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High Cost of Textbooks - Problem-Solution - Research Paper Example

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The paper "High Cost of Textbooks - Problem-Solution" states that bottom line is that everyone involved in the publishing, selling, selection and use of college textbooks needs to co-operate with each other in order to keep costs down, while still allowing businesses to make a fair profit…
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High Cost of Textbooks - Problem-Solution
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The purpose of this report is to look at the problem of the high cost of student textbooks. First, the report will look at just how expensive books are, and then some of the reasons for the expense. Finally, the report will examine some possible solutions to the problem of expensive textbooks and what students, colleges, professors, booksellers and publishers should do to help make college textbooks more affordable.
As college tuition costs climb for both public and private schools, so have the costs related to student textbooks. Publishers say the price increase is in keeping with the rising costs of printing, along with the expenses related to paying textbook writers, graphic designers and fact-checkers. But students, parents and even colleges and professors say that those are all just excuses being made by large publishing houses who want to “gouge us,” as one student put it (Bruno 6D). They want lower-priced books – or at least more affordable options and fewer instances of books being revised and republished every two to three years. The federal government has even involved itself in the issue by passing a recent law that forces publishers to tell professors how much-required texts will cost their students, and colleges must inform students during class registration what books they will need to purchase for each course.
The best and most fair solution for everyone when it comes to textbook pricing is to move away from physical printed and bound books to electronic and downloadable texts. Publishers have every right to make money, but students should have the ability to save themselves money wherever possible while working towards their diplomas.
The Problem
Students today spend a lot of time and effort when it comes to buying textbooks. Once their class booklists are in hand, the students have a few options as to where to buy their books. There’s the school bookstore, which will usually carry new and used copies of required books, and will buy back some books from previous purchases. Students may also look for their books online, at sites like or, which often offer a larger selection of used copies than the campus bookstore and often at a lower price (Bernard B5).
Yet there are a lot of roadblocks when it comes to finding a cheaper, used copy of a textbook. According to a national survey conducted by the Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) of required college texts, the books are revised and issued as new editions “every three to four years regardless of changes to the subject” (Allen 6). Why is this a problem? Because the older editions are then considered outdated and are made unavailable to students by the publisher. The older editions cannot be traded in for cash or credit at the student bookstore or sold online at or Students enrolling in classes where the new editions are required must buy the books new since used copies are not available.
Students also complain that many times they are only required by their professors to read a couple of chapters in a single textbook – despite having to purchase the entire book (Allen 7). In the 1980s through the early 1990s, it was a fairly common practice for professors to offer “course packets,” which were photocopied chapters from several different textbooks and were made available to students for only the cost of the photocopies. These packets were widely considered by publishers to be a blatant violation of copyright law, leading to a lawsuit against a Kinkos in Ohio who was handling the photocopying order for Ohio State University. The publishers won the suit and course packets began disappearing not only from OSU but from colleges everywhere. (O'Shaughnessy 1-2)
In 2010, the federal government passed a law as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) requiring that book publishers tell professors up-front, in all marketing materials, how much the book will cost the student. The idea behind this provision of HEOA was described as “an effort to get professors to be aware of what their choices were really costing their students” (Smith A5). Other new textbook regulations under HEOA included requiring colleges to provide students with booklists at the date of registration so the students would not only know the true costs of taking a specific course, but also be able to “have time to find a bargain” (Bruno 6D) when it came to the price of their books. Finally, HEOA put new regulation on the publishers that outlawed the common practice of book bundling, where required textbooks come packaged with “study guides, DVDs, software and other supplemental material that professors do not require their students use, yet the students must pay for in order to get the textbook” (Allen 7).
Despite all the regulation and the potential for bargains on the Internet, the average student still pays $900 per year on textbooks, with the costs being as much as 50 per cent higher than that for students studying math and sciences (Allen 4). Students and parents certainly see these costs as “prohibitive” (Smith A5), and PIRG says textbook price is an example of “market failure that hinders the economic checks and balances that naturally regulate costs” (Allen 6) and claims that “prices have skyrocketed at a rate that is unfair to students” (Allen 7).
