The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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Textbook prices still rising

It’s the end of the semester. You paid too much fortextbooks in January. Now you want to sell some back to the localbookstore, but your professor decides to use a new edition nextsemester. This reduces the bookstore’s offer.

“It’s definitely one of those things you talk aboutto your friends but feel there’s nothing to do aboutit,” said Kylie Slater, chair of the student senate issuescommittee.

Textbook prices have increased in recent years while itsconsumers seek solutions.

Varsity Bookstore Manager Cheryl McIntosh said textbook priceshave exceeded the rate of inflation. Ten years ago students wouldpay about $300 for textbooks in a semester with four or fiveclasses. Today that price is about $500, she said.

According to the inflation calculator on the Bureau of LaborStatistics Web site, $300 in 1994 is worth $376.92 today.

Students who want to get books for less go on the Internetrather than the

 SMU Barnes and Nobles Bookstore or the Varsity Bookstore.”They’re both about the same — expensive. Ifyou want to buy your books cheap you go on-line,”said Asher Hamilton, a first-year law student.

A study by The Daily Campus, of half a dozen textbooks selectedat random, shows that the SMU Bookstore and Varsity Bookstore docharge about the same price. List prices on Web sites likeAmazon.com were also the same. However, those same books whenavailable from independent sellers on Amazon.com sold for about 15percent of the price sold at these bookstores.

Bookstore representatives in Dallas and across the nation saidthat the publishers were responsible for the price increases.McIntosh said that they are reacting to the wholesale prices set bythe publishers. The National Association of College Storesreports that publishers receive about two-thirds of every dollarearned from a new textbook. Their findings are also based onfinancial data from the Association of American Publishers. Thosereports also show that about 20 percent of every dollar goesto college stores.

A study by the California Student Public Interest Research groupreports that publishers are using their influence on two levels.First, publishers are adding instructional materials such asCD-ROMs and workbooks that are seldom used. Second, publishersregularly release new textbook editions with fewchanges taking away the option of purchasing usedtextbooks.

The additional instructional materials are normally”bundled” in with new textbooks, doubling their pricein some instances.

Connect 2 One, a member of the Nebraska Company (VarsityBookstore’s mother company) wrote on their Web site thatbundling is hurting the bookstores along with the students.”These practices are costing bookstores and studentsmillions of dollars per year,” the organization wrote.While stores may make more money, they have less of a profit.

SMU professors Ed Biehl and Tom Fomby both think that priceshave increased but the books are superior to what they were 30 to40 years ago.

Biehl, chair of the chemistry department, said that textbooksmight have been about $20 in the 1960s, however it only listed themolecular formula of benzene for example. Today’s bookfeatures more graphics and colors to emphasize features.

A CD-ROM like Chem Draw may cost about $99, but Biehl cancustomize it for his class and they can draw out symbols andequations, he said. Buying textbooks bundled with study guides ischeaper than buying them separately, he said.

Fomby, a professor of economics, said that technology increasedboth prices and the learning curve. If the extra tools helpstudents learn the subject in 7 weeks rather than 13 then thehigher cost is worth it, he said.

Some students said that tools provided in the bundled packshelped them during the semester but not afterwards. When the coursedoes not encompass an aspect of their intended industry, studentshave no use for these tools.

Slater, a sophomore political science major, took a technologycourse which required buying a large bundled package for a coupleof hundred dollars. It included a textbook, four guides toMicrosoft programs and two CD-ROMs. Since the package was openedshe was only offered $60 during buy-backs.

The California study also argues that some publishers releasenew textbooks in one or two years without much change in content tomake it harder for the book to go into the used market. Fombylikens publishers to automobile manufacturers.

Biehl said that normally new editions have few changes that areenough to make it inconvenient for someone to use an old edition.He also said that books have to be updated. “If youdon’t revise your book within 10 years you’re out ofdate,” Biehl said. 

In instances where only minor changes must be made theCalifornia group suggests that paper supplements be added ratherthan publishing an entire round of new books. According to theNACS, about one-third of every textbook dollar goes topublishers’ printing and editorial costs.

One publisher in California, Thomson Higher Education, isreleasing 25 books this summer and fall in two-color production,smaller trim sizes and unbound.

According to the company’s press release, these books willcost 25 percent less than the cost of hardcover.

Until textbooks are readily available on the Internet moststudents will have to rely on books with increasing editorialcosts. They may get a break in the near future. U.S.Senator CharlesSchumer proposed a $1,000 federal income tax deduction to overcomethe elevated cost of textbooks for parents and their students.

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