Report Says Textbook Hikes Outpace Inflation
April 13, 2005 5:28 PM
The State Public Interest Research Group published a second edition of last year's online report, “Ripoff 101,” disclosing some of the efforts publishers make to spike textbook prices.
February's more extensive 2005 survey examined the most required books at 59 colleges across the nation. It found that the price of books has been rising faster than the rate of inflation. It also said publishers charged American students more for books than the same books used by students abroad.
“Someone should look into it,” said Tanim Abdullah, a SF State psychology senior. “Maybe all the universities could get together and take a stand for the students. I have used Amazon.com, eBay, and even Craigslist to buy books.”
Abdullah, who is from Bangladesh, said that books are a lot cheaper there. He finds he’s now spending between $80 and $100 per book for his courses. But for other international students, the cost of books in their home country is comparable to U.S. prices.
Johanna Fassbender is a museum studies major and previously attended the University of Tubingen and the Free University of Berlin.
“In Germany we didn’t need to buy as many textbooks because lecturers would put books on reserve in the library,” said Fassbender. “I don’t mind buying books if there’s an opportunity to sell it back.”
Bruce Hilderbrand, Executive Director for higher education of the Association of American Publishers, said that the report is misleading and borderline libelous.
“I don’t know whether to laugh or cry over this report,” said Hilderbrand. “The report mostly focuses on California, where it is far less expensive to go to school than anywhere in the country. As a California student, if I had to buy a textbook for $100, it’s going to seem expensive compared to my tuition. They are comparing apples to oranges.”
Hilderbrand went on to say that the average college student around the country spends six cents of every dollar of their education on textbooks.
“That adds up to $2.23,” continued Hilderbrand, “which is less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks. These same students spend over $100 per month on their cell phones.”
According to "Ripoff 101: How The Current Practices Of The Textbook Industry Drive Up The Cost Of College Textbooks," the publishers issuing the top selling textbooks run new editions every three years. New editions on the average cost 45 percent more than used copies.
Three-quarters of the faculty surveyed said new editions were warranted only half the time.
Hilderbrand said that the most popular textbooks are popular because professors request them, which leads to a demand for them. And because textbooks are not mass-produced, they more expensive to print than a best selling novel.
“Bill Clinton’s biography sold over two million copies and is not going to paperback,” said Hilderbrand. “A best selling textbook sells around 40,000 copies. They are larger and have graphics and photos when most novels don’t."
Another technique publishers use is to bundle books with special instructional CDs that link to online materials, which cannot be re-used by other students if they buy the books used.
“I would rather not use CDs if it costs 10-15 percent more,” said Abdullah. “But I know some people find it useful.”
However, some students do not really object to buying bundled materials.
Emaneab Hailezghi is a civil engineering senior from Eritrea. He said he spends about $600 a semester for books.
“I think the CD-ROM is very helpful, especially if you are a computer-oriented person,” said Hailezghi.
Last fall, the state legislature passed AB 2477, recommending standards to help keep publisher’s textbook prices as low as possible. Assembly member Carol Liu (D-Flintridge, Calif.) sponsored the bill. Liu had noted that lawmakers could not set prices for private industry, but her bill does raise awareness about a largely overlooked issue.
According to Candice Chung, press secretary for Liu, the bill conforms to the recommendations outlined in “Ripoff 101.” The report asked publishers to sell textbooks as inexpensively as they can afford to do, issue new editions only when warranted by updated instructional material, provide ample opportunity to buy textbooks unbundled, and furnish more data on content differences from prior editions to faculty.
"A lot of research shows that books shouldn't cost as much," said Chung. "We can't put a cap on their prices but the bill is a call to action. It brings all the stakeholders to the table and gives publishers time to implement changes."
Wendy Johnson, textbook manager of the SFSU Bookstore, was on vacation last week and could not comment directly. But Johnson did send an email explaining that textbook prices have been rising each year for the last several years. But she cannot state exactly how much prices have escalated.
Some at SF State have seen the issue from both sides of the publishing divide. Professor Patrick
“My co-authors and I were insistent with the publisher that it be priced reasonably (under $50) so students could afford it,” said Tierney. “I understand the real world limits of our students.”
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