Unbelievable Textbook Cartels
It’s not as if profits for the textbook industry were very high for individual authors, as if this were true more firms would enter into the industry, but that is not the case. (Boudreaux & Meiners, 2010)
“If they can persuade a university or professor to require a book for the professor’s class, they need not please the end user at all.” (Painter, 2015) Textbook publishers who compete on anything but price, offer defenses such as the costs assigned to publish textbooks verses other books out way it on the amount of labor-intense work of academics, so much that they charge an extra $100. “[Such arguments follow that] textbooks feature expensive charts, graphs, and images, as well as supplementary materials such as videos, instructor manuals, and study guides.” (Painter, 2015)
“According to NBC’s review of Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data, textbook prices have risen over three times the rate of inflation from January 1977 to June 2015, a 1,041 percent increase.” (Popken, 2015) Figure 1 below shows the increase in college textbooks against the increase in the consumer price index. A report by U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs reports that almost half of the students surveyed said that high textbook costs had impacted on the amount of units they took each semester. (2014)
Source: (Carpe Diem in Perry, 2015).
However, government regulation that tries to artificially lower prices is not the answer. “With the [Federal Textbook Act], Uncle Sam enters the college textbook business and, more ominously, college classrooms.” (Boudreaux & Meiners, 2010) Of which high textbook prices stem from such policies. “Government efforts at cost control will have unintended consequences, lowering textbook quality and probably spreading from “transparency and disclosure” measures to content regulation.” (Boudreaux & Meiners, 2010) Having a competitive textbook market is the key to having low cost textbooks at the best possible qualities. “To comply with this statute, colleges must burn up more administrator time producing mandatory reports of dubious value.” (Boudreaux & Meiners, 2010)
Students need to avoid spending outrageous amounts of money on textbooks that they will never open. “[Therefore, some] students respond to this with another grey market tactic: using PDF versions of a book, shared by a classmate who either scans it from a print version or pirates it from the Web.” (Painter, 2015) Market alternatives which have emerged include free online pdf files, however the most of the time devoted to online reading is spent scanning and skimming with the multiple online social media distractions, and that is limited to when one has an internet connection. However, “[textbook] makers, bookstore owners and college student surveys all say millennials still strongly prefer print for pleasure and learning, a bias that surprises reading experts given the same group’s proclivity to consume most other content digitally.” (Rosenwald, 2015) Additionally, another problem is the lack of substitutes for textbooks that are assigned.
In order to avoid subsidized textbooks from your campus bookstore, that will most likely only cover a fraction of educational material and is often biased toward one view or another. Students can instead photocopy or check out the textbooks from your library. “The fair use provision in copyright law allows small samples of text to be provided for educational use, but the internet in general is starting to change the way people think about intellectual property.” (Painter, 2015) After looking at your course syllabus with the list of books your required to buy, don’t just go out and purchase all of them, as there are often open source, free, and digital resources of them or close to the same material online. Whatever, you do don’t be forced into buying newer editions as the old editions are most likely as good.
Additionally, technology has not only allowed for pdf versions but also lowered the cost of materials for production and distribution purposes. “Open textbooks are those licensed under open copyright licenses and often made freely available to the public.”
Painter, H. (2015). Why are college textbooks such a racket? And what can we do about it?. Foundation For Economic Education. Retrieved [29/04/16] from <https://fee.org/articles/why-are-college-textbooks-such-a-racket-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/>.
Popken, B. (2015). College textbook prices have risen 1,041% since 1977. MSNBC. Retrieved [29/04/15] from <http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/college-textbook-prices-have-risen-1041-1977>.
Perry, M (2015). The new era of the $400 college textbook, which is part of the unsustainable higher education bubble. American Enterprise Institute. Retrieved [29/04/16] from <http://www.aei.org/publication/the-new-era-of-the-400-college-textbook-which-is-part-of-the-unsustainable-higher-education-bubble/>.
U.S. PIRG Education Fund and the Student PIRGs. (2014). Fixing the broken textbook market. United States Public Interest Research Group. Retrieved [29/04/16] from <http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/fixing-broken-textbook-market>.
Rosenwald, M. (2015). Why digital natives prefer reading in print. The Washington Post. Retrieved [29/04/16] from <https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/why-digital-natives-prefer-reading-in-print-yes-you-read-that-right/2015/02/22/8596ca86-b871-11e4-9423-f3d0a1ec335c_story.html>.
Boudreaux, D. & Meiners, R. (2010). A “textbook case” of government overreach. The John William Pope Center. Retrieved [29/04/16] from <http://www.popecenter.org/commentaries/article.html?id=2339>.
Albright, L. (2013). Technology and the textbook oligopoly. The Ludwig von Mises Institute of Canada. Retrieved [29/04/16] from <https://www.mises.ca/technology-and-the-textbook-oligopoly>.
Featured image supplied from Unsplash (edited).
Copyright © 2016 Zoë-Marie Beesley
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.