Textbooks for a dollar a page

By on January 15, 2013

By Genevieve Mills–

It’s that time of year again. A new semester of classes has started and it’s time to do something you probably should’ve done over winter break: buy your textbooks. Hopefully you’ve set aside at least $200 for this, because that’s about how much textbooks could cost you for four or five classes. That’s assuming you’re smart about buying books, going to used bookstores or checking out bargain websites to find textbooks for much cheaper than they’re sold at Gray’s College Bookstore or the SAC bookstore. If for some reason you’re buying brand new books from the stores on campus that, theoretically, should be the easiest, most convenient way to get your books, you might end up paying a lot more than $200.

I’m sure I’m not alone in finding this utterly ridiculous. And this is coming from an English major who has never had to buy one of those expensive calculus books. But yesterday when I shelled out $50 for a new paperback textbook because I had to have it for homework due the next morning and neither Gray’s nor the SAC bookstore had it used. It felt like my wallet was crying.

The problem is that we simply have to buy these textbooks. It’s buy the textbook or fail the class. There are a few classes you can get away with just paying attention in the lecture to get a good grade, but most of the time homework is assigned from the book and if you’re one of those people who actually do homework you’re going to need a book to do it.

Sometimes the blame lies with the professor who doesn’t even glance at the cost of a book before assigning it. The textbook market has been compared to that of prescription drugs, meaning that the professors who choose the books, or the doctors who prescribe the drugs, aren’t the people who have to pay for them. Professors will assign the new, revised edition of a book without considering that it’s 20 dollars more than the three-year-old book that is almost the same but for the chapter titles.

However, some professors are conscious of the price of books and do try to help their students out. On the last day of my French class last semester, the professor asked us what we thought of the assigned textbooks, if they were helpful, and if she should continue to assign them. She apologized about the price of one of them. “It was one of the cheapest ones I could find for the material I wanted to cover,” she said. So if it’s not the professors’ fault, whose is it?

The wholesale prices charged by textbook publishers have jumped 62 percent since 1994, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Producer Price Index. I think I can say the high price of textbooks is due to the publishers. According to the National Association of College Stores, 64.3 percent of the cost of a textbook is due to the publisher.

What’s the solution to this outrageous problem of spending hundreds on books? I wish I knew. Yes, there are e-books, but some professors don’t allow laptops in class, and expect you to use the textbook to help with in-class discussion. You can try buying it used from Amazon, but that means you better plan ahead because shipping can take weeks. If you’re lucky you can buy books from friends. You can try renting them, but that’s often almost as expensive as just buying them.

I don’t know what the solution to the cost of books is, but there has to be one out there. And the only way to find it is through actively searching for it, not just groaning while handing your card to the cashier. Professors and students are going to have to work together to solve this problem, because otherwise textbooks are just going to continue to increase in price while the size of our bank accounts decrease.

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Photo: Flickr/rob.wall

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