Sunday, January 13, 2008

Textbooks cost way too much.

Classes start tomorrow, and I bought books today to take advantage of a 10% discount at the campus book store. Purchasing the mandatory books cost $420, and I haven't bought any of the recommended supplementary books yet. Fortunately, my scholarship includes a book voucher for $500 per semester, but since the voucher is only good at the university-owned store, I can't shop around for the best prices.

Why should a single paperback text cost $140? I have serious problems with textbook publishers. Our understanding of some subjects, such as cell biology, is changing rapidly, and frequently releasing updated editions makes sense. A book on classical electrodynamics, on the other hand, should be good for many years. An introductory calculus book should be good for decades, if not centuries, once they find and correct the inevitable errors. By releasing new editions, they make used books worth very little and force students to shell out for a brand new book that may not have many changes.

I respect the importance of choosing a book with good pedagogy, but surely there are some cheaper books out there that would do the job. Is there a reason math professors never consider the textbooks available from Dover? Why do they force us to buy books with pricey bundled cd-roms we don't use? I've had one professor who told us we could search the old edition of our textbook on PubMed and thus really didn't need to buy a book at all, but most aren't so sympathetic.

At this point, shopping around helps a bit, especially if you stumble across an international edition. Try Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and ABE Books to see if they can beat the prices on campus. Also, try buying directly from former students; since the buyback prices offered by the bookstores at the end of the semester are often a joke, there might be plenty of students eager to sell. I'm lending my brother my old Diff. Eq. book and student solutions manual to save him the cost of buying his own. If your college library keeps books on reserve and you can get them when you need to study, that can be a good way to reduce your costs, but it isn't always an option. Sharing a book with a friend, especially a roommate, can be handy if you can work out a schedule so you aren't fighting over it the weekend before a major exam. Project Gutenberg can sometimes give you access to books you need to read for literature classes. I wouldn't recommend forgoing a required text in an attempt to save money even though I know people who've done so. Doing the required reading makes lectures much more comprehensible and keeps you actively engaged in the course.

8 comments:

SJean said...

I'm totally with you. The textbook industry is such a scam. Some "new editions" they really only change the problem sets. Nice.

I've had a few profs that said no book was necessary, but it isn't common.

Abebooks.com usually has international editions. Sometimes cheaper than amazon, not always...

SadOatcakes said...

So true! If you're on facebook, I'd also recommend using the marketplace to purchase used texts directly from other students. I've both bought and sold that way.

My city has three universities, and someone's set up a website for direct buy/sell between students from all of them (http://www.tusbe.com/). It might be worth some googling to see if there's something similar where you are.

Jessica said...

Have u try the online bookstore
http://www.cocomartini.com/

I get all my textbooks for this semester from this bookstore. All are brand new and 60%off discount from normal price. See if any help.

hehe ^_^

Jim ~ mydebtblog.com said...

Maybe I am missing something here, but why are you complaining about the cost of books when you get a voucher to cover them? When I was in college I made a nifty Excel spreadsheet with the book ISBN numbers and all the sites I could buy it at. I also assessed whether or not I needed the book for the class, because I didn't want to take on the expense. Buying used books also helps reduce cost too. Hang on to that scholarship, I never got a book voucher with mine but it did cover my tuition cost so that helped a lot.

E.C. said...

Jim-
It isn't so much the impact on my finances that bothers me as the principle of the thing. There ought to be a lower cost way of getting the information we need from these books; the textbook industry is a racket. I buy used whenever I can, but they churn out new editions so often that that isn't always possible. There have also been semesters when I've had to pay costs over the $500 I'm given. Any parents of high school seniors take note: you might need to factor $1,000 a year for books into your projected college costs.

Jim ~ mydebtblog.com said...

The college book market is probably a racket in the grand scheme of things. The professors always pick brand new editions of books with new content because they need to create new exams, homework and quizs to help reduce the possibility of cheating. If you have any advanced books like calculus or physics they have multiple authors, which always increases the cost of the book. I can't remember how many books I spent over $100 on that I couldn't even sell back since a new version was going to be used the next semester. Usually I would average $300 in books and selling them back would only get me about $30-50 to go out to the bar with at the end of the semester since I was usually broke by then anyway.

English Major said...

I work in college publishing, and while I take issue with a lot of the stuff that drives up the cost of textbooks (particularly ancillary bundling), it's the professors who demand these perks. Most textbooks come with a hefty set of ancillaries you never see--a test bank (i.e. prefab test questions), a set of PowerPoint slides, instructor's editions, etc. We do them because if we don't, your professors will choose our competitors' books, the ones with all the bells and whistles.

Andywhere said...

Thanks Jessica, finally, I get 1 textbooks from the COCOMARTINI online bookstore and save me $100

hehe ^_^