As students say goodbye to summer and hello to the beginning of a new school year this fall, rising textbook prices mean that they will also have to bid farewell to any money remaining in their checking accounts.
A report issued by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) this past August stated that college textbook prices in the United States are rising at twice the rate of inflation, an average increase of 6 percent per year. GAO reports that textbook prices, which are a substantial part of a student’s budget, nearly tripled from December 1986 to December 2004, while tuition and other student fees increased by 240 percent.
“The prices are pretty ridiculous,” said Kyle Stewart, a first-year electrical engineering major. “I borrow other people’s textbooks so I don’t have to buy my own.”
In a related study, the California State Public Interests Research Group (CalPIRG) recently claimed that publishers inflate the price of textbooks in various ways, such as bundling or shrink-wrapping additional instructional materials that include CD-ROMs and workbooks.
As stated in the report, CalPIRG is currently trying to persuade publishers to “produce and price textbooks as inexpensive as possible without sacrificing a textbook’s value.” Some of the solutions to lowering textbook prices suggested by the report include producing new editions “only when educationally necessary,” offering faculty and students “the option to purchase textbooks unbundled,” and providing faculty with “more information on the company’s textbook materials, prices, intended length of time on the market and substantive content differences from previous editions.”
However, according to an Association of American Publishers fact sheet, publishers already offer a broad range of textbooks and instructional materials at various prices, both bundled and unbundled. These options include one- or two-color editions, loose-leaf editions, split editions, black-and-white editions, custom books, abbreviated editions, electronic books, abbreviated editions and electronic books.
Additionally, the fact sheet stated the costs of producing a textbook series, which can total more than $1 million, increase and fluctuate and therefore cause a higher price than students would expect. Some of the costs include the salaries of authors, editors, reviewers and designers.
Despite the existence of cheaper textbooks, a CalPIRG survey of 10 colleges throughout the U.S. found that students pay $900 on average for books per year. However, the CalPIRG’s estimate for UCSB is significantly higher.
“On average, UCSB students spend nearly $980 per year on textbooks alone – the highest average of the all the UC campuses,” said Justin Pabian, a CalPIRG representative and third-year political science and German major.
The CalPIRG report stated that textbook publishers charge American students more than overseas students for the same textbooks. For example, the report said the average textbook costs 20 percent less in the United Kingdom that it does in the U.S.
“They’re ridiculously expensive here,” said Fiona Thornton, an English student currently studying anthropology at UCSB. “In England, the most you would pay for a textbook would be 30 pounds, which is equivalent to about $60. And that’s for a brick-sized book.”
GAO’s latest report stated that U.S. college textbook prices may exceed prices in other countries because of differing market conditions, such as the willingness and ability of students to purchase the textbook.
Until publishers decrease their prices or professors choose cheaper books, students can still find alternatives, such as used books at the bookstore or at online sources. Some websites include Campusi.com, Screwthebookstores.com, Monstertrade.com, Half.com and Abebooks.com.