Saturday, September 17, 2005

NYT on the soaring price of textbooks

Nice New York Times op-ed piece on the textbook scam.

26 Comments:

Anonymous Ragman said...

There's at least one physics prof at UTD that tells you to bring your own physics book.

I had a history prof who recommended buying an older edition of the text at the used book store for <$5. She said it doesn't change enough to matter.

If profs put the ISBNs of their req'd texts in the syllabus, post it online ahead of the semester, students could then buy their texts online.

10:56 AM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

It's a great article. I think this is a topic that needs to be drug out into the light, kicking and screaming.

I did notice that the article didn't mention much about profs that author these $150 books and then require them for class.

I had a history prof that required us to buy 4 books. Two that he authored, and one that was authored by a pal of his. The fourth book was the one that he taught and tested out of. The others were just "required reading" that never had a direct relevance on our class material and were never tested on.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

Oh... I know (or at least I think I know) how you feel about greek organizations, but here is a good article you might find of interest.

http://www.cpwire.com/archive/192005/8/22/1869.asp

11:01 AM  
Blogger SuperHolmie said...

When I was in grad school, a professor offered us a 3-inch binder of his photocopied notes instead of having us purchase a textbook. He charged us $40 for the binder and all the photocopying (easily an entire ream of paper.)No trip to the bookstore, no inflated prices...glorious.

11:12 AM  
Blogger Yvette said...

My current circuits book is listed as $120 in the university bookstore. However, I got it brand new one online for $25 because I got the "international edition" instead- exactly the same except the online one is paperback.

12:56 PM  
Blogger Cold Potato said...

Does anyone have the breakdown for how much money gets spent where in the process of printing a textbook?

Only when students and teachers band together as one will we see any change in where textbook prices are heading.

2:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

School starts. Go to class. Check things out. Don’t buy the book if not absolutely necessary. Could very well be the difference between having A/C and decent food for the first few weeks in the ol’ attic apartment. Attended a large public university and mainly went to class and took notes. Fuck those $100+ books, especially when the instructor wants you to buy about three of them along with a study guide and workbook.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the professor's side, getting an answer about how much a the book is going to cost students is almost imposssible.

The other part of the scam is the "revision"... in the case of one of my books, they "revised" by adding color to the pages and adding a few problems to solve.. one of which wasn't proofread properly and thus contained errors. The trouble with new versions is that the bookstore will only stock the newest version and will only buy back the newest version, thus leaving students with an expensive book they can't get any kind of refund for...

I actually selected 4/5ths of my textbooks this year because the author has recently died, and thus is less likely to bring out new versions.

2:59 PM  
Blogger The Matt said...

What I wish could happen is that Dover becomes king. Good ol' Dover is by far the grad students best friend in Physics, Math, and Theoretical Chemistry. Sure you end up with a paperback on middling paper, but a Dover Classic is usually 70+% of the original books price.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the information is good, what's the difference between Dover and the rest?

5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Picked up a computer book in China for my niece: a Chinese translation of an English textbook. Cost in China: 28 RMB -- about $5. Cost over here: $60 -- and the English edition is printed in China.

Both editions are paperback, and come with an included CD of software and sample code.

7:50 PM  
Blogger Greg - Cowboy in the Jungle said...

On the buy backs... Here is a tip.

Many book stores stamp the edge of the pages oposite the spine when they sell a used book. they do this so when they buy it back, they know it has been twice used and pay less for it.

I use to buy the books with the most "used" stamps down the pages and then take a coton ball with straght bleach and bleach of the stamps.

Ofer the course of the semester the pages take on a little oil or dirt from handling and by the end of the semester there is no evidence that any one but me owned the book. Cost for a book $50.00 Buy back price $45.00. Not too bad...

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

do what the third world students are doing: fire up mirc and download gigabytes upon gigabytes of old and new books_needless to say, every bit free.

hint *google*

3:46 AM  
Blogger Doug & Dara said...

I am in grad school and this is my first semester teaching -- I have two sections of Intro to PR. The department switched the book this year and a paperback is $90-something. I was floored when the students told me. I told them that I am using the book because the department requires me to, but they can share, buy it from other sources or use the library copy. I use teaching objectives so they know chapter by chapter what they will be tested on and will know if something isn't covered in class, it will be in the text.

The thing is, I have more than a dozen years of experience working in PR and most of the stuff in the book they will never come in contact with. Instead of talking Systems Theory, the book needs to discuss Diffusion of Innovation Theory as that is the normal buying cycle with customers. One of the top PR agencies they listed in regards of billings, neither myself nor my friends still in the biz have heard of (I'm thinking it might be a typo). I almost fell out of my chair when the book suggested faxing a press release. I can't remember the last time a reporter wanted something faxed.

