Pearson Education, a major textbook publisher.
Publishers point out that publisher profit makes up a very small percentage of overall costs to students, with a large percentage paying for publishing costs, author royalties and bookstore costs and profit.