Sometimes it produces a shrug, at others a bemused chuckle. âÄúWhere do these [expletive] get off?âÄù was my thought as I handed over my credit card to pay $76 for a used, 10-year-old book. ItâÄôs a perennial question in the collegiate consciousness: How can these books cost so much? It all begins with the publishers, an oligopolistic industry in which five publishers (Thomson, McGraw-Hill, Wiley, Houghton-Mifflin and Pearson) dominate the market and account for about 80 percent of all college textbooks published. The publisher sets the net price, or the price that they charge the bookstores, determined by the cost of author advances, the development of content for the textbook and supplements, copyrights and permissions for illustrations and photographs, along with the cost of typesetting and printing enough copies to provide sample copies and cover expected sales. Bookstores have roughly a 23 percent markup beyond the net price. This formula equates to exactlyâÄ¦ way too much. The Government Accountability Office has revealed that the cost of textbooks has tripled over the past two decades (or 186 percent increase between 1986 and 2005), with prices rising at twice the normal rate of inflation. What say the publishers about these skyrocketing rates? Mostly they justify their inflated inflation rate by citing additional cost in producing technological supplements, such as CD-ROMâÄôs and corresponding websites. Publishers claim these supplements are offered and bundled into the price due to faculty demand. Really? Two-thirds (65 percent) of the faculty surveyed in a 2004 report said that they used supplemental items âÄúrarelyâÄù or âÄúnever.âÄù Another exploitive practice of these publishers: an accelerated revision rate. YouâÄôll notice this when you attempt to resell your textbook and the bookstore informs you that a new edition is forthcoming, thus the book in-hand is now worthless. Publishers know that the window of profitability for textbooks is short, and as editions recycle into the used market, profits decrease sharply. Publishers estimated that second-year editions would sell 25 percent to 70 percent less after initial release and sales decrease further in each subsequent year. Their solution: produce new superfluous editions every few years. New editions often amount to nothing more than a few cosmetic changes, along with some generic ancillary information boxes. A recent survey revealed that three-fourths (76 percent) of the faculty surveyed found new editions justified only âÄúhalf the timeâÄù or less. By their own admission, publishers actively gouge prices on the American student consumer. On average, U.S. students pay 72 percent more for their textbooks than their counterparts in the U.K., Africa and the Middle East. How can publishers get away with all this? ItâÄôs simple: they hold a captive consumer base. The market is driven by supply rather than demand. Faculty selects textbooks from publishers, bookstores order them and students must pay. The end consumer has no direct influence over the price, format or quality of the product. I know weâÄôre all aching to point our collective finger at the provocateurs of our pocketbooks âÄ¦ to prosecute the ones who steal our beer and pizza money. But simply placing blame will get us nowhere my friends. We must stand up as consumers and reject this perpetual shellacking we receive from the textbook industry. Seek used books, buy old editions, check out copies from the library; anything to show the publishers that we the consumer dictate price in the free market. Remember, your textbook isnâÄôt worth $154 unless you are willing to pay that much for it.