Why Are Textbooks So Expensive?

CampusBooks.com is here to save you money on textbooks so we are doing a three-part blog on the real reasons why textbooks cost so much—from three different points of view: a college professor and textbook author, the textbook publishers and the college bookstores. We hope this information will help you understand the reasons textbooks are so expensive.

From an Author's Standpoint

Henry L. Roediger III, a professor of psychology at Washington University in St. Louis and a textbook author, wrote an article on high textbook prices for the Academic Observer. According to Roediger, textbooks are more expensive because of the recent popularity of the used textbook market. He cited the used textbook market as a problem not due to students selling to each other, but to the massive buying of textbooks by used book wholesalers who then ship the book to another campus where it will be used next year. The textbook wholesalers, some of which own the bookstore, buy textbooks from students at a small fraction of the price that the students pay and then sell the books back to the next batch of students at an inflated "used book" price. This cycle results in publishers and authors not getting fair payments for their work in producing the textbooks. Roediger compared the practice to vendors who sell pirated music and do not pay royalties to record labels or artists. The only difference, he pointed out, is that the used textbook industry is legal and music pirating is not.

Here is a concrete example that he provided:

His book, Experimental Psychology: Understanding Psychological Research, was published by Wadsworth Publishing Company. The bookstore pays the company $73.50 for the new book. The authors receive 15 percent royalties on the book, so the three authors split the $11 royalty, and the publisher gets the rest. However, at the Washington University bookstore, the list price of the book is $99.75, a markup of $26.25 (or 35.7 percent). The authors get $11.02 for their work whereas the bookstore makes $26.25 gross profit per book.

When a student sells his or her textbook at buyback, the bookstore buys it back at a greatly marked down price, somewhere between 25 and 50 percent. Let’s assume that Experimental Psychology is bought back for 40 percent of the new book price (which is a generous assumption). That buyback price would be $39.90. After buying it, the bookstore will mark it up dramatically and resell the book. Suppose the used book is sold by the store for $75, which sounds like a bargain relative to the new book price of $99.75. The profit markup for the bookstore on this used book would be $35.10, which is even higher than the (still very large) profit made on the new book ($26.25). So on the second (and third and fourth, etc.) sales of the same book, the bookstore and used book company make large cumulative profits while the publishers and authors get no additional revenue.

According to Roediger, textbook publishers have little options when dealing with the loss in profits. They are forced to raise the prices of textbooks in an attempt to recuperate their initial investment. Publishers revise books often because they want to make sure book profits will accrue to the publisher and author, not the bookstores.

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Source:

Roediger III, H (January 2005). Why are textbooks so expensive. Observer, 18, Retrieved July 23, 2007, from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/getArticle.cfm?id=1712


College Bookstores Fight Textbook Legislation

This year alone, 86 textbook bills have been introduced in 26 states, according to the National Association of College Stores (NACS). NACS is starting to feel the heat, as evidenced by the launch of their online Legislative Action Center, a grassroots campaign to help their college bookstore members locate and contact state and federal legislators to influence proposed textbook legislation. NACS also has a field office in Washington D.C., which they claim is engaged in all levels of the policymaking process.

According to NACS Chief Operating Officer Brian Cartier, legislators are looking to influence the way bookstores do business without proposing any real remedies to improve textbook affordability. For this reason, Cartier advises NACS members to get involved with proposed legislative actions that would affect college stores.

CampusBooks.com Inc. differs from NACS in that we believe any legislation aiming to make textbooks more affordable for students is worth investigating. Making textbooks and education more affordable is the mission of CampusBooks.com, and it's the reason we continue to search for innovative features to add to the site in order to better serve college students. For a more personal look at CampusBooks.com, check out the CampusBooks.com MySpace page and add us as a friend: http://www.myspace.com/campusbooks.

