Hannah Pederson, Reporter
Students know that painful clenching sensation in their gut when walking to the campus bookstore to spend a king’s ransom on a quarter’s worth of textbooks.
This feeling and experience isn’t an isolated incident; it’s an epidemic. According to a report published in June 2013 by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, college textbook prices have increased at three times the rate of inflation over the past decade. This unprecedented spike prompted an amendment to the Higher Education Opportunity Act in 2008, followed by an investigation on part of the U.S. GAO to promote transparency with textbook publishing companies. The goal being to see why prices have been rising at such a breakneck speed and if there are any solutions in sight.
It’s evident that prices are much higher than they should be.
Students aren’t the ones choosing which textbooks to buy, the professors are. Professors are more interested in what’s inside the book than what’s under the barcode on the back cover. This dynamic is called the principal-agent problem, which means that the person deciding what the student has to purchase isn’t considering the price because they’re not the ones buying it.
Therefore, textbook publishing companies cater to the people picking out the textbook, not the ones buying them. They create more unnecessary additions and crank out more updated editions, though that’s not the only reason why prices are so uncomfortably high.
The textbook industry was never fond of students selling back textbooks, but when the internet came along and enabled students to sell back faster and more often, it was financially devastating. The window to market and sell their product was shrinking at an exponential rate; so the publishing companies try to make the most of it.
Companies bolstered the price of their books to cover their losses. Since they couldn’t sell as many textbooks, they raised the prices of the ones they could. Publishers started producing new editions as soon as the previous ones hit the shelves, forcing students to purchase brand new textbooks at exorbitant prices. These seemed like relatively solid ideas, until inevitably students found a way around it.
Services like manybooks.net offer hundreds of thousands of ebooks free for illegal download, and they’re not alone. Sites like these are gaining in popularity, and it’s no mystery as to why. What other choice do students have?
Well, they could not buy the textbook; because that’s always a viable option.
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