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Education The Almighty Buck

Ripoff 101: Gouging Students for Textbooks 880

Brad Lucier writes "The San Jose Mercury News covers a report by the California Student Public Interest Research Group entitled "Ripoff 101" about the high, and increasing, cost of university textbooks. The story notes several practices that force students to buy new books instead of used and quotes yours truly about how universities are insulated from the costs of books. Is electronic textbook publishing the way to go?"
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Ripoff 101: Gouging Students for Textbooks

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  • Unfortunately (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Flwyd ( 607088 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:55PM (#8140130) Homepage
    For a $100 textbook, students sometimes pay $5 per page they read during the semester.
    • Re:Unfortunately (Score:4, Insightful)

      by sadomikeyism ( 677964 ) <> on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:59PM (#8140178) Homepage Journal
      Considering the scam that PIRG groups commit in conning students into unwittingly funding their groups with a cryptic line item on their tuition bills, perhaps the PIRGs can make a contribution to affordable education by ending this practice.

    • re: unfortunately (Score:3, Interesting)

      by ed.han ( 444783 )
      excellent point. of course, i suppose one could view this as a real-world illustration of ROI...diligent students get higher ROI WRT textbooks.

    • Re:Unfortunately (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Cosmic_Hippo ( 739370 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:03PM (#8140231)
      Think $100 is bad, I had to spend over $300 for a set of books for my signals & systems class. The books were mostly useless because the professor handed out her own homework assignments rather than take them from the books. Turns out I couldn't even sell them back at the end of the term because they were going to a "new edition" which consisted of a few new figures and maybe two new pages of info.
      Needless to say, the class had one hell of a bonfire to commemorate that piece of shit.
      • Re:Unfortunately (Score:5, Informative)

        by afidel ( 530433 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:42PM (#8140625)
        God you people all act like the Internet doesn't exist! Unless the textbook is written by your professor and not used anywhere else you should be able to find an online retailer like [] or cheapest textbooks [] or any of a dozen or more other sites that buy and sell textbooks that will give you money for your old books.
        • Re:Unfortunately (Score:3, Informative)

          by tomstdenis ( 446163 )
          This isn't always the case. In fact my software eng. class used a book that specifically was hard to find [e.g. not available on amazon, etc]. It was listed as 80$ [out of stock] on all the sites we found....

          Our school sold the book for 140$...

          And like many posters.... we read maybe 10 pages of the book [that is... details required for our analysis project].

        • Yep. This semester I bought all my books ($350 retail) for about $100 through used on Amazon. Zero complaints.
        • Re:Unfortunately (Score:5, Informative)

          by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Saturday January 31, 2004 @02:48AM (#8142530) Journal
          My personal favorite is [], which searches several bookstores for a particular book and gives you back the lowest prices (including shipping). Incredibly handy.
          • Re:Unfortunately (Score:3, Informative)

            by cloudmaster ( 10662 )
            Sounds like the service I used all through school (which saved me around $70/semester, which I immediately blew on several cases of Mt. Dew): [] - they also have links to the current "new user" codes at, etc. I think I've used probably used 20 new throwaway addresses at :)
        • Re:Unfortunately (Score:3, Interesting)

          by EvanED ( 569694 )
          I personally love the stuff like the packet of a new speech communication book and a subscription to an online website used for submitting homework. Only available new. Can't buy the subscription separately. Can't sell the book back even online as it's custom to Penn State; there are added chapters and a PSU specific cover. Oh, and to add insult to injury, the functionality they used on the website was a subset of that which the university's own course management website will do. So the subscription isn't r
    • by IntelliTubbie ( 29947 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:31PM (#8140510)
      For a $100 textbook, students sometimes pay $5 per page they read during the semester.

      I tried calculating how much I paid last semester per actual page read, but I got a divide-by-zero error.

    • The Right to Read (Score:5, Informative)

      by Xebikr ( 591462 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:43PM (#8140639)
      This would probably be a good point to provide a link to Richard Stallman's [] short story The Right to Read []. Originally written in 1997, it's scarey how close it's getting to reality. If you haven't read it, please do so.
  • Montreal Concordia. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by conner_bw ( 120497 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:55PM (#8140133) Journal
    In montreal at Concordia (when i went there) there's a known secret photocopy place that sells you CompSci books for much cheaper...

    Can others attest to the same discounts?
    • by stevezero ( 620090 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:57PM (#8140146)
      Yeah, it's that Chinese-owned place across Bishop Street, right next to the coffee house. They have no idea what copyright is. If you're going to give an idea, follow through, share the information. sheesh
      • by Oopsz ( 127422 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:58PM (#8140161) Homepage
        They get fined every year for copyright violation, generally 10-15 grand. There was a huge sting last semester. They don't care, they can make it back in a few months.

        There's another place off parc and sherbrooke that's well known by mcgill students. Ah, piracy...
      • (Note for stevezero: Since you didn't take a pro/con position, I'm not really directing this rant at you or your opinion - just ranting on your implication of copyright in general)

        Laws, copyright or otherwise, only go as far as people are willing to let them. If the shit stinks, it stinks. If it's still legal, then it's legally stinky shit, but it's still shit.

        I see no problems with circumventing stinky shit, no matter why it stinks. The textbook scam is well known. It's a huge conjob perpetuated by eve

  • Good old CalPIRG (Score:5, Informative)

    by koreth ( 409849 ) * on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:57PM (#8140148)
    Guess it takes one to know one. When I was an undergrad at UC Santa Cruz, CalPIRG was best known (at least in my social circle) for the fact that a "voluntary" donation to them was helpfully included as part of our tuition fees. To avoid giving money to them, one had to take the time to fill out an exemption form and turn it in to the university.

    That always really annoyed me. I mean, I agreed with a lot of what they did, but the idea of the university acting as the bill collector for a lobbying group, and doing it in such a way that most students ended up giving money to these guys without knowing the first thing about them, always struck me as somewhere between rude and corrupt.

    And now they're blowing the whistle on unnecessary costs for university students! Pot, kettle, black.

  • by LostCluster ( 625375 ) * on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:57PM (#8140153)
    It's a monopoly racket, it always has been and it's going to take something dramatic to break it up.

    - Book publishers and authors don't want there to be used textbook competition, they only get paid when a new copy is sold. Therefore, they'll gladly do anything in their power to force a new edition, even if it's simply changing a few image sizes so the page numbers change in a ripple effect with no meaningful content change.

    - Professors don't care. In fact in some cases they are paid to select the more expensive of two options by bookstores who offer them a kickback based on a percentage of the sales. (Just face it, what's standing in the way of a professor including an affiliate URL on the course's website, knowing that at least a few students will by the required book that way?) And, often the professor is the author of the book, so every student in their course equals a textbook royalty coming their way.

    - Universities often either own the bookstore, or at least own the building that the bookstore operation is renting. Therefore, anything that's good for the bookstore is good for the university.

    Unless students vote with their feet by boycotting classes that require overpriced textbooks, and threatening to switch schools or majors if a required course requires the overpriced textbook, there's never going to be any change. So long as new books are required every year, and the publishers can keep it that way, the market for used textbooks will dry up.
    • "Unless students vote with their feet by boycotting classes that require overpriced textbooks, and threatening to switch schools or majors if a required course requires the overpriced textbook, there's never going to be any change."

      That's ridiculous. We're not talking about CDs here - you'd be boycotting your way straight to a lower-paying job. You can't boycott a required class, and there are always people who will want to take optional classes (if there weren't, they wouldn't be offered). Switching majo
    • I know on a lot of campuses that the bookstore, cafeteria and other "money making" ventures are usually run by the same people, or overall department/manager. And every campus I've talked with employees, they all fee that
      a) food costs way too damn much (our cafeteria had the Hershey's Chugs for $2.00, where I saw them at the supermarket that morning for $0.98)
      b) they rip the students off with the books and buybacks.

