Court rules SUNY must share textbook lists with competitors

Latasha Webb

Students at the State University of New York-Albany might get a break on book prices soon.

The New York Court of Appeals ruled last week the university must share its textbook lists with competing bookstores.

The ruling came after Mary Jane Books, a discount bookstore near the campus, spent three years trying to persuade professors to give them lists of required reading.

Albert “Andy” Andrews, a Carlson School of Management professor, said the New York court’s decision does not affect the University directly, but it could set a precedent in a case with similar facts.

In the New York case, the court ruled unanimously that if professors keep written lists, they must allow students an alternative by sharing the lists with competing stores.

Robert Crabb, director of University bookstores, said the University does share textbook lists with anyone who wants them.

“We give them to the student bookstore across the street and on the Internet,” he said.

Crabb said University bookstores do not sell high-priced textbooks or try to monopolize selling in order to turn a profit.

The University price policies are similar to most large institutions in the United States, he said.

“There’s a 25 percent margin. If a textbook is sold for $100, the publisher gets $75 and we get $25,” he said. “That’s pretty much what you need to cover costs and break even.”

Crabb said that is why college bookstores so often resort to selling clothing, gift items and memorabilia.

“The margins on textbooks alone are just not enough to profit,” he said.

Crabb said college bookstores get blamed for exorbitant textbook expenses, but they don’t determine the prices.

“The pricing is dictated by the publishers. The prices over the last 10 years have gone up a little over inflation. But the quality of the product is better,” he said.

He also said professors and students should beware of publishing companies that package books with other materials, such as discs used once or small items that get lost during the semester.

“That’s how publishers get around the used-book business. They get 100 percent share of the market as students buy only the brand new books,” he said. “I think they’ve gotten a little greedy in that respect.”

And though some schools force professors to use the same book for at least two years and restrict the number of books a professor can order for one class, the rules often backfire.

“Any major university that did that would come under fire from faculty for limiting their academic freedom,” he said. “Faculty have traditionally considered academic freedom as very important.”

Latasha Webb welcomes comments at [email protected]