During a February 1 press conference at the California Sate Capitol, the California Public Interest Research Group released a second edition of its report on textbook inflation, “Ripoff 101: How the Publishing Industry’s Practices Needlessly Drive up Textbook Costs.” This report includes a survey conducted by the State Public Interest Research Groups that exposes a number of shocking statistics, proving that textbooks are highly overpriced.
According to the PIRGs survey, new editions of the most widely purchased textbooks are being published, on average, every three years. The average price of the new textbooks surveyed is 12 percent more than the current new edition-nearly twice the rate of inflation between 2000 and 2003 (6.8 percent)-and 45 percent more than the current used edition. Some books are priced even higher than the average 12 percent. For example, the sixth edition of Houghton Mifflin’s “Macroeconomics” textbook was priced 21 percent higher than its fifth edition, which was released three years prior.
In a survey conducted by Ebay in July of 2004, 43 percent of students said they have chosen not to purchase a required textbook for at least one of their classes, in an effort to save money. Almost 50 percent of these students lack assistance from their parents or student loans making college a stressful battle to a higher education.
Once the new edition of a textbook is published, colleges usually stop carrying the previous editions of the text, making it hard for students to purchase used books. In last year’s State PIRGs survey, 59 percent of students were unable to find a single used textbook for their classes.
Publishers have argued that new editions of textbooks are necessary to meet faculty demand for updated information. Yet, an overwhelming 76 percent of the faculty surveyed in “Ripoff:101” said that new editions are justified only half of the time or less.
Half of the textbooks surveyed by the PIRGs were sold in bundles-which means packaged with non-required material such as CD-ROMs and dictionaries. Publishers feature gimmicks such as “bundling” to drive up textbook costs. The average bundled version of a textbook is 10 percent more than the same text in non-bundle form. Of the textbooks surveyed, 55 percent were not available in non-bundle form at the publishers’ discretion. In last year’s State PIRGs survey, only 25 percent of professors used the extra material “always” or “usually.” This means that most of the extras that students are paying for go untouched.
“Ripoff: 101” also exposed the fact that American students are charged more for textbooks than those who study overseas. The average textbook surveyed by the PIRGs cost 20 percent less in the United Kingdom than in the United States. Some textbook prices are oppressively more in the United States than in the United Kingdom. For example, Pearson’s “Calculus” textbook, sells for about $100 in the United States. The same book was found on the U.K. Amazon.com website for only $38. And Freeman’s “Chemical Principles” textbook cost $185 in the U.S. opposed to $88 in the U.K. This is an unfair and unreasonable price hike to the American student.
To save money on textbooks students can turn to the internet. They can purchase used text books online through Ebay.com, Half.com, and Amazon.com. While this does save money, it has no affect on the cost of new textbooks. To see a modification in new textbook prices, the Publishers have to make some changes.
According to CALPIRG, publishers need to keep production cost as low as possible without sacrificing educational content. Bundled textbooks should always have an un-bundled alternate version available. And online versions should be released simultaneously with print versions of a textbook. Publishers should also be required to explain their reasons for making new editions of a text argues CALPIRG, and should have to print these reasons in the new text and have them be readily available where the text is sold.
If something is not done about textbook prices, the sky is the limit on how much major publishing companies can and will charge the American student. For more information on the State Public Interest Research Groups’ Higher Education Project or to obtain a copy of “Ripoff: 101” visit www.pirg.org/highered.