      I don't know about faculty, they don't seem to live in anything close to the real world
      • by Westech ( 710854 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:25PM (#8140447) Journal
        I agree 100% that Universities are gouging students to make a buck. At the university I graduated from (a medium sized state school) The University owned bookstore charges astronomical prices and always seems to run out all too quickly of the multitude of used books they bought back the previous semester for 10% of the price they resell them for. When an off-campus bookstore opened to provide some competition what did the University do? They moved back the date that financial aid checks were distributed. You could charge your books at the Uni bookstore and have the amount taken out of your change check when you finally got it. So, if you're an average student and dependent of financial aid to buy your books your choices are: 1. Buy the overpriced books at the Uni bookstore or 2. wait for you financial aid and get your books 5-6 weeks after classes start. Guess which one most students choose. The off campus bookstore was out of business within a year. This also effectively rules out buying books online for most students. What a racket!
    • by Cosmic_Hippo ( 739370 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:18PM (#8140378)
      You could always create your own used textbook market. Most bookstores that buy used books give next to nothing for them. I always kept my old books until the next year and sold them to the next group of students. I always got more than the bookstore offered to buy them back and the buyer got their books much cheaper than if they bought them new or even used. Plus it cuts the middleman out of the equation.
    • by James Lewis ( 641198 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:37PM (#8140580)
      "Professors don't care. In fact in some cases they are paid to select the more expensive of two options by bookstores who offer them a kickback based on a percentage of the sales. (Just face it, what's standing in the way of a professor including an affiliate URL on the course's website, knowing that at least a few students will by the required book that way?) And, often the professor is the author of the book, so every student in their course equals a textbook royalty coming their way."

      I think you are way off here. Maybe my college is different than yours, but in all the classes I have taken at Ga Tech I have yet to have a course where the professor chose a book that they wrote. There was one exception, but that teacher offered his book online for free. I hear professors complain about the high price of books, because most of them don't like to see students gouged anymore than we do. The problem is that there are never enough used books from the last semester to completely forfill the needs of the students of the next, and the professors can't recommend an old version because if a new one is out, the publishers don't make the old one anymore. In my experience, professors care, but it is the publishers who have all the power in the book business, and the only real way a professor can change that is by writing a book for his/her course for free. That takes a lot of time and effort, and few professors have the time for that.

      "- Universities often either own the bookstore, or at least own the building that the bookstore operation is renting. Therefore, anything that's good for the bookstore is good for the university."

      What's good for the bookstore is the margin they make on textbooks. If the publishers are driving the prices up super high, the margin a bookstore is going to make on a book will be less, because people won't be willing to pay hardly anymore than "wholesale" price. At Ga Tech we have two bookstores. One is owned independently, one by the university (and recently taken over by Barnes and Nobles). The independent one is a few bucks cheaper on average, but the books are still outrageously expensive. Competition tends to drive prices down, and there are other sources like Amazon. But the prices aren't falling, and that's because the price the publishers are selling the books for are artificially high, and there isn't anything the book sellers can do about it. I'm sure they would prefer to have lower priced books as well, so they could make more than a few bucks off of each book they sell.

      I am 100% sure that the reason for the high prices of text books is purely the greed of the textbook publishing cartel. Their practices have ironically come to huant them in some areas. If you had read this [] article a while back, you would have learned about it being cheaper to buy textbooks published by American publishers... overseas. Why you ask? Because the publishers are dumping on overseas markets to drive out local publishers. God only knows what they are doing in this country to stomp out any competition. I'd like to hear the story on that one.

      • I think you are way off here. Maybe my college is different than yours, but in all the classes I have taken at Ga Tech I have yet to have a course where the professor chose a book that they wrote.

        This statement really struck home. As a recent graduate from a major university, I've been paying a ransom for book for the last several years. One of the most expensive (and not surprisingly, lease useful) was the calculus book required for all calc classes on campus. The idea was to 'standardize' the calc cla
    • by skwang ( 174902 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:27PM (#8140962)
      And, often the professor is the author of the book, so every student in their course equals a textbook royalty coming their way.

      Although it sounds like a racket, I have been told that professors don't get royalties for books sold at their own universities. This is to prevent the abuse that you just mentioned, which although cynical, is not true.

      Professors don't care. In fact in some cases they are paid to select the more expensive of two options by bookstores who offer them a kickback based on a percentage of the sales.

      Perhaps it is because I have a positive view of academia but I have had a good number of professors who said (paraphrasing): I was thinking about book X but it was too expensive at $100 so I went with book Y at a more reasonable $50. Don't get me wrong, they could go out of their way to make it really cheap for us students by doing something like you suggested. So you can look at this two ways.

      1. Positively: Professors care about us so they "let" us buy cheaper books.
      2. Negatively: Professors only do what is minimally necessary to help their students out. They could do more but they are lazy/assholes/uncaring.

      Lastly, professors in the sciences only want to write two kinds of books (I know I'm generalizing):

      1. 1st year text. The general think kind that costs $150. They want this book to be adopted by many schools so that they will receive royalties for the sales
      2. The definitive graduate level text on a subject. For example: J.D. Jackson's Classical Electrodynamics. Royalties is part of this as well, but it's also for the immortality it affords.
  • by MoOsEb0y ( 2177 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:58PM (#8140158)
    go to the library and check out older editions of said books. Then just keep renewing them and give em back at the end of the term.
  • Deff eq (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Neck_of_the_Woods ( 305788 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:58PM (#8140163) Journal

    "We will give you 3 dollars wholesale for that book, we have enough."

    I would rather burn this 72.50 book for warmth in the middle of the summer stuck in the fucking sahara desert than give it to your for 3 bucks.

    ---I later sold it for 40 bucks to a girl buying the same book in line. Everyone wins, sort of.

  • Yes, it is gouging (Score:3, Interesting)

    by DragonMagic ( 170846 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:58PM (#8140167) Homepage
    When I went to night school for a couple semesters of Japanese, the textbook for the full course was available for like $70, all 350 pages or so of it. However, there were three types you could get, two of which were higher in price. The cassette- and CD-included ones. The school only had the CD-based ones when I went, four CDs that had the pronounciations for some of the work in the book, but added $15 to the cost of the book, new.

    Seeing as how the book was in its second edition, and the CDs have been used in schools across North America for years, it's surprising that the cost to publish (probably only about $7 for the hardback, $2-$3 for the CDs) could be marked up, unless the profits are made to benefit the schools (and probably some "payola" to the teachers who use the books for the classes).
  • Over charging (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Fenis-Wolf ( 239374 ) <`jbudde' `at' `'> on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:59PM (#8140169) Homepage
    Following advice from this website, at the beginning of this semester I bought books online, and they were quite a bit cheaper. Even with the overseas shipping and conversion rates I ended paying at least a third less for my books. Whats ever better is if you can buy last semesters books from someone. I find lurking outside of the bookstore at the end of the semester quite effective for picking up used text books from students who know the bookstore is going to screw them on their buy-backs. :-)
  • Seriously (Score:5, Interesting)

    by WTFmonkey ( 652603 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:59PM (#8140170)
    It's utter bullshit. I'm a CS major, and books typically run between $90 and $130. I've got some teachers who've managed to dislodge their heads from their asses and have started using books that aren't marketed as "textbooks" as textbooks.

    There are C textbooks out there that are $100 and not nearly as useful as "Teach yourself C in 24 hours." Admittedly, that's not a great example since those books are so common, but here's a better example. I'm taking a software testing class that called for two textboooks: one was an "actual textbook" that runs about $120, but it's half the length and half the content of the $40 "Managing the testing process." It's crap.

