The rising prices of textbooks on college campuses has stirred up frustration among many university students and faculty across the country. Many complain that college textbooks are unfairly overpriced, forcing them to pay excessively high amounts for their classes. In response to these complaints, the California Student Public Interest Research Group released a report in January of 2004 entitled, “Ripoff 101: How the Current Practices of the Textbook Industry Drive Up the Cost of College Textbooks.” This report contains damning information about the textbook industry, alleging that certain unnecessary measures on the part of the industry leads to higher prices for students and suggests ways to avoid price hikes in textbook costs. The report cites the Association of American Publishers, saying that “paper, printing, and editorial costs” account for only 32.3 cents of every dollar of the textbook cost. The study sheds an illuminating and revealing light on a very important issue for students, and is more than worthy of further consideration.According to the report, students will spend an average of nearly $900 on textbooks for the 2003-04 academic year. In marked contrast, students spent an average of $642 on textbooks in 1996-97 – a 40 percent increase in six years. Textbooks are growing more expensive, often due to practices of the textbook publishers themselves. For instance, the study finds that while half of all textbooks now come unavoidably “bundled” with often expensive additional materials like CD-ROMs and workbooks, sixty-five percent of interviewed faculty members “rarely” or “never” use the additional material in their courses. Indeed, many textbooks in the UR bookstore come shrink-wrapped with supplemental materials that are ultimately discarded. This wastes both the financial resources of students as well as the efforts of those who make them.Textbook publishers will also put new editions of existing textbooks on the market very frequently, often with minor content changes, which makes “the less expensive, used textbooks obsolete and unavailable.” An average new textbook is 58 percent more expensive than its used counterpart. Meanwhile, overwhelming numbers of faculty that were interviewed prefer including new information in a supplement rather than compiling a whole new textbook edition. Such a measure would immeasurably reduce textbook costs and improve the lives of the average financially-strapped college student. College students are among the most financially indebted people in the country and, with tuition rising continuously, it is important to reduce their financial pressure as much as possible.Within UR itself, there is ample opportunity to implement the recommendations of the report. For example, 86 percent of sampled students are considering using an online “bookswap” to find cheaper textbooks. We already making strong moves in that direction, namely with http:\forsale.cif.rochester.edu, but it would be worthy to expand the existing system to make it more comprehensive and resourceful. We also encourage professors who will not be using large portions of a big, expensive textbook to consider cheaper alternatives, such as course reserves and course packs. There are many instances in which professors require hefty textbooks for courses, especially introductory ones, and then end up utilizing very little of the actual book. Students are then trapped with textbooks whose value as used has dropped tremendously. The money they can recoup from selling their textbook thus drops dramatically.”Ripoff 101″ states that the high cost of textbooks is “primarily” due to unnecessary new editions and bundled additional materials. The cost of textbooks, as the report says, has a great impact on the “quality and affordability of higher education.” If it is indeed true that what amounts to profiteering on the part of the textbook industry is responsible for the exorbitant price of textbooks, then we would urge educators to scrutinize the industry’s practices. Ultimately, when higher education is for sale, we don’t want to get shortchanged.
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