Students burdened by overpriced textbooks may soon find relief through the help of new studies and websites that offer cheaper alternatives.
Merriah Fairchild, higher education advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group (CalPIRG), said CalPIRG plans to release a new study on Jan. 25. The study, in an effort to pressure publishing companies to reduce prices, will include the costs of 70 U.S. college textbooks and will highlight the discrepancy between domestic and international pricing, she said.
Justin Pabian, an A.S. representative and CalPIRG member, said last year’s study — entitled “Rip Off 101” — prompted the Thomson Learning publishing company to negotiate a deal with UCSB and UCLA by which students received a 20 percent price reduction on certain Calculus 3A books beginning in Fall 2004.
“[Publishing companies are] taking steps in the right direction, but I feel they could be taking bigger steps,” Pabian said.
Publishing companies, Pabian said, regularly release new editions of books that vary little from previous editions. Professors then assign students the new editions due to the unavailability of older editions. Bundling books with other reading material or CD-ROMS also causes prices to rise significantly, Fairchild said.
“Publishers are using gimmicks to raise the price of books,” Fairchild said. “Students need to shop around and find the best deal in order to keep their college costs in check.”
To help students shop around and find alternatives to high-priced bookstores, Fairchild said, CalPIRG launched the textbook website www.campusbookswap.com last year. The site allows students to individually buy and sell textbooks with other students from their university.
Lindsay Hopkins, second-year political science and economics major at UC Irvine and CALPIRG statewide coordinator of textbook campaigns, encourages using the website, but says students should explore all their options when buying textbooks.
“We just think that our system is better to use.” Hopkins said. “But we encourage people to use all the alternatives, as long as you can find your book and save yourself some money.”
Fairchild said CalPIRG is also urging professors to order their course textbooks early in order to give campus bookstores more time to buy used books and old editions. Professors can also keep the class syllabi from old edition books, she said.
Last October, Associated Student Congress adopted textbook costs as one of the three objectives they would actively pursue. Currently, A.S. is still in the planning stages to lower textbook costs. To accomplish this goal, the A.S. Congress expects to work with professors, administrators and CalPIRG, Pabian said.
Second-year business economics and Spanish major Melissa Brown said her roommate purchased three books at the Isla Vista Bookstore for a total of $300, and then found those same books at www.half.com for only $160.
“I would definitely recommend Half.com,” Brown said.
Griselda Acosta, a fourth-year sociology major, said she thinks ordering textbooks online is inconvenient.
“It’s so much easier to just go to the bookstores instead of trying to find your books online, and then making sure you get them on time,” Acosta said. “Returning them would be another hassle.”
Jose Torres, a fourth-year biochemistry major, said he uses other alternatives to avoid high book prices, such as the library reserve service and borrowing books from friends.
“I usually just ask around if anyone I know has the books I need. If not, then I’ll just go through the library,” Torres said. “Bookstore prices are just too expensive – they’re ridiculous,”