    Crappety crap crap, as a matter of fact.

    • Re:Seriously (Score:4, Interesting)

      by tonydiesel ( 658999 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:22PM (#8140405)
      On top of that, why would anyone actually buy a textbook on a language. They aren't cheap but a good reference book like the ones from O'Reilly are going to be way, way more useful than any textbook teaching you a language (and at least cheaper than a textbook).

      Besides, in general a good CS course will teach concepts and use the language to illustrate them. My experience has usually been that the notes and handouts from the profs (assuming they're good profs) are better than any book.
    • I'm increasingly seeing professors simply assigning journal articles as reading, and distributing notes. This is a double win. First, teh journal articles are more current than the books based on said articles and second, they place them on electronic reserve, and you somply view them on your computer at your convienence.

      Also had a professor that wrote a book for his class. He had been doing course note packets, but was incensed that the unviersity was chargins students almost $50 for the pack. So he got i
  • by Yoda2 ( 522522 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @07:59PM (#8140183)
    Then how are academics supposed to make money off of their poorly written, poorly circulated texts?
  • Hah! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Space cowboy ( 13680 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:00PM (#8140189) Journal
    When I was at college, nary a course would go by without the lecturer recommending his (I did physics... no 'her') book as the 'seminal text on the subject'. Seminal. Yep.

    The (more serious) bad point is that some lecturers are cosy with publishers, and even make a commission about recommending certain books. This isn't right, IMHO. The faster other universities go the way of MIT with openCourseware (yes, I know it's a year delayed, but they produce it in the right year) with a reviewable (and editable, though that's not at MIT yet, AFAIK), the better.

    So, electronic publishing - big thumbs up. Wiki version, with verified (PGP ?) annotation/citation, even better :-)

  • Electronic Textbooks (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chill ( 34294 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:00PM (#8140190) Journal
    The University of Phoenix's online classes only require 1 physical book for the entire duration of your study with them. The rest are made available online in PDF, txt or HTML format.

    Tuition also includes access to a decent online library of periodicals, journals, newspapers, books and other research material.

    It eliminates both the cost of books (tuition is no higher than traditional schools w/physical books) as well as the need to lug them around.
    • by kinzillah ( 662884 ) <douglas@price.mail@rit@edu> on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:25PM (#8140440)
      And your degree isn't worth the paper its printed on. Or do they give that to you in PDF form as well?
    • by PopCulture ( 536272 ) <> on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:30PM (#8140492)
      I'll be the first non AC critic of UoP in this thread. Its a degree mill, short and simple. After visiting their offices in DC, finding out the credits that i was "pre-approved" for, and comparing it to serious grad schools in my area, it was so very very sad.

      Its the cheapest way to get from point A to B, but no one worth a grain of salt will take you seriously once you get to point B... just spend the money on books and tuition, its an investment, and you get out of it what you put in...
      • by chill ( 34294 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:58PM (#8140740) Journal
        Degree mills have their use.

        After being unemployed for the last 6 months, I found my resume rejected by automated screening processes because I didn't have a B.S.

        The bot didn't care that I had 10+ years of hands on experience in exactly what they were looking for.

        Those few that DIDN'T auto-reject, I got in for interviews and have since gotten an excellent, good-paying job with one of them.

        I've known too many people with traditional degrees from traditional universities who were worthless at their job to use a degree as a BS degree as a major benchmark for employment.

        Graduate degrees are usually a different matter, though. (Except MBAs, for which there are more diploma mills than any other degree.)
  • by MacEnvy ( 549188 ) <jbocinski AT bocinski DOT com> on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:00PM (#8140191) Journal
    Students have known exactly this for years. My own professors used to say that book writers put out new editions every year, just so people have to buy the "newest" one every year.

    I wanted to yell at him, "THEN WHY DO YOU MAKE US BUY THE NEW ONES?!"

    But I realized that many of my professors used the books they wrote themselves - conflict of interest, anyone?

    • by Sabalon ( 1684 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:24PM (#8140429)
      Well, if the publisher puts out a new version of the book, do you think the bookstore will be able to get the older version of the book to sell to the students even if the prof didn't want to switch? Probably everyone has to move forward at the publishers insistance.

      As for the prof writing the book - why is that a conflict? You are going to college to have a professor impart knowledge upon you. If you just wanted to learn what the book said, you could buy the book and read it yourself.

      Would you rather have a professor that didn't care too much for the book and didn't use it that much? Or contradicted it in his lessons and tests? or someone who knows the book and it's content and it lines up with what they are teaching?

      From what I remember in college, I had one professor in a compiler class who wrote the book. It wasn't a published hardcover book - looked like something the dept. secretary put together with supplies from Office Depot. Only problem was that it feel apart easy, but great book.

      Another professor had written a book for a course and the department chair would not approve it for use, so he had to select another one.

      Another prof chose a book that had two editions. We would primarly learn out of the edition we had to buy, but he made copies of about 100 pages out of the other edition for us because he didn't think it right we buy two books. He was an older prof that probably didn't buy into the modern methods (well, 12 years ago.)

      One other class we had to buy a $66 book for it. I never did, buy my roommate did. We were told to read the first chapter and the book was never mentioned again. On "sale back", my roommate was told the professor said he wasn't gonna use that next time, so they wouldn't buy it back.

      I found a great way of getting some books was to dig thought the big trash cans outside the buyback line where people would throw the books away in disgust.
    • Tax code changed (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mariox19 ( 632969 )

      I'm sorry, but I have only an imperfect understanding of this. Maybe it will ring a bell with someone out there who can explain it better.

      In the US, sometime during the Reagan administration I believe, the tax code was changed, and this directly affected publishing companies in how they could depreciate inventory. If I remember correctly, publishers used to be able to print a large edition, warehouse the books for years, and write a part of that inventory off on their taxes.

      From my understanding, the

  • by colmore ( 56499 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:00PM (#8140192) Journal
    No, it isn't.

    Black and white textbooks with minimal illustration (only where actually useful) and paperback addendums to keep older additions useful are the answer.

    I looked through my father's old chemical engineering and mathematics textbooks, and they are smaller, more concise, and better references than any single textbook I've received in my college years. I keep them on my shelf, and sell my own books back at the end of the year.

    Electronic books won't sit around for my kids to find someday. In fact, I doubt very much they'll sit around past one or two ebook product cycles. Also, I doubt book publishers want to seriously deal with the threat of a textbook napster. I don't know a single college student (my self included) who wouldn't feel fully justified in taking back from those greedy bastards.

    In the meantime: get an old edition, then use the library reserve or borrow a friend's copy to do the problem sets.
  • imports (Score:3, Informative)

    by rudiger ( 35571 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:01PM (#8140204)
    I get my textbooks from a classmate who is from India. a 133$ CDN electro magnetics textbook here goes for 20$ CDN there. it actually costs more to get them shipped (30$/each) then the book itself.

    they are soft cover, black and white and thinner paper, but the content is the same and the savings are rad.

    I am never buying another textbook from the university bookstore again.
  • by argoff ( 142580 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:01PM (#8140212)
    This is just another side effect of a copyright society. Although copyrights alledgely promote the creation of works, does not mean they promote the dissimation of usefull works. Alot of people think that cheap tabloids that are pennies on the page, and expensive text books that are pages on the dollar is just another aspect of a free market society, along with the hype over substance that goes with - but it is not. Copyrights are not free market because they are not about freedom, they are about controll. One of these days people will learn that just because an institution calls somthing a right, does not mean that it is. The sooner we learn that with copyrights the better - especially in the information age where the only way to differentiate free speech content from copyright content is to appoint people to censor it.
  • by dogas ( 312359 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:02PM (#8140217) Homepage
    I never gave in to selling my books back to the bookstore. They offered me $16 for the book I bought fot $120!! You gotta be kidding me.

