UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Textbook Tyranny – Editorial 2/5/04

Education matters, and that’s why more students are getting angry at rising costs. But it’s not just the cost of tuition causing students pain. Each semester we spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks, and each semester we feel ripped off.

If the high cost of textbooks is getting to you, you might want to take a look at a new report from the California and Oregon Student Public Interest Research Groups (CSPIRG and OSPIRG). MassPIRG presented “Ripoff 101: How the Current Practices of the Textbook Industry Drive Up the Cost of College Textbooks” at a press conference on Thursday, January 29. The report charges the textbook industry with price gouging and gives a clearly organized account of unfair industry practices.

After seeing the kind of money people shell out for these books you might want to get a piece of that action. So, The Mass Media presents a short “how-to” guide for anyone who wants to learn the art of textbook price gouging:

1) Be innovative. Package your textbooks with unneeded “bells and whistles” that allow you to drive up prices. Of faculty and students surveyed at 10 public colleges and universities, over 65% of teachers responded that they “rarely” or “never” use extra materials (such as CD ROMS) that come bundled with books. And of 33 textbooks bundled with extra materials only one could be found unbundled-at half the price.

2) Reprint the first edition and advertise it as the second. This way you can eliminate the competition of used textbooks. UMB Biology professor Rick Kesseli says a “certain genetics” textbook has been reissued every two to three years with “very few changes,” and says this is not a case of just one bad apple. By frequently issuing “new” editions, publishers force students to buy new rather than used books, eating up students’ budgets as well as precious paper.

3) Remember, textbooks are always more expensive in the U.S. Whatever price you charge your overseas customers, double it for customers in the USA. For example, a certain calculus book put out by Thompson Learning that sells for $59 in the UK goes for $122 stateside.

“Ripoff 101” is already getting the wheels of justice to turn for students. Oregon Congressman David Wu, who serves on the House Education Committee, recently unveiled a bill to investigate the textbook industry for price gouging practices.

In addition to legislative action, the PIRGs are going to be continuing their campaign against price gouging at the grassroots level. A national campaign will target the publisher Thompson Learning to lower the cost of their books.

Clearly, we’re all paying too much when we go to the bookstore every semester. To help put an end to it, students should contact their representatives and ask them to support Congressman Wu’s initiative. Here on campus we encourage you to pay that MassPIRG fee; it might cost you an extra $6 now but it could save you hundreds in the long run.