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Source:

Moore, Yalinda. ” NACS CEO on Government Relations.” Campus Marketplace 13 JUL 2007 16 JUL 2007. http://www.nacs.org/news/071307-mytake.asp?id=cm


Free Textbooks for All?

Students and readers alike can now download, print and distribute almost 750,000 e-books for free from the World eBook Fair. The eBook Fair is sponsored by The World Public Library Consortia, one of the largest providers of e-books online. Founded in 1996, the World Electronic Book Library Consortia is a global effort to preserve and disseminate classic works, commercial books, textbooks, encyclopedias and other reference works in an array of languages to a worldwide public.

The World eBook Fair will last from July 4th to Aug. 4th,, during which time users can legally download any book they want from the 125 vast collections available. The e-books, which include instructional materials, government documents and textbooks, can be read with Adobe Reader. To access the World eBook Fair, visit http://www.worldebookfair.com/.

This great project is a breath of fresh air for students' suffocating wallets. It is perfect for those that need commonly published and out-of-copyright books, such as "A Tale of Two Cities" or "Pride and Prejudice," but unfortunately, students looking for current textbooks on the eBook Fair Web site will likely be disappointed. Since textbooks are copyrighted, the only ones available for free are the antiquated texts.

So until textbooks are free for all, let Campusbooks.com help you find the cheapest price available for your textbooks! See a sample comparison page of the textbook "Biology" by Campbell and Reece. Retail price for that book is $158.67. Lowest price on CampusBooks.com? $50.99 — for a brand new book!

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Source:

The World eBook Fair: http://www.worldebookfair.com/

The World Public Library Consortia: http://worldpubliclibrary.org/AboutUs.htm


Rival Bookstore Sues WVU Bookstore for $2 Million Monopoly

A bookstore that serves the students of West Virginia University (WVU) has sued the university and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Inc. for monopolizing the textbook sales market in the WVU area.

The Book Exchange filed the suit on June 8, claiming that WVU's practice of withholding a portion of students' financial aid money for use specifically at school bookstores limits the choices students have for purchasing cheap textbooks. The practice of withholding financial aid money began in August 2005, right before a lease contract between WVU stores and Barnes & Noble College Booksellers, Inc. was renewed for a second five-year term in 2006.

According to the lawsuit, WVU sent an email to its students on Dec. 13, 2005 informing them that "an amount up to $500 has been reserved on account at the bookstore." Students that did not want the bookstore to take that money were to remove themselves from the program by Dec. 16. Students who did not remove themselves were unable to spend a portion of their financial aid money on textbooks from The Book Exchange or any other textbook-purchasing alternative.

In the lawsuit, The Book Exchange accuses WVU of violating West Virginia Code by redirecting students' financial aid money to the campus bookstore and preventing them from obtaining the textbooks at lower-cost alternatives like The Book Exchange. The suit also alleges that the automatic withholding of funds was intended to monopolize the market of selling textbooks to financial aid students.

The Book Exchange is seeking more than $2 million dollars from the defendants for lost revenue and punitive damages.

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Source:

Bailey, Cara. “Bookstore sues WVU for monopoly, seeks $2 million.” The West Virginia Record 15 June 2007. 19 June 2007. http://www.wvrecord.com/news/196757-bookstore-sues-wvu-for-monopoly-seeks-2-million


Textbooks Used to Promote Global Peace

Educational experts from Europe and the Arab states are meeting on June 14th and 15th to discuss the instructional design of textbooks that encourage peace-building and global citizenship. The meeting, titled "Thinking and Building Peace Through Innovative Textbook Design," is sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

According to the UNESCO, the 25 researchers, textbook authors and textbook publishers aim to "produce guidelines for promoting peace and intercultural understanding through curricula, textbooks and learning media within the UNESCO-ISESCO Cooperation Programme." The discussions are to focus on practical ways of incorporating the concepts, attitudes and skills for global understanding into textbooks and other learning materials. The meeting will also serve as support for actions already in place for content analysis and revision of textbooks in the two regions.

