Proposed law would cut book costs

by Courtney Blanchard

A proposed state law could make textbooks cheaper for University students.

The Higher Education Conference Committee adopted a proposal that would force publishers to disclose individual prices of items in bundles.

Biochemistry associate professor Paul Siliciano said foreign language and science classes often require bundles that include textbooks, workbooks and CDs.

“One of the best ways to bring down cost is to look at bundles and take out things that aren’t necessary,” he said.

Siliciano said that will also make it easier for students to sell used parts of the bundle and get more money back from the bookstore.

The law would require the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system to follow guidelines from the Minnesota Office of Higher Education to reduce textbook costs.

According to a report by OHE, those guidelines would require faculty to consider cost when requiring a book, meet deadlines with the campus bookstore, assign the same book for multiple sections of a course and put books on reserve at the library.

The University is only encouraged to follow the recommendations, but has already taken steps to reduce book costs, said Craig Swan, Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education.

Swan said the University has conducted its own research on how much books cost students and created task forces to explore ways for faculty to cut prices.

Political science professor Martin Sampson, who also serves as the faculty liaison to the Legislature, testified at the conference committee. He said that the chemistry department chose two similar books for an introductory course and challenged the publishers to bid against each other for the lowest price.

The result was a lower cost for students and a large contract for the publisher, he said.

Director of University Bookstores Bob Crabb said faculty and bookstore staff have a lot of negotiating power.

“Faculty can really make a difference,” he said.

He said the biggest accomplishment of the proposed law is raising awareness about textbook costs.

According to the College Board’s Annual Survey of Colleges, the average cost of books nationwide for the 2006-07 academic year was $935 per student.

By pressuring publishers and allowing faculty to have more information about prices, Crabb said the high cost of books might eventually decrease slightly.

He added that there is a drawback to such legislation, because it could be hard for smaller publishers to comply with strict regulations.

There are seven or eight large publishers that supply materials to University Bookstores, Crabb said, but also several hundred smaller publishers.

“There’s a risk that they’d stop doing business with the University,” he said.

For now, lawmakers will not mandate stricter measures like a textbook rental program or forced compliance with the OHE guidelines for the University.

Siliciano, the biochemistry professor, said it is not likely the new rules on publishers will affect the quality of texts at the University.

“I believe that quality will still be there,” he said. “The publishers may make less profit. But at the moment, the burden is on the student.”