    I put the book for sale in the student paper, charged $50 for it. That's less than what the bookstore was selling it for used ($75). It's win/win for both me and the student I'm selling my book to. Fuck my student bookstore. They really do gouge as deep as possible.

    Sometimes they would offer *nothing* for my expensive book.. because "a new edition is coming out and the professor will be using that book." And guess who wrote the book!

    Seriously, it's a good racket they have going. Hmmm... maybe I should get into it.
    • Seriously, it's a good racket they have going. Hmmm... maybe I should get into it.

      A student was in the news a few years ago for setting up his own part-time bookstore. Custom ordering cheaper foreign editions if I remember. The college was not amused.

      You may find that your college will extend to you an offer you cannot refuse if you deem to attempt the same.
    • by KarmaOverDogma ( 681451 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:15PM (#8140879) Homepage Journal
      As the owner and operator of a small college bookstore in the U.S., I can tell you that customer service is at the top of my list as long as I will not lose money in the long run on the endevor.

      I know that the impression of "Gouging" in the eyes of the student (whether true or not) sours students away from my store - usually permanently. News of honest and fair customer service travels fast; news of gouging and dishonest/unfair business practice travels even faster.

      For example, students who buy a defective book in any shape or form (as long as they bought it from my store, and are not trying to pass off on me an on-line purchased book; that's why they have to have a receipt) will typically get an exchange with little or no questions asked.

      I agree with you completely on the sentimnt of "gouging." When selling back used textbooks, I usually find it best in the long run to give students the information they need to make an informed decision. When your college bookstore offered you $16.00 for a $120.00 textbook it was probably because of one of two circumstances:

      1) the book was not on course for the following term (no demand for the book at your school)
      2) the bookstore already had as many copies of your book as it needed for the following term, so they weren't going to buy a book at an on-course value when the likihood of selling your book to another student is low. If they don't sell your book to a student next term, they can't return it to you later - so they won't assume the risk.

      When a book is not "on-course" most college stores (including mine) typically sell these "wholesale" books to a wholesaler (in my case MBS, Missouri Book Services). The wholesaler pays us what we pay you, plus a 20% commission on the sale. So in your case, we would have made $3.20 on the sale of your book. Your book then sits in a very large warehouse until another college bookstore calls them up and says "We need book X" (your book) and they sell it at a profit to that store, which sells it as a used book.

      I can tell you that at my bookstore if your book was "on-course" you would have gotten 1/2 the new value (in this case $60.00) and we would have re-sold it for $90.00 used (25% off the new price), regardless of whether you had bought the book new or used. The ideal scenario for me is to buy back books at their "on-course" value because we make money and the student is happy with the good compensation. Unfortunately this is not common because books are usually not "on-course" (though they tend to be more often at larger schools because of frequently repeating/rotating classes).

      It is true that no bookstore will knowingly buy back a book that has gone into a new edition (or will soon be doing so). No bookstore that wants to stay in business for long will buy a book they can't sell again, and you're right to be put-off by the fact that new editions come out so frequently. Publishers do this to thwart the used-book market, which you wanted to take part in (and yes, I know frequent new editions do annoy just about everyone except the publishers).

      You certainly did the right thing to sell it on your own for $50.00 This is, in fact what we will recommend to students who have an on-course book that we already have enough of.

      Although this kind of direct re-selling thing hurts my business I would be *very* reluctant to complain about it because of the tremendous negative impact it would have on the goodwill I need with the student body and the college community to stay in business. Students like you are, in my opinion, reacting to textbook (and higher-ed tuition) pricing that is increasing at a pace that exceeds that of other commodities in society. College Tution costs so much nowadays that after students like yourself are done paying tuition (or, more likely, taking out yet-another-college-loan), they have less and less patience each year for the cost of textbooks and bookstore explinations for them, whether the explination is legitimate or not.
  • by Coryoth ( 254751 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:02PM (#8140222) Homepage Journal
    It seems to be working well for one of the books I've encountered. I'm doing a graduate math course, the details of which are irrelevant, but suffice to say the subject matter is reasonably obscure, and won't exactly have books flying off the shelves. The textbook assigned for the course is available online - I thought this sounded great when I was told this: often I end up borrowing books from the library where possible, or just skipping using the textbook altogether. Occasionally I am forced to buy texts, and this is often annoying to me.

    What I have come to discover, however, is that this text provides a beautiful explanations of very difficult material. It's the sort of book I would be gald to have around in my personal library. I was able to find this out by using the downloadable version of the text. Now, of course, I am planning to buy the text, and will gladly reccomend it to anyone else who happens upon the subject area. Sure, I could just print the downloaded PDF, but I may as well have a nice bound copy - and at this point I feel like supporting a good author. There is just something nicer about having the actual book, as opposed to a bunch of printed PDF pages.

    I suspect other books could benefit equally from such a system. Of course, if your book sucks, and the material is poorly presented... well, maybe that won't work so well... but maybe you shouldn't be looking to foist your crap onto unsuspecting students who are forced to buy the text?

  • Economics (Score:5, Funny)

    by Cosmic_Hippo ( 739370 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:07PM (#8140261)
    I bought an economics textbook for $85.
    I sold it back for $15.
    I got some mixed signals from that class
  • by Cranky_92109 ( 414726 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:08PM (#8140274)
    The most infuriating experience I had with textbooks was a book for a class that required the student to enter a registration code from the book into a web page. This was used for some web based quizzes and exercises. Problem was, once you used the code it was invalid so students were required to buy a new book for that class. Plus there were bugs, a good 5% of the codes from NEW books were not being accepted by the website so those students had to contact the publisher or webmaster or somebody.

    Online or electronic textbooks seem like they could help with the pricing issues described in the report. However, experience teaches me that there are plenty of ways it could make things worse! Plus most people sell back their books at the end of the quarter or semester. Don't count on that option for eBooks.
  • by dogas ( 312359 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:09PM (#8140282) Homepage
    - Wait a week or two before buying your books. That way you'll know if the professor will be using it throughout the course. Talk to other students who have taken the course and ask them if the professor used the book.

    - See if said student still has the textbook for the class (and hasn't sold it for a $10 bag of pot), and ask to "borrow" it... or buy it in exchange for a $10 bag of pot... pot *is* a valid form of currency in college, you know.

    - Check out all the online bookstores, but make sure they have the book in stock! I once got burned by a now-defunct online textbook site because the book I needed was back ordered for 6 weeks. Other than that, you can usually get some slick deals (almost anything is better than the campus bookstore).
  • by obsid1an ( 665888 ) <<moc.ishcm> <ta> <naidisbo>> on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:10PM (#8140289)
    As an American student, book prices are absolutely ridiculous. A quick example: Physics: Principles with Applications, 5th Ed from costs $131 [] while the same book from costs 30.09 pounds [] or about $55.
  • Dig this.. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rjplan ( 736864 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:10PM (#8140294)
    The Chinese grad students in my program buy completely legal copies at crazy low prices in China. These versions are much more flimsy and made with cheap paper, but when they can get a Stevens TCP/IP Vol 1 for 5-10 bucks you have to laugh. Much like drug prices in the US....
  • by GreenCrackBaby ( 203293 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:12PM (#8140319) Homepage
    I'm probably beaten to the punch already, but it was always amusing (in a hopeless sort of way) how our Calculus 101 textbook would change every two years. I'm sorry, but I'm pretty sure that the introductory field of Calculus hasn't changed at all over the last 100 years.

