<< Front page News April 9, 2004

How to cut textbook costs

Used textbooks: Cheaper books are hard to find without help from faculty.

Why is it that used books seem so scarce at the beginning of each semester as students face textbook bills resembling the cost of a cheap car? Estimations are that an average student spent $900 on college textbooks this year.

The cost of new textbooks, and the scarcity of used ones are problems both students and booksellers face. Lately, public interest in the problem of textbooks has escalated and student organizations, campus bookstores, college faculty, the media and the government are all beginning to look for solutions.

Ohio PIRG, a public interest group which operates at Oberlin, recently issued a report titled “Ripoff 101: How the Current Practices of the Publishing Industry Drive up the Cost of College Textbooks.” This report focused on textbook publishing companies. According to the report, many companies use tactics to make used textbooks obsolete and drive up the price of the new ones.

They print new editions of texts where little usually changes except the order of the books’ content, on an average of every two to three years. In addition, the companies “package” books with CDs which can only be used by one owner. This necessitates buying new books and allows the companies to charge for a CD as well.

The report noted that students in the United States are often charged twice as much as students in other countries are for the same textbook. Ohio PIRG participated in a national PIRG effort to get Thomson Learning, one of the largest textbook sellers in the country, to address its practices. The campaign got over 480 professors from 100 major universities to support the requests that student advocates put forward to Thomson Learning. Ohio PIRG Board Chair Dena Iverson said that faculty generally agree that new editions are seldom justified.

Oberlin Bookstore has recently addressed the cost of textbooks as well. Scott O’Grady, textbook manager for the store, said that he wanted to foster good communication between students and the bookstore about textbooks. In a letter to the Oberlin Review, O’Grady iterated that used