UNESCO/IBE's publication Textbooks and Quality Learning for All: Some Lessons Learned from International Experiences (2006, Eds Cecilia Braslavsky and Katya Hall) will be launched during the meeting.

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Source:

Bernard, J.. “Experts discuss textbooks as instruments for peace.” United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization . 14 Jun 2007. http://portal.unesco.org/education/en/ev.php-URL_ID=53469&URL_DO=DO_TOPIC&URL_SECTION=201.html



Technology Costs Students, Then Saves Them

Technology has once again proven to be friend and foe. The advent of high-tech interactive learning materials has prompted its addition (along with a price increase) to college textbooks—without the consent of the average college student. On the other hand, new developments in technology are now allowing students to access e-books and other downloadable learning materials for only a fraction of the traditional textbook price, if not for free.

Critics of the textbook industry claim that the practice of bundling textbooks with special Web site access and interactive tools such as CDs and DVDs is just another excuse for raising textbook prices. The standardized bundles force students to buy bundled textbooks whether they want the interactive materials or not. Furthermore, when students go to sell the textbooks back at the end of the year, they are often either unable to do so, or have to settle for a lower buyback price because the interactive tools and Web site access can only be used once with the special code. Publishers argue that the textbook bundles are meant to enhance the learning experience by supplementing passive learning (reading) with active learning (interactive tools). Either way, bundled textbooks are here to stay and students have to pay for them.

For some college students anxious about paying skyrocketing prices for their textbooks, technology will also prove to be their saving grace. Ex-Microsoft executive Bruce Jacobsen has launched a new electronic textbook publishing house called Kinetic Books. An Introduction to Physics textbook for example, looks a lot like a regular textbook except that the chapters are enhanced with animation and videos that can demonstrate physics concepts like velocity and acceleration.

Teachers are also using technology to create a more interactive learning environment. Michigan State University biology professor Diane Ebert-May no longer uses textbooks in her classroom. She assigns an assortment of reading materials and articles to aid classroom instruction.

“Biology changes so rapidly that most of the readings in my class are not much older than 2004,” said Ebert-May. She does, however, keep some publishers' complimentary copies of textbooks on hand in the classroom as reference materials.

CampusBooks.com is a leading supporter of technology that helps students save money on textbooks. We are proud to include e-book retailers in our list of bookstore partners that are displayed on price comparison pages. That way, when students are searching for and comparing prices on textbooks on our site, they will indeed get the lowest price possible—e-books included.

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Source:

Kingsbury, Alex. “Textbooks Enter the Digital Era.” U.S. News and World Report 08 OCT 2006 http://www.usnews.com/usnews/edu/articles/061008/16books.htm


Government Advisory Committee Reports on Making Textbooks More Affordable

The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance (ACSFA) submitted a report to Congress on Friday that discussed their findings about the current state of textbook affordability. The one-year study was commissioned at the request of Congressmen Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-CA) and David Wu (D-OR) in June 2006 to investigate ways to make textbooks more affordable for students. In the letter requesting the study, the Advisory Committee was asked to:

· Investigate further the problem of rising textbook prices.

· Determine the impact of rising textbook prices on students' postsecondary education.

· Make recommendations to Congress, the Secretary, and other stakeholders on what can be done to make textbooks more affordable.[1]

The Advisory Committee determined that "all stakeholders—students, faculty, colleges, bookstores, and publishers as well—are victims of the failure of this market"[2]

The Committee found that all stakeholders had valid interests that needed to be protected when making textbooks affordable and so there is no reason to blame any one stakeholder. Instead, the main reason that textbooks are not affordable is "the underlying structural imperfection in the market for textbooks and learning materials"[3]—that is, the market is driven by supply instead of by demand. Faculty select the textbooks, the bookstores order them and students must pay for them. The end result is a market that is not driven by consumer demands, which ultimately results in a disregard for product price.