    All the bastards do is introduce a few new questions at the end of the chapter and call it a new edition.
  • by vanza ( 125693 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:15PM (#8140341)
    As a foreigner student currently in the US, I was really surprised to see how expensive these books are here.

    Especially when taking into account that the same books, in English, orderer by one of the campus bookstores directly from the publisher here in the USA, cost around US$ 20 (yes, you read that right) for us in Brazil, including shipping expenses and the profit from the bookstore selling it to us. It was a paperback edition, but hell, it's a big price difference.

    And I've seen the same being said about Europe too (buying American books there is cheaper than it is in the USA), in some articles that were run in the campus newspaper last year.
  • Pot, Kettle (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mad Man ( 166674 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:15PM (#8140343)

    a report by the California Student Public Interest Research Group entitled "Ripoff 101"... several practices that force students...

    "Ripoff 101" could also describe Public Interest Research Groups.,2933,80925,00.html []

    Nader Scams College Kids

    Thursday, March 13, 2003

    By Radley Balko

    Each semester, Meremac Community College in St. Louis, Mo., charged Crystal Lewis for a service called "MOPIRG." "I hadn't the slightest idea what it was," she says. The fine print on her bill read: "If you opt not to support MOPIRG, please deduct this amount from your payment." So she did. But she still wasn't sure what she was no longer paying for.

    She was paying for a myriad of causes and advocacy efforts sponsored, endorsed and overseen by Ralph Nader. And if you're in college or have kids in college, the odds are pretty good that you're supporting Ralph Nader too. You probably didn't know that, did you? And that's just the way Nader and his nationwide network of Public Interest Research Groups [] (PIRGS) would like to keep it.

    The PIRG idea was born in the late 1960s, but really caught on through the 1970s and 1980s. It has again picked up momentum in the last few years, due mainly to the publicity that accompanied Nader's presidential campaign. The scam varies from campus to campus, but it basically works like this:

    Each time a college student registers for classes, he or she is automatically billed somewhere between three and eight dollars, all of which goes directly to the local PIRG chapter. There, it's funneled directly to the state chapter, where it's used to lobby state legislatures on issues like tougher emissions standards, campaign finance reform and a bevy of other environmental and anti-corporate causes. Very little if any of the money actually stays at the campus where it's generated.

    It's also used as "seed money" for more fund-raising campaigns. And about 10 percent of the money goes to USPIRG, the national chapter, where it's used to lobby on the federal level.

    The standard procedure for start-up campus PIRGs works like this:

    First, they attempt to institute mandatory, nonrefundable "contributions" from the student body either through a student referendum, a petition drive or by going through school administrators. The University of Wisconsin requires all of its students to donate to the local PIRG chapter, as does the University of Oregon, and about a third of the state colleges in New York's SUNY system.

    If that doesn't work, PIRG chapters attempt to institute a "reverse check" system, where each student automatically donates to PIRG each time he registers for classes, unless he specifically knows to look for an already checked box asking for his support -- and "unchecks" it.

    If they can't win support there, PIRG groups will attempt a "refundable fee" system, where each student is automatically billed, but can request a refund by taking the bill to the university registrar or bursar's office, filling out some paperwork, then taking the form to the local PIRG's campus office to get the money back.

    Such systems rake in millions for PIRGs because they put the burden on college students to educate themselves about each line item on their tuition bill, or to go to great effort for a comparatively small refund, particularly unlikely when mom and dad or Mr. Perkins and Mr. Stafford are paying for college anyway.

    Craig Rucker is executive director for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow [], an organization that's been fighting the PIRG scams for years. Rucker estimates that Nader's causes take in somewhere between $10 and $20 million annually from college students, most all of it unwittingly.

    What's remarkable is the blatant, tran

  • Check other ways (Score:3, Interesting)

    by bigjnsa500 ( 575392 ) <> on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:24PM (#8140431) Homepage Journal
    Be sure to also check ebay and Amazon's used book section. I discovered I could by a required textbook for $15 on Amazon whereas the college bookstore had a *used* one available for $75!!

    Makes me wonder if the mafia isn running the new/used text book field.

  • by puck71 ( 223721 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:26PM (#8140453) Journal
    A similar story was posted at another site today, and here's what I posted there, slightly edited for different context:

    I have worked at the college bookstore here, and will relate how we do it. First off, our standard markup on new textbooks is 25%. Not great for the students, but also paltry compared to markup on the other stuff we sell (clothing and gifts is like 75% markup at least). However, if a book comes with the price printed on it, we price it at the printed price, even if it's at less than 25% markup. Some stores don't do this, resulting in an obvious rip-off. Of course this depends on the person who receives/tags the book checking each one for a price so it can be set appropriately. I always was very conscientious about this, but at big stores with hundreds and hundreds of books coming in a day, it would be easy to skip this step.

    As for the buyback, this is probably what most people don't fully understand. As far as I know, most colleges do it similar to this. We contract book buyers from a used-book company (in our case, Nebraska Book Company, but there are others, depending on location). They come in and are the ones buying the books, not bookstore employees. The bookstore receives textbook orders from professors and puts together a list of books that the store will buy back directly from students. These books will be bought back at 50% of the new price of the book and put on the shelves. If you had bought a used book (we price used books at 75% of the new price) and sold it back for 50%, that's not great, but it's also not terrible. However, if you bring in a book that is NOT on the bookstore's list to buy, then it is the used book company that is buying it, at whatever it's worth on the wholesale market. At that point you are the lowest peg on the book totem pole and should NOT sell your books! They'll buy it for a few bucks, and then ship all of their purchases to their warehouse. They then mark it up and sell the books back to bookstores, who then mark it up again and sell to students. I'm not sure about the percentages in this, but it's not like the bookstore buys books for $5 and sells them right back for $100, at least not at my store. What is more likely is this: say you buy a book for $100 new. You go to sell it back, but the store hasn't received an order for that book yet, so the book company buys it, for maybe about $30. Then the store receives an order for the book and buys some from the used book company for about $50-55 and sells it for $75. The numbers aren't great, and again I'm not sure if they're right, but it's probably something like that.

    Finally, even though I work at the store and can get a 10% discount, I've only bought a couple books there the last couple semesters. I've bought them online and saved 36% off what I would have paid, even counting the 10%, so I saved about 42% off what "normal" people would have paid.
  • by endofoctober ( 660252 ) <(jk.cole) (at) (> on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:27PM (#8140460) Homepage
    I attended Auburn University, which has one campus-run bookstore and two off-campus bookstores. One afternoon in an Econ class, we were challenged for extra credit to find out how much profit was made on our textbook over its lifetime, so a few of us set out to see.

    Factors we took into consideration were (among others): purchase price with volume pricing (we had an insider), how many times a book could be resold until it became unusable or was obsolete (around six-eight consecutive quarters, thanks to the publishers), and how much money was offered to students when books were sold back based on its condition.

    The numbers floored our instructor. A book which cost the bookstore US$90 initially made around 480% profit over its lifetime. What that told me is that the publishers may be making a pot of money off students, but the "local booksellers" are also profiting pretty shamelessly.
  • Bittorrent (Score:3, Insightful)

    by kyoko21 ( 198413 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:35PM (#8140553)
    All you need is a scanner and now you have Association of American Publishers [] going after P2P networks. Now if I can only bittorrent me a box of cup-o-noodles then that will be sweet. :-)
  • by Damien Neil ( 11403 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:35PM (#8140562)
    Don't buy the book.

    Seriously. At the start of the semester, ignore the books entirely. Buy the book the day you first need it. I started doing that a couple years into college; for the rest of my time, I think I averaged one or two books a semester. Most classes didn't require the book at all. (Often you could pick between reading the book and going to class; doing both was redundant.)

