I read with interest Adam Wenger’s piece on outrageous textbook prices (“A Bookstore Swindle?” Daily Nexus, Jan. 13, 2009). Expensive textbooks have received considerable attention recently, with many groups pursuing alternative, more affordable models.
For representative efforts, including
those on electronic texts, see the New York Times editorial of April 25,
We really have two problems here: long-term strategies to bring about reasonable textbook prices nationally, and short-term efforts to deal with prices charged by our campus bookstore. It is the second, more immediate problem that I address here.
For the past few years, I have tracked the UCSB Bookstore prices on textbooks for my own courses. I observed that the new-book price at the Bookstore has been the same as the publisher’s list price. Few other bookstores, online or otherwise, charge the full list price. College bookstores, which get more favorable prices from the publishers, often charge much less.
Based on the data collected, I have begun encouraging my students to buy their books online, where they can typically get a 10 to 30 percent discount on new books and up to 80 percent on used books. The UCSB Bookstore typically charges only 25 percent less for used books, even though it gets these books at bargain prices from students and other sources.
I understand that the campus bookstore is a self-sustaining enterprise and must therefore make a profit. My suggestion is that a reasonable profit margin be built into the prices of T-shirts, jackets and other nonessential items and that textbooks be sold at cost.
If the UCSB Bookstore does not revise its textbook pricing policies, I propose that all instructors spend some time to locate online sources for their textbooks and include in their course Web sites addresses of bookstores that carry the correct textbook/edition as a service to students.