Thursday, August 28, 2014

The college textbook racket

You probably know this: college tuition and textbook prices have been climbing faster than inflation for decades.

Students are finding ways to minimize textbook costs: renting textbooks, buying digital versions, buying used books, buying new/used books anywhere but their college bookstores, selling their used books when the course ends.

Here’s a couple factoids maybe you don’t know right off hand, from

“The National Association of College Stores said 78 cents of every dollar spent on new textbooks goes to publishers,” NOT to your alma mater’s book store operation (which nevertheless is almost certainly a profit center for the college).

Publishers claim it costs $750,000 to develop a new textbook, complete with all the bells and whistles: instructor manual, sample tests with answers, and online support for teachers and students. In my experience, a lot of textbook packages could be a lot simpler, and therefore, cheaper.

“Publishers used to spread out the cost of a new edition over five years before publishing the next edition and starting the cycle over. Since the publishing industry began consolidating in the 1980s — five major publishers now control 80 percent of the market — competition has become keener, and the window before a new edition has narrowed from five years to three. That means higher prices so that publishers can recoup the costs and make a profit.” In my experience, the typical “new edition” is only superficially different from the former edition, in other words, it’s largely a rip-off.

And here’s a little kicker: a lot of students don’t read the assignment material in the textbook. Ask any college student or teacher you may know.

Any part of this story make sense to you?

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