    For classes that did require the book, I was often able to get away with borrowing it from a friend a once or twice.

    How well this approach works probably depends on the discipline you're studying; I'm certain not everyone could do this. Give it a try, however--you might be surprised.

    (Ripoff #2: School meal plans. One day, I calculated the per meal cost of my eat-as-often-as-you-want plan, and realized that I could eat out at a restaurant for every meal and spend less money. After that, I stopped paying for the meal plan and started paying on a per-meal basis at the cafeteria.)
  • by dsnowak ( 694482 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:41PM (#8140612)
    Having had the dubious pleasure of working in a college bookstore for a year, I've learned quite a bit about how things work in the text book world.

    First, it?s the publishers making the money, not the bookstore. The constantly renewed editions, bundled materials, and so on--that's all on the publishers end. Often, the reps from the publishers work closely with the profs to ensure students pay as much as possible. The bookstore orders exactly what it's told to. If we could get it used, we did--the store's margin on used books was larger, especially as my store was a Follett store, and had access to Follett's used book warehouse.

    Second, when you get less than ten percent of what you paid, it's not because the store is trying to gouge you. When we bought a book back that we knew we could sell the next semester, the student typically got back fifty percent of what they paid. If we did not need it the next semester, then we could only buy it for the wholesale network, and then you're subject to the laws of supply and demand, as well as the fact that books, due to their weight, are expensive to ship in bulk. In order to buy back as many as possible at the best price possible, we always tried to get the book lists from the Profs before buyback started. Unfortunately, many Profs can't be bothered to turn in the list until right before classes start, forcing us buy books from wherever we could at whatever the asking price was.

    Third, college bookstores don't make all that much money from books. Most of the money, especially at the big-name campuses, comes from the merchandise. The book section is labor intensive, and you wind up losing a lot of money when books have to be returned to the publisher (store pays return shipping), from theft, and from Profs who do stupid things like asking us to order non-returnable custom printed packets of articles that cost the store $200 a piece, and then turn around and give the students free photocopies of the packets after they complain. For a class of 30?well, you can do the math and figure out how much the store took a bath on.

    Yeah, students are getting screwed, but don't yell at the hapless guy behind the help counter or who?s working the buyback station. By all means, make do with the older editions or Indian copies. Also, here's a tip: If the Professor wrote the book, and it's not the principal text for the class, don't buy it unless it becomes clear you need it. Profs often require you to buy their book when they have no intention of using it. (We were once yelled at by a professor when he found we were selling used copies of his book. See, he doesn?t get royalties from used copies.)
  • by Txiasaeia ( 581598 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:52PM (#8140708)
    Screw the profs. If they want you to pay $150 for the 17th edition when it doesn't have any significant changes from the 16th, then get the 16th. I've *never* run into a situation where this was a problem.

    A textbook of mine was about $115 CAD this semester; I ordered a used copy from Powells [] for $12 USD; I included a few other books and got free shipping. It cost me $72 CAD for four books instead of $115 (plus tax) for one new one. To sum: Powells is wonderful, esp. for Canadians, as they charge GST at the source which doesn't hold up customs.

    ABEBooks [] is another great place to shop - they're a collection of used booksellers across NA and Europe and as such usually have everything you could ever want. You really need to watch some booksellers on shipping - one seller in Cali wanted $15 USD for shipping on a book that should only cost $3-5 USD (media book rate int'l), for example, but if you're careful you can still save a bundle.

    Finally, sometimes Amazon [] or Barnes & Noble or other large retailers have better prices than the uni's bookstore, important for when you absolutely need that 17th edition.

    To put all this into perspective: if I had bought all my books new this semester at the local store, it would have cost about $350 CAD + 13% tax; as it was, using the above methods I spent about $125 CAD total.

    One final note: to do this properly you need to talk to your future profs about a month and a half before the class starts (i.e. as soon as you're registered) to get a book list, as some booksellers can take longer than others, esp. if you need to order internationally. Keep in mind that big sellers (even powells) usually ships within 24 hours. Good luck! Hope this saves you all some cash!

  • by ZWithaPGGB ( 608529 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @08:53PM (#8140712)
    It's not just the textbooks. The whole College/University system is a self perpetuating racket. In reality, a college degree means nothing in most cases, but those who have one feel the need to validate their efforts, so they require one for any job they hire for.

    So, You have to get a degree, which in most cases teaches you nothing you couldn't learn better through experience. This costs you at least 2 years of take-home pay, plus interest, and while you are there you get used at indentured servant rates by the university (called "work-study") to do what would otherwise cost them $40K/yr. You are generally taught by the people least qualified in the field, often by people who you can't understand the first word they say (Foreign Grad Students). The best engineers are working as engineers, the best businesspeople running companies, it is, by and large, the mediocrities who are teaching, with a few notable exceptions at the most prestigious of universities.

    The whole system is a racket designed to benefit the administrators and faculty who, in most cases, are 1960's and '70s reject recycled hippies who have used the university as a place to hide all their lives.

    The system is broken. We should replace "College" with a decent high-school system (a lot of what gets taught in College is remedial education on basic math, reading and writing, and hard science) and apprenticeships for most things. Universities are for advanced research, not a 4 year party. Think about it: if you spent what you spent on college on certifications and books, you'd have plenty left over for a few years world-trekking!

    So, I guess you all know what I think of tax $$ being used to continue to subsidize College. I think it's a waste of money, and it would be better spent on vocational training, and fixing the K-12 system.
    • First off, fixing K-12 is a good idea. No argument
      here. When half the grad students in my field are
      foreign, you know the system is broken.
      That said, most colleges are not "4 year parties".
      Some of it seems that way precisely because the
      K-12 system is broken so the first two years in
      college are spent on intro stuff that should have
      been taught in high-school or even middle school.
      But if you are studious and diligent you can get
      some very advanced education in four years. Where
      I went to college, we would complai
  • by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:17PM (#8140884) Homepage
    Here are some links I dredged up last time this subject rolled through.

    Wiki Textbooks []
    Light and Matter []: Open physics textbooks.
    An open math textbook []
    Project Gutenberg [], for all the English majors out there.

    There are also a lot of books out there which are freely downloadable, but not modifiable. Has anyone here used a free (in either sense) textbook as their primary learning tool in a college class? If so, what was your experience?
  • by Aqua OS X ( 458522 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @09:33PM (#8141013)
    Lately we've been using PDF texts at my university. Real text books have become a total rip off.

    In order to make a buck, publishers and bookstores have been dealing with tons of "revised" versions of text books. One year a class will use a new text book, however at the end of the year you'll find that you can't sell your book back to the bookstore.

    Why? Well the publisher decided to release an updated version, with a fixed typo, and a new cover. The book will be, more or less, -exactly- the same. Nevertheless, the campus bookstore will pick up the new book because forcing people to buy a new version pulls in more money then buying and selling used text books >:(

    Moreover, a lot of publishers have also been ripping-off students with CD-ROMs. Lots of new books get marked up because they come with a CD-ROM. Yet, It's not uncommon for the CD-ROM to simply be a cheep-ass compilation of PDF, HTML, or MS word documents that were represented as text in the actual book. "Save for Web...", burn to CD >:|

    AND, it can get WORSE! Sometimes publishers combine both of the above rip-off tactics. They'll rerelease a new version of a book, and the new version will be EXACTLY the same as the old one. Yet, this time someone will hit "Save to Web.." in InDesign or Quark, save a digital duplicate of the book to a CD-ROM, repackage the book, and raise the price to reflect the new "digital" content! Soulless Mother F***ers!!!

    Now, combine that bullshit, with the fact that professors have to PAY to use the faculty copy machine, and you'll understand why we use PDF documents now.

