Do you know how much the textbooks you assign cost?

3 01 2010

Every professor in America should read this post at Boing Boing on the academic textbook market. While I’m tempted to do more with the “faculty = physicians, and textbook publishers = drug companies” analogy, I think I’ll focus instead on one factoid from the piece in particular:

“One study found 42% of faculty did not know the cost of their textbooks.”

I’m not sure whether I fit into that category or not. Since I’m writing this at home, it’s a happy coincidence that I have two of the textbooks I’m assigning for my survey class next semester right here on my desk. I know the price of one of them, Bread & Roses, by Bruce Watson (good book, by the way) because it’s printed on the back. It’s $16.00.

With respect to my main textbook, I decided to switch to the not-as-left-wing-as-it-used-to-be-classic Who Built America? from the American Social History Project. Despite its left-wing reputation, it (just like every other general survey textbook I’ve ever seen) has no price on the back. Amazon is charging $41.15 for it (which strikes me as pretty good all things considered), but my point is that my college bookstore could be charging twice that and the students will never know.

I’m not saying faculty play no role in high textbook prices, but if from my experience there is far too cozy a relationship between publishers that depend upon overcharging students and college bookstores that overcharge students for the same texts.

Assign books with prices on them and that becomes much harder, and that’s something I almost always do. At one time, I took the effort to either distribute the names of all my assigned texts or post them online so that students will have every opportunity to avoid getting taken to the cleaners. I have lapsed in recent semesters, but not anymore. Indeed, I think I’ll go check and see what Who Built America? is going for in the bookstore tomorrow and perhaps save some students some money.

Update: My survey students are paying $49.50 for that text at our bookstore. That doesn’t sound all that bad, except I haven’t mentioned yet that all those copies are used. The bookstore claims the list price is $65.00.



One response

4 01 2010

I don’t think my college bookstore is colluding (it’s actually independently owned, not a chain, profits support the school, and they send us emails like “order early so we can get used copies and your students can save money!”), but I have noticed that browsing publisher websites, they are often very oblique about the price—you really have to search for it, it’s not always there (may have improved recently). And when I use the online ordering system for my bookstore, it doesn’t give prices. So you really have to work to know the prices of what you order, and I don’t always do that work.

The other info I had to work to get—how much does Financial Aid suggest students should budget for books each semester? Might be a useful FYI for profs, but again, I had to work to get it.

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