Complaining about the prices of textbooks in a school’s bookstore is like saying the university’s food isn’t as good as your mom’s. It’s a problem so obvious that it’s now simply standard for any college. Of course, it’s not as if UR’s bookstore prices are just blatant highway robbery — the store does what it has to make profits against a tough business model. “The Bookstore has a mission to stock every book that is requested for courses,”Maria Ferrante, the bookstore manager said, “including obscure foreign language titles or custom books. Online retailers are able to pick and choose what they order based on the pricing they can get—We also give a percentage of each transaction back to the school.”
The bookstore does at least offer some shortcuts — used books can be a bargain, and select digital textbooks can be up to 50 percent cheaper than the cost of a physical textbook — and students trying to control their budget are probably well-versed in scouting elsewhere for cheaper books anyway. But it still takes great effort for a student to make his or her textbook costs less than devastating. What could really help curb this common issue is a greater effort from the bookstore to increase digital textbook inventory, and a greater effort from professors to cut textbook requirements to the essentials.
Many textbooks are centerpieces for a course’s curriculum — so there’s not much to be done about a math textbook that will be used all year or a novel that must be read in its entirety. But what about books that will have spottier uses, such as books with only several relevant passages or big anthologies of essays, poems or short stories? Making texts freely available to students only skirts tricky issues of copyright infringement, but it is of course very common for professors to put a myriad of important essays and excerpts on Blackboard for students to access. Even providing Internet links where these texts are already available would be just as helpful.
Meanwhile, digital textbooks could revolutionize the headache of textbook hunting and gathering. This year, the Bookstore had about 130 digital textbooks available — a nice start, but definitely nothing to settle on. As much as we at the Campus Times advocate print media, digital textbooks are a great path to follow — they would save tremendous amounts of money and space.
If these two suggestions are followed through over the next few years, college textbooks could finally lose their long-accepted status as a large investment.