MSA works to keep textbook prices down

Amber Kispert

According to Minnesota Student Association data, students will pay an average of $898 for textbooks this year, putting a significant dent in their wallets.

To help keep prices down, MSA passed a resolution at its meeting Tuesday, supporting the campuswide implementation of several cost-reducing practices recommended by the Textbook Cost Containment Review Committee.

In all, there are nine practices the committee has established, which will help in reducing textbook costs for students.

MSA President Emma Olson said she realizes it is going to be difficult to implement these practices campuswide.

“A lot of (the practices) can’t be used for all classes, but we’re working to use them for some of them,” she said.

One of the practices the committee established is for faculty to refrain from using new editions if the older editions will do.

Bob Crabb, director of the University Bookstore, said the store currently has most of the practices in effect, but several of them could be difficult to implement.

“It’s almost impossible for faculty not to use new editions, because the publishers typically don’t have any of the older editions available, once they come out with a new edition,” he said. “Then you are dependent on used books, and used book supply typically isn’t sufficient to meet demand.”

Paul Siliciano, director of undergraduate studies at the College of Biological Sciences, said he was in favor of using old editions rather than new ones.

“If we say no to some of the fanciest and newest material, we might be able to get books that are almost as good, but are substantially cheaper,” he said.

The bookstore also negotiates with publishers about reducing textbook costs for students. This is easier said than done though, Crabb said.

“They’re all difficult,” Crabb said. “They don’t want to reduce the price, unless they feel they have to.”

Chemistry professor Gary Gray found a way for publishers to reduce their prices by making them compete against each other. The University Department of Chemistry agreed upon two different books that were satisfactory to use and brought these to the publishers to compete over.

“They are willing to stab each other in the back if you give them a chance, and I gave them a chance,” Gray said.

Something that the bookstore is trying to do is increase awareness by faculty of textbook costs’ burden on students.

“We hear that faculty isn’t always aware of what the course material is costing students,” Crabb said. “Faculty this year particularly are much more aware of what the books are costing and are finding ways of reducing those costs.”

Gray said faculty never used to take textbook costs into consideration when choosing course materials.

Placing some books on reserve in the University libraries and refraining from using course packets and textbook bundles are some of the other practices the committee established.

“Bundling might sound good, but can actually drive cost up,” Siliciano said.

In the coming weeks, Olson said she will meet with the council of undergraduate deans to get their support of the proposed practices.

“There’s a lot of people who are interested in this subject,” Olson said. “Gary is a great advocate for students and really knows a lot about this issue.”

Within the next two weeks, MSA will have a link on their Web site to the textbook practices. Also within the next two weeks, MSA will go live with a site which allows students to compare textbook prices.