In keeping with its focus on solutions instead of blame, the ACSFA identified short-term solutions and a long-term solution to the textbook affordability problem. The eight short-term solutions are:

1. Strengthen the used textbook market

2. Utilize faculty textbook selection guidelines

3. Provide key information to students and parents

4. Increase library resources

5. Adopt alternatives that lower price

6. Implement a textbook rental program

7. Improve related financial aid policies

8. Utilize 21st century technology

 

The long-term solution proposed by the Advisory Committee is a national digital marketplace. In theory, the infrastructure of the marketplace would consist of a transaction and rights clearinghouse, numerous marketplace Web applications, and hosted infrastructure resources.[4] The California State University is currently doing innovative work in the area of building such a digital marketplace. The initiative began in 2003 as way to "increase student and faculty success by reducing expenses for educational content, hardware, and software."[5]

The CSU Marketplace plans to serve the technological needs of students, faculty, and staff with both no-cost and fee-based educational content. The Advisory Committee hopes that "when fully developed, CSU's statewide solution can be the first step toward a national digital marketplace for voluntary use by other states, colleges, faculty, and students."[6]

CampusBooks.com is following these developments very closely and we've made digital textbooks available on our site. The future of the textbook market is fast heading in the direction of electronic textbooks, but in the meantime, CampusBooks.com is helping students save money on books by providing a robust marketplace to buy and sell textbooks quickly and inexpensively.

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References:

[1] Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, “Textbook Study Fact Sheet.” 2007. http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/acsfa/txtbkfactsht.pdf

[2-6] Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance , “Turn the Page: Making College Textbooks More Affordable, MAY 2007.” Textbook Cost Study. May 2007. http://www.ed.gov/about/bdscomm/list/acsfa/turnthepage.pdf


Students Willingly Shell Out Money For More Green

At least 14 campuses in the United States and four in Canada have passed student-approved fee increases to purchase renewable energy and/or reduce carbon emissions. Students are in favor of the $10-$25 a year fee hikes because the relatively small amount of money adds up to a lot of impact.

Students at the University of Florida voted for a $14 fee increase that is expected to raise approximately $645,000 a year to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their campus. At Oregon State University, an $8.50 fee increase is estimated to be enough to offset all of the campus's electricity usage through the purchase of renewable energy credits. With the small fee increase, the currently coal-operated Oregon State University will be able to look into wind power purchases.

"There's the risk that they [students] will say, 'Well, we're funding this, so we can do whatever now,' " said Brandon Trelstad, Oregon State University's campus sustainability coordinator. "The beauty of the fee is if campus energy consumption goes up dramatically, so will the fee the next year if we want to continue to offset 100 percent of Oregon State's consumption."

Many colleges are supporting student efforts to go green by matching students' monetary contributions. Other colleges, like Oregon State University, have officially made the pledge to go green with their students. Oregon State University's president, signed the American Colleges and University President Climate Commitment as the vote for the fee increase was passed by students.

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Source:

Powers, Elia. “Cents and Sustainability.” Inside High Ed 18 MAY 2007 http://insidehighered.com/news/2007/05/18/fees.


 

 

 

Invasion of Privacy, or Protection of Property?

Wisconsin‘s Madison City Council has just passed legislation that regulates the sale of used textbooks by identifying who is selling what.

The ordinance, which will take effect in mid-July, requires students to provide valid photo identification when selling a used textbook back to a bookstore. Bookstores are then required to fill out a form identifying the book’s author, title, ISBN and the person selling the book. If the seller can not provide valid photo I.D., he or she will have to provide a social security number and the bookstore is to log a detailed physical description of the seller. These records are to be kept on file for six months, or be submitted to the Madison Police Department.

