Are textbooks made of gold?

There is something troubling about the textbook industry today. I can’t be the first who ever asked why those “required” textbooks students are forced to buy each semester are so doggone expensive. So expensive that according to the online education database website, the average textbook goes for around $175. Another stunning statistic from the same source, also cites a whopping “812 percent increase in college textbook prices since 1978.”

Many people I talked to about these two facts believe there are many reasons for this, but to me there is really only one reason this has happened — to get as much money from students as publishers can legally get away with.

If you observe the current textbook market, you will clearly see it is essentially a monopoly that lacks any sort of competition among its vendors. In a normal supply-and-demand market, book publishers would compete against each other for the students’ money. In this current “sellers market” however, publishers are able to charge whatever they wish without any fear of competition. Many students are caught in the middle and are forced to cough up the money since most professors require textbooks in their courses.

It seems evident that the publishers’ principle goal is to make as much money as possible, which is fine by me. I have no problem with capitalism; I am used to it and can bear it — as long as I am not forced into buying what they are selling. Unfortunately in this case I am, and that is just wrong.

What shows even greater levels of greed by these publishers is the constant reprinting of second, third, fourth, and so on editions, sometimes annually, that lower the shelf life and value of the previous versions. Through these re-printings the price of the book will increase an average of 12 percent. Even the “custom” textbooks tailored to individual schools are favored toward the publishers financially, as the books are useless outside of your school and rarely able to be sold as used books. I understand education costs money, but students shouldn’t be getting taken advantage of so blatantly.

Even when I had thought “stick it to the man” by getting a used textbook off Ebay for $100 instead of paying the full $220, the publishers still found other routes into my pockets. I assumed I was ready to go that first day of class, I had everything I needed. I had everything until I found out the course required not only the textbook but also the access code to get on the textbook publisher’s site. “No big deal” I thought… it shouldn’t cost that much right? Wrong! It was $120 for the code. I thought I could bypass the system. I was wrong.

Even more depressing about the is that universities and schools are essentially bribed by publishers by way of donations of funds or computers, lab grants and the like. These “donations” usually entail the university or school making the texts from the donating publisher required. This just means the schools are knowingly or unknowingly accomplices to this daylight robbery.

Many students have skipped buying a textbook altogether, trading a blow to our wallets in exchange for a blow to our grade in a course. I have found myself on more than one occasion debating whether to pay a bill and have money left over, or to buy a textbook and be broke.

I’m not saying we should have free books. What I am saying is the current textbook market must be reevaluated because it may be working for publishers but it’s seriously not working for students. With all the roadblocks people face in bettering themselves through education, the price of books should not be a final nail in the coffin of a prospective student.

Hopefully more students will begin to recognize the sham going on with the textbook industry and attempt to make changes instead of just doing their four years and letting the next generation of learners deal with the problem.