    It's sad :(
  • by gubachwa ( 716303 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:07PM (#8141219)
    The following are some sources of free online textbooks (and lecture notes):

    A huge list of math texts [].

    David MacKay [] has posted his book Information Theory, Inference, and Learning Algorithms [] on his website. (This is despite it being a recently published work available through major bookstores.)

    The classic, Numerical Recipes in C [], is available online for free.

    Some more math texts [].

    Another grab bag [] of online texts (mostly math).

    Yet even more math and CS [] stuff.

  • by Eric Smith ( 4379 ) * on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:10PM (#8141231) Homepage Journal
    Maybe not in rapidly changing high-tech fields, but surely English and Calculus textbooks that are out of copyright would still be useful?

    I suppose the text book publishers would try quite hard to prevent these from being used. "Oh, your school district is going to use the public-domain trigonometry textbook? Well, I'm afraid we can't give you the usual 12% discount on your purchase of organic chemistry textbooks."

    Richard Feynman wrote in his autobiography "Surely you're joking, Mr. Feynman" a story about his participation in textbook selection in California high schools [], in which the publisher got the committee to approve a book before the content was even available to review.

    "Surely..." also gives one example of the serious problems with content he found in most textbooks [].

  • *ROFL* (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mbourgon ( 186257 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:21PM (#8141277) Homepage
    I worked for 7 years for a major publisher. The report says: "paper, printing and editorial costs account for an average of 32.3 cents of every dollar of the textbook cost".

    Okay, so it's the printing, right? WRONG.

    "Paper, Printing, & Binding" (PP&B) is anywhere from 4-8 bucks for your typical "real" textbook. Calculus, Chemistry, Finance.

    Editorial is usually $20k per book, and most of that comes out of the author's royalties - the better the book, the less editorial needed.

    I remember the numbers for one book in particular. PP&B was ~$4.50. Retail was something around 65 bucks. We sold it for 40. That covered the PP&B (which is JUST the cost of the physical item. The marginal cost), plus my salary, company profit, etc. The three big reasons books cost?

    (1) Bookstores. That $40 book cost you $60 because of the bookstore. All they did is have it. Nice gig.

    (2) Professors/Ancillaries. You would not BELIEVE the stuff we make for the professors. Transparency sets ($300 for one set). Software. Testbanks. Grading testbanks. Teacher's manuals. If you had all the stuff we provide for professors, anyone could teach the course. And all of that has to be paid for by you, the students.

    (3) Indirect market. Just like your doctor, your professor doesn't know (or care) how much the book costs. It's what he likes. (One professor adopted a book solely because the cover was "his school's" color)

    So, make the prof happy, no matter what it takes or costs. And this is why books cost so much.
    • It's Possible (Score:3, Informative)

      by Cerlyn ( 202990 )

      While its arguable that PP&B is not the primary cause of textbooks being expensive, it is safe to say that their 33.2 cents per dollar figure for editorial and PP&B likely is correct.

      Let's run some numbers using the figures you gave above, and assume a small, 1,000 book print run:

      • $20,000 Editorial
      • (1) 1,000 Book Print Run (it's a niche subject, and a new edition is going come out in two years)
      • $4.50 Paper, Printing, & Binding per book

      Dividing the editorial costs across 1,000 books yields a

  • "the other side" (Score:5, Insightful)

    by danharan ( 714822 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @10:43PM (#8141392) Journal
    I worked 2 years in publishing and sales representation to the academic market.

    *Advice on bringing down the prices of books appear below the rant*

    So there's a few things I'd like to set straight, especially for the whiny bunch (you can't bring prices down if you don't know who's responsible):
    -trade stores buy books at 60% of the cover price
    -university bookstores buy at 80% of the cover (a 25% markup)
    -print runs on all but the most popular books (think 1st year intro) are ridiculously small
    -professors are lucky if they make 10% of the cover price. Even if that amounts to $5,000, a tenured professor would expect to make more money than that for a few hundred hours of work. (It's not the money: it's publish or perish).

    So, the university bookstore is obviously not making massive amounts of money, nor is the author(s). So, the publisher makes a killing, right? Well, sometimes. The guys cranking out a new edition of that $120 first year text every 4 years is making entirely too much money, as are those that bundle materials or otherwise force you to buy a new copy.

    Smaller publishers that can't get professors to publish that big first year textbook with them generally aren't doing so well. Publishing any book cost several thousand dollars. Printing is not the biggest expense, and goes down fast as print run size increases (per unit, obviously). Editing and layout eats up most of the budget, then you have to add sales and distribution.

    Yeah, there's a few people that think we could let professors write things on a wiki, and not bother with editing. Sometimes, you're right: there are some professors that can actually write. Let me be blunt: we reject 90%+ of manuscripts, and the other half can be unreadable without major editorial adjustments. Editors have to be highly educated, and it is not uncommon for them to be PhDs- and that doesn't come cheap.

    An index also cost money and you can't just use a software package to tell you what words are on what page, as that's pretty useless.

    Having spent a good part of my time in the sales side of things... do you realize how many books we have to outright GIVE to professors so they will consider the book for their class? They're only a few dollars a pop to print, but having to meet professors, find out what they are teaching the following year, mail them books once printed... all that costs a lot of money. In upper-level classes with small enrollments, you can be giving out 2% of the books, and some free copies for TAs (up to 1 per 25 students).

    And don't get me going on the price of an ad in an academic journal, or sending sales reps to their conventions.

    Moral of the story: it cost an awful lot of money to put out a book. There are profiteers - the first year textbook sellers that put out a new edition every 3-4 years, and the folks that would give you $4 for that $120 book.

    This is not the music industry. Publishers -especially the smaller ones- are nerds that want to put out good books.

    To get back to the prices though... as I said, there are profiteers: resellers and big publishers.

    The resellers ought to be put out of business. Use eBay, whatever it takes, but don't sell them books.

    There is another player in this market that has enormous power to set things straight, but is often overlooked: the professor.

    If your professor wrote one of those fat 1st year texts which comes bundled- lobby them. Tell them you find such practices appalling, and that you would much rather spend money on beer. :) Seriously, be polite but firm, and be prepared to reiterate- some have been so high up in their ivory towers that oxygen is sometimes rare. The publishers can put out a new edition every 3-4 years only with the complicity of the professor.

    If your professor asks you to buy those expensive books, ask them to complain to the publishing house. A couple professors that tell the sales reps they won't use the text again unle
  • by pclminion ( 145572 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @11:02PM (#8141502)
    Since experts supposedly write the books because of the "public or perish" system in academia, they aren't really doing it for the money.

    Why do the authors of textbooks continue to insist on going through publishers? Why do they not produce computerized works instead of printed books? If they really are making a pittance on the royalties, they shouldn't care whether the book is in print or in the form of a PDF (or some other doc format) -- the point is to get a textbook pub out.

    Is this purely because of the editorial facilities of publishing companies? Is it really that hard to edit and typeset a document yourself? People do it themselves all the time in academic publications, why not in textbooks?

  • by ysagal ( 746467 ) on Friday January 30, 2004 @11:38PM (#8141716)
    There are usually two types of "textbooks" that professors encourage you to buy. Or, rather, two scenarios.

    The first is a book from which the professor will be teaching. He assigns readings from it, references pages in class, sometimes assigns questions at the end of the chapter as homework, etc. Sometimes it's one big book that covers the entire course (and often runs at $60+), but you can't do without it. Here all the rage is appropriate - with the diminishing printing costs why do prices of these books keep climbing? Also, you really *can't* do without buying this book and the professor has all the leverage he needs to make you go and buy it. No real way out - get it cheaper, get it online, order overseas, buy used, steal someone else's, etc.

