The Textbook Romp

It’s 9AM and the line is around the block, if Middlebury can even be considered to have blocks. The early birds are just being let in to swamp the basement room of textbooks for the upcoming year. Shouts of joy are for the seldom seen little red stickers, indicating that no books are required for the class. The rest make do with laughs for a few short paperbacks or a couple coursepacks of photocopies. Groans are reserved for hardy hardbacks. As the day draws on, the line gets shorter but the used books dwindle. Back in the dorms, students fire up their computers comparing prices with plans to return a majority of books within the end of the week.

The average U.S. student spends over $1000 a year ($500 a semester) on books of all kinds. I managed to walk away from the bookstore at about $450, but the point is clear that it is growing increasingly expensive for students. What really can be done? Publishers surely aren’t budging on their semi-monopoly (the big three publishers, for instance). Students must rely on used textbooks either from their bookstore or from online.

The Middlebury College Bookstore is the only place that lists the titles required by the teachers. Posting lists of the books and prices online would hurt their business so they keep all the information rather protected. Most students can get away with reasonable deals on Used Textbooks from the College Bookstore but Used books are in short supply and also  editions change often making many used books unsellable. Instead, more students go to write down the titles in store and then go online shopping. I just purchased my books via Amazon.com and saved over $100-$150, bringing be far below the national average.

We talked about the textbook industry today in Economics class. Professor Pyle listed off some interesting stats that the price of textbooks has doubled over the past 20 years, at twice the rate of inflation. So, what is the deal? There are a number of possible factors for the increase but nothing is for certain. A congressional committee very recently has studied the matter and made some recommendations. Don’t expect anything to change anytime soon. The best bet is to buy online used books which cut out the portion of the price that college bookstores and their printers make. Another key is to work with teachers so that they do not arbitrarily choose new books that aren’t necessarily better for teaching or new editions which aren’t that different from older ones. Another solution can be to get schools to purchase books for students and include the price as a flat fee in tuition. Why? Because with the college taking on the cost, teachers will be encouraged to bring down the costs of what they perscribe for the students and the savings can hopefully be passed down the students.

Still mad at textbook publishers? Don’t buy anything at all and work out of library editions of the books.

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One thought on “The Textbook Romp”

  1. Hi.
    Did your economics professor talk about demand curves at all? While we love to rag on the publishers (and believe me, I’m no fan of textbooks), we don’t pay enough attention to demand. Professors never took pedagogy classes. Their model for teaching is the “textbook and lecture duet.” Plus the academic tenure track does not reward good, innovative teaching, so don’t expect even the best professors to spend hours and hours aggregating free content for you. Until the structure of demand changes, the structure of the supply will not change much. Basic Econ 101: Price determined by both supply and demand. So bash the suppliers all you want…and then turn your ire on your professors.

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