High textbook prices are nothing new to us college folk. Every quarter I drop by TextMania to suffer a barrage of blows to my bank account. If they don’t have what I need, then I trek over to UC Irvine’s bookstore and pay even more through the nose. Consider John E. McMurry’s “Organic Chemistry.” A new copy is listed for $209.95; discounted, it’s bumped down to about $150; used copies run $110 and up. Sure, that’s $100 in savings, but it’s still $110 for a freakin’ book.
This isn’t some special-edition Qur’an or the Pope’s super secret private diary. It’s a mass-produced, slapped-together bundle of pulp and ink full of riveting organic chemistry facts. And in most cases we only use these things for one class. We sell $200 worth of books back to the school and they hand us $20 in return. It’s outrageous. Couple that with rising tuition and housing costs and it’s downright infuriating.
Some students have had enough with textbook publishing companies. PirateBay.org is a Web site based in Sweden that describes itself as an “anti-copyright organization” that offers music, movies, TV shows, software and now downloadable textbooks. One would think that it’s much easier to rip a CD than to scan 1,300 pages of chemistry. Apparently, sweet revenge is a strong motivator. Descriptions of downloadable books are embellished with sentiments such as, “If you like my work, show you care, fuck the man, you damn well better share.”
The Web site has of course posed a formidable obstacle to textbook publishers. The site boasts that not a single item has been removed at the request of a copyright owner. When a copyright owner, such as an American textbook company, does send the Pirate Bay a cease-and-desist “request,” the letter is posted on the site with sarcastic responses, such as asking where an invoice should be mailed for the costs of “Web publishing and hosting services” that Pirate Bay suffered when it posted the letter.
Peter Sunde, one of Pirate Bay’s founders, said that though his site does not collect download statistics for privacy reasons, the popularity of textbook downloads has increased.
While this provides a cheaper method of getting required materials for class and/or an effective way to piss off the money-grubbing publishers, some students on campus harbor a different sentiment.
“I think downloading is too much of a hassle. I’d rather have the actual text to write in and study off of,” Paul Lapis, a third-year biology major, said. “It’s more effective to stick it to the publishers by passing on the books [instead].”
In order to combat this substantial challenge, publishing companies have now turned to the possibility of e-Books. Amazon has released a gadget called the Amazon Kindle, a page-sized screen set in a block of plastic that can download any printed material — for a price. The Kindle has had little success taking off, especially among the college crowd, and with good reason.
At $360 a pop, the Kindle is not exactly cutting costs on textbooks. A paperback version of “Three Strikes and You’re Out” costs $24.40 through Amazon, plus shipping and handling. Through Kindle, it’s $21.96. A couple dollars saved, sure, but the discount is nothing to dance about. And that’s ignoring the fact that maybe people just enjoy the feel of a good book in their hands, the flip of a page and the clap of a hardback cover.
The publishing companies have no reason to complain about losing out on profits. There are students who are still content with being robbed at the register for various personal reasons. However, if losing out on a fraction of profits is such a hairy deal for the publishing companies such as Oxford and Yale, then they need to reconsider their astronomical prices. For those of us who are fed up with being bamboozled every time a new quarter begins, such as the ambitious souls at Pirate Bay, the Kindle and used book “discount” prices are merely placebos.
AE Anteater is a third-year English major. He can be reached at email@example.com.