The sad thing is one of the other PR teachers told me she thought this was a great text and had really good test bank questions. Of course she's never worked in a agency and I won't comment about her experience. Bottom line, I spent 4+ hours yesterday creating a 50-question test for my students because I know what I covered and know what I think is important for them to learn (or what I would want an intern to know if I were hiring them). My instructional comm prof likens these textbooks to "courses in a box" where you can just open and repeat the info inside. He doesn't see that as real teaching and as I am quickly learning, neither do I. Unless it's my own and I buy into it, it comes across fake and/or muddled.

PS-I really like your blog!

7:42 AM  
Anonymous lucille said...

OK, yes, but ... isn't it true that publisher subsidize the first books required for tenure with money-making textbooks? That *still* doesn't mean students should pay those prices. But the other side of the scam might be that you can't get tenure without publishing a book, however lame or pointless it might be, and however few people buy it.

But when I ordered a really heavy anthology that sold for $60, and that my students had to drag around all day, all hell broke loose. So that was the end of that. All hail Dover Classics, then. Now I order these and insist that my students buy them at $1-2 a pop and then MARK THEM UP so they actually learn how to take notes on a literary text (slow down, circle important words, keep a running list of characters, note patterns of imagery along the margins). No complaints so far, and they are better readers than when they are making do with shared copies or keeping them pristine for book buy-back.

4:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good point about the size issue --- I have changed to small books, one for original texts and one for a college freshman's level explanation of the ideas in the original texts. My students are significantly more likely to have them in class, so we can do short read/discuss periods.

Patty

9:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is the college bookstores on campus that do the most damage. Last year I had to by a $150 calc book. At the end of the year, when I went to sell it back, they told me it was only worth a dollar.

The same text is being used in calc 2 this year, and for all those who parted with their book for a dollar had to buy it back for ninety. My classmate actually bought her own book back from last year. Over two years her calc book has cost her $239. I looked it up online, when I was going to sell mine, $60 used

10:52 PM  
Anonymous Ang said...

Last year I spent $750 dollars on books for one semester! This year I bought them at amazon and ended up spending about $70. I'm going to try to sell them back to the bookstore for a profit (ours guarantees half the original price return). We'll see if it works.

8:41 AM  
Anonymous kgirl said...

Middle daughter is in her junior year. Had two buy two books for two "core" (i.e., required-for-graduation) classes that have nothing to do with her major.

They each cost more than $150.00.

The book for her sociology class was written by 6 professors at her university. A quote from page 27: "Children of divorce also frequently have problems with sexual identity. In most studies, boys seem to be harder hit than girls."

It goes on to imply that divorce creates gay males.

Give me a break.

We paid over $100 for this tripe?

10:15 AM  
Blogger Lia said...

All my textbooks cost $100+. What that means is that the freshmen all buy their own books. Everyone else makes friends as fast as possible and borrows. While you do have to occasionally buy your own copy, you can save a lot by finding out who already bought it.

Other ways to save on books - buying old editions, which isn't always possible, and buying international editions online, which isn't always legal.

So nice that there's a professor out there who's honest. I had a class where the professor assigned his own book, too. But at least it was a good book and it wasn't that expensive. He didn't offer to return the royalties, though.

11:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A faculty perspective (we're not all evil, heartless and money-grubbing): (1) I do distribute ISBN numbers, but I have to do it very quietly, because the bookstore people get upset with us when we give students that information. Most of my colleagues do the same. (2) My overheads -- which are, to say the least, exhaustive, are available for download. So, a lot of folks don't buy the book or split a copy. (3) The textbook authors aren't, as far as I know, the ones getting the big money. (4) There are some textbooks that need fairly frequent revision -- my International Business text is one. Others, as so many folks have pointed out, don't change, or the changes are so minor that I can take care of them in class. (5) The supplements, CDs, etc. are, at least in my experience, useless -- I've never used them.

12:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another faculty voice..

The CDs are often worthless and full of mistakes. I don't assign them because they are often missing from used textbooks, as our bookstore isn't organized enough to require them back with every book bought back.

It has been my experience that bookstores say they want to buy back books--- so, the professors need to place book orders early so that the bookstore will know what to buy back for the next semester. The Calc book stuff above sounds either like the bookstore didn't realize the same book was going out for Calc I in the first year and Calc II in the seocnd... or, the order process got messed up in the spring so they didn't know what to buy back.

I would never take 1$ for a book, I'd either keep it or sell it on the open bulletin boards at school for 2/3 the cost of the used ones in the store. Someone will buy it...

6:13 AM  
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2:51 AM  
Blogger GAVIN said...

Textbooks can cost anywhere from $5 to $300, but the average new college textbook price is about $100. When you shop for cheap textbooks, you can drop that average down significantly with used books. In fact, the average price paid for a textbook is just $44 across our network of textbook sites.

9:24 AM  

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