Throughout life, there are certain times where one is guaranteed exposure to relative constants, such as the leaves falling during autumn, the playoffs showcasing Philadelphia teams not winning championships and election years supplying enough hot air to melt the polar icecaps. Going hand-in-hand with such popular mainstays are the astronomical prices of textbooks that accompany the start of every college term across the nation.
The big business profiteering of college textbook publishers is a brutal practice that still catches even me, a four-year veteran of college, by surprise. Here at Temple, it is suggested that every student budget $300 to $500 a semester for books, which appears to be the national standard from one coast to the next. Fundamentally, that’s $1,000 a year for paper and footnotes. Let’s ponder this for a second. For in-state students, that’s almost one-tenth of their tuition for the entire year. That’s akin to buying a car for $20,000 and having to spend $2,000 on an oil change.
However, over the past few years there have been challenges to the power that dictatorship book publishers have held over college campuses. These challenges have either knowingly or unknowingly affected the way publishers conduct their businesses. One of the biggest splashes to have disturbed the publishers’ serene lake of money has been the arrival of used-book outlets.
Ex-college students have always sold their books to friends and other people in their department, but now, thanks to the advent of technology, there is a much larger market for a more varied group of people. Via both independent bookstores and the Internet, private sellers have begun to feed their products through various outlets over a variety of mediums. Some of the most popular used-book sellers aren’t even individual students. Instead, they are entire stores that function as distributors. Other strategies have been separate course packets for students, the simple practice of sharing books and the growing popularity of textbook exchanges.
Publishers have taken none of this sitting down. Textbooks have now started to come bundled with supplementary packets and CD-ROMs.
Their official purpose is to meet the demands of the changing technological demographic, but most view this shift as a means of packaging and reselling used books more difficult. In addition, new editions of books are being released every three to four years when many teachers claim six years would suffice. Indeed, many “new” editions nowadays do nothing more than change a few vocabulary words and offer a few new examples at the end of chapters.
Unfortunately, the ball is in their court, not ours. Despite these cost-cutting strategies, the rate of price increases for textbooks has been double that of inflation, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office study released in August. We have a term for such ridiculousness here in America, one that became very popular around a century ago called “monopoly.”
Now, I recognize that this situation doesn’t fit into the traditional definition of a monopoly, but a general product whose price is increased at twice the rate of inflation is a product being wholly controlled by those who are making money off of it.
Of course, universities and politicians are doing little to help stem this financial epidemic. How many of you reading this article have been given $5 back for a $60 book that you used for three months? How many of you heard talks of making college affordable last year during election season but never heard a word about cracking down on rampant textbook prices?
A contentious Pennsylvania Senate race is developing for the 2006 midterm elections, and regardless of whether you are planning on voting Republican or Democrat, write to both the incumbent and the challenger asking that they make affordable college textbooks a part of their platform. At some point, there needs to be voices rising out of the woodworks asking for change, so why not now?
Noah N. Potvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.