The purpose of the ordinance is to reduce the incidence of textbook thefts and re-sale for quick cash. However, there is concern that keeping records of what books people own and sell is a violation of their First Amendment rights. In addition, it is difficult to narrow down what exactly qualifies as a textbook. Classes about sensitive topics like human sexuality and women’s studies may require “textbooks” that are just regular books. This means there will be a record kept of who at one point owned and sold back those sensitive-topic books. A requirement to keep record of such sensitive information makes community members like Sandra Torkildson, owner of A Room of One’s Own Feminist Bookstore in Madison, uncomfortable.

“For over 30 years as a bookseller, I have never kept records of what my customers buy here,” said Torkildson. “Our store sells many books on sensitive social and political issues. Since the Patriot Act went into effect, we have been even more careful to make sure that no records link a customer’s name to any book we sell or purchase.”

Stacy Harbaugh of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin expressed concern that the new ordinance may breach privacy and expose students to identity theft.

“If all this information is stored together, are bookkeepers really prepared to keep a lock and key on all this?” Harbaugh said.

Alderman Eli Judge, District 8, was the co-sponsor of the ordinance. He believes the ordinance will be a strong deterrent to on-campus textbook theft.

“With class schedules and course book lists already recorded by the university, these logs will not store any information that could be construed as private,” said Judge. “During my campaign, I spent hours speaking to students at the doors about issues that mattered to them, and the frequency of crime came up again and again. This ordinance is a small but important step toward making our campus a safer place.”

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Sources:

Judge, Eli. “A First Step for Student Safety.” Eli Judge Madison’s 8th District Alder. 01 MAY 2007. Eli Judge. http://elijudge.org/2007/05/a_first_step_for_student_safet.html

Mueller, Beth. “Textbook ID plan passes.” The Badger Herald 02 MAY 2007. http://badgerherald.com/news/2007/05/02/textbook_id_plan_pas.php

Schoepp, Brittany. “Madison City Council OK’s rules for used books.” Wisconsin State Journal 02 MAY 2007. http://www.madison.com/wsj/home/local/index.php?ntid=131957&ntpid=3

Schwartz, Nomi. “When Selling Used Textbooks Is a Privacy Issue.” Bookselling This Week. 09 MAY 2007. American Booksellers Association. http://news.bookweb.org/freeexpression/5268.html


NACS Gets Involved with the Senator's Bill

Last time, we brought to your attention that Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., has introduced bill (S 945) in the U.S. Senate to regulate textbook price disclosures and posting requirements. To summarize, the bill would require publishers to offer bundled textbook materials in unbundled form, provide the ISBN and price of textbook in the course schedule, and provide the textbook requirement for each class to every bookstore that requests it. All these rules are meant to make textbooks more affordable to students. So who, in the world, would fight this bill?

The least likely organizations: your bookstores. The National Association of College Bookstores (NACS), which has 3,170 collegiate retailer[1] members, "opposes legislation that includes mandates that restrict the sale of faculty adopted course materials, including bundles"[2] Why? The NACS claims that limiting their ability to sell textbook bundles would undermine the ability of their college stores to "support the academic mission of the colleges and universities they serve."[3]

According to the Used Textbook Association (UTA), a group of wholesalers and bookstores that believe in the promotion of used textbooks as an affordable alternative, only 19 percent of students who have used the bundled materials find them useful[4]. Because many bundled materials (i.e. CDs and DVDs) have one-time use codes, students have a hard time reselling the book after they are done since codes are only issued with new books.

The NACS is currently working with Durbin's staff to discuss revisions to the bill. Hopefully, the main benefits of the bill will not be watered down by the NACS's influence.


[1] According to the NACS "Testimony to the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance." September 19, 20006: http://www.nacs.org/public/NACSTestimonyACSFA.pdf.

[2] According to the NACS "FAQ on Bundles." April 2006: http://www.nacs.org/common/research/faq_bundles.pdf.

[3] According to the NACS "FAQ on Bundles." April 2006: http://www.nacs.org/common/research/faq_bundles.pdf.

[4] College Store Executive. January 2007: http://www.usedtextbookassociation.org/pdf/UTA_college_store_exec.pdf.