    2. The professor lists half a dozen books to buy for the course, often clicking "required reading material" without thinking. You spend $300 only to find out that it will never be mentioned in class or useful for anything except autodidactic reasons. You're pissed off and try to unload the books to the next class which, to your bitter rage, was given an entirely different list of books that they'll never read. This is a case where you use judgement. Often the professors will say that these books are for you to read on your own to broaden your knowledge of the topic. Simply don't buy the book or at least hold off until the professor assigns you the four pages to read from it. Then go to the bookstore, read the pages, write out the questions, and put it quietly (or not) back on the bookshelf.

    A quick personal story: we were assigned a book for a cryptography class which I thought fell in the 1st category (since it was the only book assigned.) It was a small book costing $80. The book was, unfortunately, too advanced and mostly tangent to the topics we were discussing in class. After the class voiced its concern for the horrific waste of money on a book that's not helpful to do the homework or understand what's going on in class the professor explained that, "Neither the book nor the homework will have much to do with the class discussion. Those are for you to go home and do on your own. Please don't come to class with questions about the homework, as that is something that wastes my time as it doesn't pertain to what I'll be teaching anyway."

  • by ( 528791 ) <> on Saturday January 31, 2004 @12:49AM (#8142100) Homepage
    I only bought the textbooks for the first semester of Uni after that I never bought any again unless I thought I would use it as a refference book. I know at my Uni the Library had at least 5 copies of each book I had and even if they were out the public library had another cople of copies.

    You are legally allowed to photocopy "parts" of any book and since most of the time you either write summary notes or just use a section of the book (pages 110-115,127 and 130-140) it's easy and leagal to get the information.

    We were able to download all the slides that they used in the leactures and only one of two leactures reffered to the textbook more than "for additional reading see ???"

    As for getting the latest version why bother you can alway get the old version and just relise that there may be some changes.

    Here's a summary of my Uni text book budget:
    *First Semester ~ $450 on text books.
    *Every other semester ~ $50.
  • Books (Score:3, Insightful)

    by slivovitz ( 721592 ) on Saturday January 31, 2004 @12:57AM (#8142140) Homepage
    I teach at the college level and the high price of text books is a problem. You would be surprised at the number of students who try to get by without buying a book (either because they can not afford it or they think they can get by without them). By the way, if you can not afford a text book it is worth a try to see if the instructor has an extra copy. I often loan books to students. My colleagues and I receive our copies for free so we have to stay aware of how much the book actually cost the student. For example I was about ready to use one text for a class when I discovered that a similar text, actually a bit better, was available for 35% less. I switched books. Also, I think it is the responsibility for the instructor to do their own homework and make sure that the book is relevant and that it will actually be used.
  • by pair-a-noyd ( 594371 ) on Saturday January 31, 2004 @01:59AM (#8142395)
    for a $100 textbook for a mandatory "Windows" class. He uses Suse and found no need to take this class. They tried to make him buy the book anyway and told him he could skip the class if he bought the book and took a $35 test and passed it.

    He smoked the test, he said it was for drooling retards and that only vegetables on life support could fail the class.

    What a waste of time, money and resources.
    I was *NOT* happy over this..
  • by Zarhan ( 415465 ) on Saturday January 31, 2004 @09:29AM (#8143414)
    I have graduated from Tampere University of Technology [], in Finland. I remember one course [] about networking protocols that had quite an interesting approach to course material.

    Anyway, the story was that according to Finnish copyright law, the definition of "fair use" is that you can quote/copy or whatever up to 20 pages of a "publication" (not sure if that absolute page number is a real value or not). Anyway, the point was that different editions of the same book constitute as different "publications".

    As you can see on the course page, the course material includes several "chapters" from Stallings book about datacomm. The page says "fifth edition". However, the actual material was distributed as a 100-page photocopied collection. 20 pages from first edition, 20 pages from the second, 20 pages from the get the idea.

    Students in that course kinda liked the idea, saved us some money :) I'm not sure if this would ever be applicable to United States.
  • by TheNumberSix ( 580081 ) <NumberSix@simpli ... EL.com_minusfood> on Saturday January 31, 2004 @11:06AM (#8143642)
    As I am currently working on my Master's, I've had to spend a ton of bucks on texts.

    Each course at my local State U costs me about $390 in tuition. (For a three credit course, that's a bargain!) I've had courses where the texts cost almost as much as the tuition for the course. After my first semester, I said "no way!"

    Now I purchase all of my texts from overseas as the International Editions. These are the exact same textbooks published by the exact same publisher and everything is exactly the same, page numbers, problems, colors used in printing, you name it. The only exception is that they come in paperback and they usually say "NOT FOR SALE IN NORTH AMERICA." on them.

    How could you find an international edition? Well I'm glad you asked.

    Go to and look up your book. Generally they will have them for the same sales price as your local college bookstore. Here is a popular Finance textbook on sale for about $135. [] It's packed with useless CDROMS and other stuff that will never be used.

    If you notice it has a "Buy New and Used from $34.95" link on the page. That will take you to a page where Amazon will list a lot of zShop vendors who have the book. [] Some of them will come right out and say "Int'l" or "paperback" edition. If they have the book as "brand new" and it's only around $80 or so, that's an indication that your book will be arriving UPS or Fedex from Singapore or Taiwan as the Int'l Edition. What a deal!

    Refuse to pay those outrageous prices at the bookstore! I know in the case of business schools, reading a good business newspaper or magazine will teach you far more about business than any textbook. If you care about learning, spend the savings on that!
  • A few solutions... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by evilviper ( 135110 ) on Saturday January 31, 2004 @02:33PM (#8144817) Journal
    There are a few solutions to this problem.

    First off, a big problem is that publishers who know their books are being used as course-books, publish a new version with nominal changes, very quickly. That ensures that you can't get your money back by selling your book as used, and students can't save money buying used books. The only reason schools and professors go along with this, is that the nominal changes don't affect their cirriculum, except they may have to change page numbers.

    I would prefer that the old books are used. Schools should have a contract with any publishers, saying that they will continue to sell the same book, at a pre-set price, for X number of years.

    Second: I would encourage anyone with a scanner to scan-in their books. A sheet-feed scanner (or a scanner with an ADF) can just be loaded with the pages of a book, and automatically digitize them. Then, distributing them as text files, PDFs, or any other format would be easy. People just don't seem willing to do digitization on their own... That's why we see many more CDs and DVDs on Peer-to-Peer networks than TV shows, et al.

    In addition to this, it may very-well be considered fair-use for professors to distribute electronic copies of out-of-print books. Both educational purposes are involved, and the book is out of print, so it's hard to say there is major financial damage being done. I'm sure there would be a lawsuit when first done, but I bet the schools would win. Either classes would start comming with free books on CD-ROMs, or book publishers would have to keep their books in-print to prevent that from being fair-use.

    Third: Instructors should be more careful about what they require students to buy. I know I had an english class where I bought 3 expensive text-books, where only one of them was used. One we only read a 3-page story from, and the thrid was NEVER EVEN OPENED. I complained to the teacher, and to administrators, but they all said there was no blame to place... It's just not considered bad to bleed your students. I wouldn't be surprised if publishers are actually bribing professors in the near future to require lots of worthless books.

    Last: There are a few professors that care about book-costs. I know one Unix instructor who uses the FreeBSD Handbook as the only course material, and doesn't require buying any books. I know another teacher who went to great lengths to allow students to use any of the past 3 revisions of the course book. He listed the different pages for different revisions, and even went as far to print-up a sheet which listed all the differences in content between the versions. Unfortunately, the latter professor went through a great deal of work to do this, so few would be willing to do so. The former professor has the better system, but others are not very considerate, and just don't care how much money is being wasted by students.

Loose bits sink chips.