The High Cost of Textbooks

I've recently been exploring the cost of the textbook for one of my courses. By itself, it goes for $152.35 at the bookstore. However, I require students to do online labs, so they have to buy an access code. Previously, bundling the code with the (new) textbook added exactly $2.95 to the cost. The cost of the textbook + code bundle this term? A whopping $187.40. This means the code adds $35.05 to the price of the book. Yikes!

Just wait--it gets worse. If you buy this code online, it will cost you $33.26. Whuh? The reason why I've gone with the bundle is that it has saved students money--not cost them more. What's the advantage of bundling?

And it's even worse. According to the bookstore, the bundle increased in price since last semester by $17.75. Whuh? Worse, compared to a year ago, it now costs $41.19 more. Double-whuh? This is for the same textbook, mind you; not a new edition or anything.

Back in 2005, an error was made (either by the bookstore or by the publisher) and the price of the textbook + code bundle in another course of mine was too high. In that case, students were able to get a refund of the difference, as long as they still had their receipt from the bookstore. That time, the error was caught pretty early on, when the term was less than one month over. Now I don't know if students will be getting a refund this time, but even if that is the case, who hangs on to their receipts for everything for months and months? (And how come no mistake ever happens where the cost of something is accidentally too low?)

It may come as a surprise, but instructors don't know the price of textbooks beforehand. I kind of have the implicit assumption that prices will be stable--at least from one term to another within the same academic year. I see now that's not the case, which is pretty sneaky.

Asking students to spend almost $190 is just too much. I hate to dump a (very good) textbook just because of its price. I would also hate to get rid of a highly regarded and useful online lab because of price. But too much is too much.

What price do you think is reasonable for a textbook? (No, $0 is not considered reasonable...)

Why aren't you studying?

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Update: The publishing company rep got back to me with this on 3/20/2009:

Last year we had to bring our prices more in line with their prices to prevent cross border sales of lower priced product into their market (it is illegal but happens nonetheless). That is largely why the prices went up last year. We are under an agreement to maintain a certain level of compliance with this. We realize the price for the 7th edition is high but it isn’t a mistake.
In a wacky twist, the new edition of the textbook (the 8th edition) is going to be cheaper than the 7th edition.

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Update on 9/3/2009: The new edition of the textbook is in--but the news is not good. The publisher told me the net price of the package is $121; the list price was supposed to be $151.95. The list price is the publisher's suggested retail price. So why is the package selling for $166.95 in the bookstore? According to the bookstore manager, that price reflects the bookstore's actual markup, which is 5% above list price. Argh!


Anonymous said...

$150 is the max that I would like to spend for one course's textbook + online keys.

But I'm not sure I would want to sacrifice the quality of a text to get a lower price.

practicalphilosopher said...

Is this a good time to mention that, after about two hours with the software support, I was informed that mypsychlab for psychology 104 was incompatible with my mac?

I don't understand why students have to pay so much for substandard service. There's certainly a feeling that we are a captive consumer being taken advantage of. Not by the bookstore, that takes a surprisingly low markup, but by these publishers that suck every penny from the student.

I do agree with anonymous - I love a well written textbook. I'm willing to pay a little extra for one. But 190 is ridiculous.

Would it be possible to set up the online work through e-learning?

Anonymous said...

I would agree with $150 maximum, having all the extras included in the cost. Especially since the book was apparently edited by cats.

Anonymous said...

I would prefer if you continued to use this textbook and you worked the cost out with the company. I say this because I would really like to be able to sell this textbook in the spring, and if you're not using it anymore, I will not be able to get any of my $200 back.

Karsten Loepelmann said...

@practicalphilosopher: Sorry about the troubles with your Mac. I've talked to the publisher's rep for that company--they know about the problem, and will fix it in the next version.

Currently, there's no way to gather all the content together in any other format. Although there are e-textbook versions of some textbooks, they cost around $80 or so. The problem is that you cannot resell these to anyone else. You also don't get to keep it forever, which I believe is a useful thing. (I still have my intro psych textbook!)

@Anonymous: I am sensitive not only to price, but about the resale market as well. As far as I'm aware, you could sell your textbook back to the bookstore--even if the prof has switched textbooks, correct? (BTW, when I do switch or go with a new edition, the bookstore is the last to know ;-)

Anonymous said...

even though $150 is pretty average for a textbook, this is still TOO MUCH, hence why i prefer to buy them used off of people via the bulletin boards in places like cab, or u of a's used books for sale facebook group- if you look around you can get books for cheaper and they are still in good condition too! i feel the bookstore overcharges and jacks up prices, especially for their used books, when they buy them from students for like 5$ and then sell them for $100 which may only be a 20$ discount off the price of a new one! (not to mention the bad conditions of some of these books!) the thing is, sometimes its REQUIRED that you need the newest edition of a book that just came out, or the online stuff it comes with, and that means you have no choice but to buy it from the bookstore for $150+! my most expensive textbook to date was one for an advanced cell biology course- 300-expletive-dollars! i think that above $100 is unreasonable for any textbook.

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