Textbooks are expensive when compared to the cost of most other books. The expense of textbooks can be a burden for some students, especially if a course requires a new textbook that is not available as a somewhat cheaper used edition.
I am not going to try to evaluate whether textbooks are overpriced compared to what it costs to produce them and what the author(s) are paid and how much the college bookstores profit. I've read articles on the issue of textbook economics, but other than stating that I am not making a profit compared to my efforts with textbook-writing, I have little knowledge of the various components of textbook pricing. I am, however, interested in the phenomenon of the perception that textbooks are overpriced.
When I teach a large class, I put copies of the textbook on reserve in the library, and I tell students that they can acquire any edition they want -- the latest one or older ones, and I provide reading guides on the syllabus for the two most recent editions. In addition, I have a raffle on the first day of class and give away a dozen textbooks.
In my medium-sized classes for Science majors, I expect the students to buy the textbook or borrow a copy from me or the library. I recommend that they buy the book if at all possible, as they will use it as a reference for future courses, but I keep extra copies on hand for lending.
In my smallest class, I buy used copies of the primary text (a paperback with abundant inexpensive copies available) and give them to the students. They can keep the books or give them back at the end of the term, whichever they prefer.
So, in general I consider myself to be fairly accommodating about the issue of textbook expenses, but I must admit that at heart I don't really understand why textbook prices cause quite so much anger.
Whether or not someone is making an obscene profit at the expense of students who are struggling with the rising cost of higher education, the high cost of textbooks clearly makes some (many?) students angry. There are now textbook piracy websites that contain scanned copies of textbooks, and these websites are apparently motivated by a wish for 'revenge' against someone or something (e.g., publishers, professors, bookstores).
Why do textbooks in particular make students angry compared other high-price items involved in the cost of higher education or compared to other essential items such as computers?
- Other types of books are not nearly as expensive, so it is shocking to have to pay so much for something that is, after all, just a book. Students therefore assume that someone is making an 'unfair' profit at their expense.
- Many students buy their own textbooks, or at least do the selecting/ordering, and so are very aware of the price. If the price were included with the bill for tuition and fees, the amount wouldn't have such a visceral effect.
- The people making the students pay these high prices -- the professors who select and require the textbook -- are visible to the students in a way that, say, college presidents or computer manufacturers (or oil companies) are not.
I am just musing here, but whenever I read an article about the high cost of textbooks making people angry and upset, I wonder if part of the problem is that textbooks are books.
I wish that textbooks weren't so expensive and I support innovative efforts to make texts available at lower cost, but I think that student anger at professors for assigning (or writing) expensive textbooks is misplaced.
6 months ago