Textbook bribery

Textbook costs have risen steadily; some students will dish out $700 for them this semester. With the average textbook costing $73, more students are choosing not to buy them at all.

Rising textbook prices are somewhat surprising given all the new and used textbook sources. University students can compare prices between the University Bookstores, privately owned stores and online sellers. Despite the increased competition in book sales, new and used textbooks are getting more expensive. And this is not a case of booksellers making excessive profits. As of last year, University Bookstores was in the red and some online stores have shut down.

There are various causes of the higher costs. Textbook publishers include unnecessary CD-ROMs, textbook-specific Web sites, color pictures, hard covers and larger fonts that increase book size. Perhaps the most common cause for the large amount students spend on books is professors who require new editions, rendering older textbooks obsolete.

Bribing professors and giving kickbacks to departments is the latest trend publishing companies use to increase profits. For example, North West Publishing offers professors $4,000 if they choose textbooks from the company. A Pennsylvania State University economics department received $30,000 for contracting with Pearson Longman for a “customized” economics textbook.

Ways of reducing high textbook costs exist. Digital textbooks do not carry paper and ink costs. Sharing, photocopying and libraries are traditional alternatives students can use. The University of Wisconsin-La Crosse uses a book rental system, spreading the cost of a book among more students, and making new editions less lucrative.

The University should attempt to reduce textbook costs and resist the urge to increase revenue by contracting with a publisher, which just passes the cost to students. Instead, the University should encourage faculty and departments to refuse bribes from publishers and stop requiring students to buy new textbook editions when the older versions will do.