Rising Cost of College Textbooks

College StudentHigh Book Prices Hurt Students and Authors, but Benefit Sellers

More recently, however, the federal government has taken an interest in finding why textbook prices have soared over the past 20 years.
As part of this effort, The Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance, a federal committee chartered by Congress, reported that, according to its yearlong study, “first-time, full-time students spent a total of $898 at four-year public colleges and $886 at two-year public colleges on books and supplies” in 2003-04.
Released in May 2007, findings from the Study on the Affordability of College Textbooks were anything but news to college students, parents who foot the college-book tab, university professors and even textbook authors.

Book Prices Create Financial Woes

Regarding the ever-inflating price of college books, Rometrius “Romy” North, a junior mass communication major at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, is just one of many who feels the financial pinch come textbook-purchase time.
“Textbook prices are unreasonably high for students trying to get by and get an education,” said North, a first-generation college student, in a recent on-campus interview.
Adding to the aggravation of the inflated book prices, “I also think it’s ridiculous when some professors insist that you must have a textbook, but then it’s never cracked open during the semester,” she continued. “For me, that experience was a waste of the money I already don’t have.
“I guess … I would not mind the (book) prices so much, if I felt like I got quality use from them,” noted the 21-year-old North, “but that doesn’t always happen.”

Book Authors, Students Biggest Losers

Dr. Janet Belsky, a professor of psychology at MTSU and textbook author several times over, said that for years, textbook authors have been pinned with a considerable share of the blame for ever-increasing textbook prices. However, such accusations couldn’t be further from the truth, she asserted.
“You can’t make money from writing textbooks,” observed Belsky, whose latest title, the 550-page Experiencing the Lifespan, was released December 2006 by Freeman & Worth. “Hour by hour, (writing a text pays the author) less than minimum wage, even for a potentially blockbuster, huge-market book.”
In all reality, she added, during a recent chat in her book-filled campus office, writing a text is a labor of love, not one undertaken for money, and it’s a process that takes years. As evidence, she pointed to the fact that new copies of her latest book currently list for about $81, and from this price tag, the book’s author “basically makes about 15 percent of the wholesale price for the book when it’s sold new.”

Textbook Stores: The Real Profiteers

All in all, reported Belsky – who estimates she’ll garner “a few dollars” from the sale of each brand-new book–people tend to forget that when used copies of a text are sold back to bookstores, there’s no income to be made for textbook authors – only for the textbook seller.
“When students sell their new book back at the end of the semester or quarter, from then on the author and publisher get nothing, nada, zip,” Belsky noted. “Basically, with a book like mine costing $80 new, the used-book dealer is going to pocket about $40, $50 or $60 – or more – depending on how often the book is sold back and bought again for no investment of time or money, except sitting at that buy-back table.”
And worse yet,” she lamented, “the professors’ free books, the complimentary texts they are sent, can even be sold as ‘new books,’ if the professors choose to sell them, which gives textbook authors nothing and undercuts the publishers because the book is being sold as ‘new’ at a lower cost.”
While many don’t see the hours upon hours that turn into years upon years that textbook authors, publishers and review committees devote to making academic texts concise and valuable to would-be learners in a given field, the motivation to undertake writing a textbook is usually rooted in a desire to make a difference, Belsky confirmed.
“My life’s passion is to make students think more deeply, to look at the world in a new way, to influence minds and captivate hearts,” she explained. “But also, I’m a knowledge pack rat; I love to learn all I can about a field … and I’m trying to make a real contribution to my field (by authoring textbooks).”
In short, as indicated by the federal study, textbook prices have steadily risen over the past two decades, with no signs of slowing. College students, meanwhile, pay the price, as do textbook authors, and it’s likely those who deal in used-book sales will continue to profit, as students seek ways to cut college costs.