Rising textbook prices affect students

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April 12, 2011

12:59 AM

Deadlines for submitting textbook requests to college bookstores for fall 2011 classes are fast approaching across the nation. Although faculty members are responsible for turning in these orders, students are the group primarily influenced by the process, as it directly affects how much their already expensive textbooks will cost for the upcoming semester.

“Having not paid for books in high school, I was astounded and a little bit outraged as to what I have to pay for now,” Michael Vanderloo ’14 said.

A National Association for College Stores 2010 Student Watch report estimated that students spent approximately $667 on textbooks during the 2008-2009 academic year. A 2004 study by the Government Accounting Office noted the average price of textbooks has tripled over the past two decades and has risen at twice the rate of inflation.

This price increase is due in part to the fact that the market for textbooks is controlled by roughly four companies that own about 80 percent of the market share, according to an economic report by Dr. James Koch, an economics professor and president emeritus at Old Dominion University.

It is also dependent, however, on faculty practices. If professors submit textbook requests on time, the College of William and Mary bookstore buys students’s used copies of books needed for future semesters at 50 percent of their original value. These books are then sold again at a reduced rate.

If professors miss the submission deadline, however, the College bookstore purchases back textbooks at a less generous rate and does not offer as many used books for the next semester’s classes.

The high price of textbooks at college bookstores has led some students to forgo them altogether and pursue other options.

“When I first came to school, I purchased books straight from the bookstore, but now I try to save some more money and search for the best deal online,” Wils Desonne ’13 said.

According to the 2010 Student Watch study, students reported purchasing 59 percent of their assigned text books through their college’s bookstore or its website. Students are finding the other 41 percent of their textbooks from various online sources that market themselves as alternatives to traditional college bookstores.

Popular websites among students at the College include Amazon.com, Half.com and Chegg.com.

According to “Little Incentive to Control Costs,” a July 2010 New York Times article by founder and executive director of ForgiveStudentLoanDebt.com Robert Applebaum, it is unlikely prices will decline even with the rise of online textbook vendors.

“Everyone — even the professors who often profit from royalties from textbook sales — except the student has a monetary incentive to keep things just the way they are,” Applebaum wrote.

Managing Editor Becky Koenig contributed to this article.

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