But are textbook prices really out of line? According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), which represents nearly 95 per cent of all textbook publishers in the United States, textbook prices are unfairly targeted. They claim their own research found that textbooks represent “less than five per cent of an average student’s total direct higher education expenses” (“What”). AAP additionally claims that other college expenses – such as tuition and meal plans – are increasing at a much more rapid rate than textbook costs (“What”), although PIRG would like it noted that AAP has never provided hard data to support this assertion (Allen 14).
AAP says that textbook prices are justified since “the cost of developing a new textbook and the accompanying materials can exceed $1 million” (“What”). These costs include paying the professors and other experts who write them, which is an expense the AAP claims has rapidly climbed, suggesting that “blame be placed on professors” (“American” 10). And there are costs around the price of paper, printing, and shipping the books – all of which are costs that have legitimately risen in the past few years. (“American” 10)
Possible Solutions
The federal government’s regulations under HEOA put reasonable limits in place around the practice of bundling and U.S. copyright laws make it illegal for colleges to photocopy textbook chapters. But it is important to remember that textbook publishing is a business and in a free-market, publishers are allowed to sell a product and make a profit off of it. So what can be done to allow the publishers to still make money and yet give students the lowest costs possible?
Comparison Sites
Technology seems to be the answer – and in many forms. First, there is the method that students are presently using to find good deals: the Internet. Thanks to HEOA, resourceful students have time to comparison shop for books online, something made easier by the number of textbook comparison Web sites now online. These sites let students type in a title, hit search, and instantly get a list of several Web sites selling the book along with the price and condition. (Bernard 5)
Downloadable Books
Another technology-based solution that even publishers like is making the textbooks available online for students to download. This eliminates paper, printing, and shipping costs for the publishers, who in turn make the electronic copies available at a lower price (Smith A5). Students can then read the books off of their laptops or eBook readers. PIRG’s extensive study on textbook costs found that 75 per cent of all students preferred printed copies of textbooks (Allen). But a mere 18 months after the study, reported that the number one requested gift among college students was an eBook reader, leading at least one analyst to decide that students are more than willing to adapt to new technology – especially one that could save them a lot of money (Smith A5).
Renting Books
When textbooks are not available digitally or in the case of new books that are not yet in the marketplace as used copies, students may still be able to get the books for much less by renting them. The two leading operators of campus bookstores – Barnes and Noble and Follett – have both tested programs to allow students to rent the books for on average 33 per cent less than if they bought them (Bruno 6D). Follett claims that just in the seven campus stores where they tested the rental of books, students saved “$2 million of the cost of new textbooks” (Bruno 6D) in only one year.
Recommended Solution
The solution to the problem of textbook prices is one that needs to be shared by publishers, booksellers, professors, and yes – even students. Different responsibilities need to be placed with each of those parties.
First, publishers need to make more books available electronically. By eliminating paper, printing, and shipping costs, electronic books cost less to produce and therefore cost the consumer less. One thing publishers are not currently doing – but should – offer individual chapters of textbooks for sale electronically, as well as the entire book. This way, professors can build courses that are more precise to what they want students to learn and students can only purchase what they need from those texts without violating any copyright laws (Allen 21).
Publishers also need to make a better effort at only updating books that truly require frequent updates. For example, books on science and technology fields are far more likely to require constant updating for new information, facts and findings than a book about English literature in the 19th century.
Booksellers need to continue to purchase and resell used books, both online and in physical campus stores. This is something they have been doing for years and clearly it is making money for them, or they wouldn’t be doing it. Follet and Barnes and Noble can also continue to rent textbooks to students.
Professors have a responsibility to their students to think when selecting textbooks for their courses. Publishers are now required to let professors know how much each book costs students, so please, keep that in mind. If two books are of equal content and one is less expensive – or available to students electronically – select the less expensive book. And barring any new developments in the subject matter, professors should use the same text for multiple semesters (“Deans”). This will allow students to sell the book back to the campus bookstore and allow in-coming students to buy the text used instead of new.
Students should also be resourceful and use online comparison tools to find a good deal. And students need to do their part to obey copyright laws when it comes to not photocopying chapters of books or illegally downloading textbooks without paying for them. Both actions will cause publishers to drive up the costs of textbooks in order to make up the money they lost in illegal downloads. Read More
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