Textbook publishers are calling a recent report that accuses them of artificially inflating the price of books “totally one-sided and fatally flawed.”
The California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG) released a report last month entitled “Rip-off 101: How the Current Practices of the Publishing Industry Drive up the Cost of College Textbooks.” The report studied the increasing cost of textbooks throughout the UC system and concluded that UC students – UCSB students in particular – are paying too much for books. UC students will spend an average of $898 this year on textbooks, compared to $642 in the 1996-97 school year – an average increase of 5.7 percent per year, the report said.
In a Feb. 3 letter to CalPIRG, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of American Publishers Inc. Patricia Schroeder said the report exaggerated in its claims about the rising cost of textbooks, making the situation sound worse than it really is.
“Student spending on new and used course materials has risen between 3 and 4 percent annually over the years – a far cry from the double-digit inflationary spiral the CalPIRG report would have us believe,” Schroeder said in the letter.
Publishing companies were never contacted about the study, Schroeder said in the letter.
The report said publishers often increase the prices of books by bundling them with additional materials such as CD-ROMS and workbooks, and that publishers also pull used books off the shelf and replace them with new, more expensive editions that hardly differ from previous editions. Sixty-five percent of faculty members surveyed in the report said they “rarely” or “never” use the materials bundled with the books.
Judy Platt, director of communications and public affairs for Thomson Learning, said the report was incorrect on the issue of bundled materials and that most teachers do use the included supplements.
“We are concerned very much about student concerns for the cost of higher education. We believe this is a crisis in higher education,” Platt said. “There is also the question of bundling, which is something the majority of faculty say they want. Bundling is a part of how courses are taught these days. It seems to be a creative solution to higher education because students can now study online.”
Mary Lepionka of Atlantic Path Publishing said that while she agreed with the report’s conclusion that students are paying too much for textbooks, blaming publishers for the cost is not helping the situation.
“Students have a valid criticism that the prices of textbooks are too high. However, the desire to put the blame on publishers is wrong,” Lepionka said. “It can not be pinned on college publishers as an evil empire. College book stores always mark up the prices.”
Platt said she thought it would be more productive if CalPIRG tried to work with publishers to find ways to lower the price of textbooks rather than attacking publishers as they did in the report.
“CalPIRG needs to be willing to work with us and hear our side,” Platt said. “We believe people producing textbooks are part of the solution and not the problem.”