Bookstore Exploitation!

I really enjoyed the article ‘Textbook Affordability Act Passes First Term in Salem.’ For too long, people have just shrugged the shoulders and accepted the exploitation of the school bookstores that sell pamphlets for 100 bucks which are then not used in the course and which you are unable to sell back at the end of the term. I am a bitter, jaded person who refuses to support the school bookstore any more (although I did spend 17 dollars there the other day and it hurt so bad). I bought a 150 dollar book once which I was told I could get 15 dollars back for when I wanted to resell it. Now it sits in a box collecting dust. My 150 dollar French book is apparently not being accepted for resale anymore. The pain.

A few of the most interesting parts of this article:

“The most likely reason why college textbooks are so expensive is that the textbooks market itself is broken. In the textbooks market, the people who choose textbooks (faculty), are not the same people who must purchase textbooks (students). In addition, students are typically required to purchase textbooks as a course requirement, making them a captive consumer. This is an extraordinary dynamic. In his report to the U.S Department of Education, economist Dr. James Koch wrote that student demand for textbooks is “price inelastic”, meaning that unlike normal markets, demand for college textbooks changes very little even with significant price increases.”

With little inherent incentive to compete on the basis of price, publishers have instead historically chosen to compete around who can provide the book with the most “added value” regardless of cost. Publishers have raced to produce expensive “new” editions whether or not content has significantly changed and added additional instructional materials – both of which have helped drive up costs and undermine the used book market (which has long been the only respite for students looking for affordable books).”

It is true that expensive new editions of the books will go up but show almost no difference from the previous version (this is true of the philosophy book I am using right now). OSPIRG goes on to say:

“The intended effect of the price disclosure law is to re-insert price into the conversation between faculty and publishers. This alone is no guarantee that faculty will choose a cheaper option, or even that a cheaper option is available. However, the law could help prompt more faculty to search for less expensive options, opening up more space in the textbooks market and creating the kind of competition around price that the market needs.

There is certainly evidence that faculty are receptive to making price a criteria in textbooks selection, in spite of the market dynamics that run in the opposite direction. OSPIRG student chapters and many other PIRG chapters nationwide have been asking faculty to make a written commitment to consider switching to lower cost course materials, and over 2,500 faculty nationwide have agreed to do so.”

I agree that it is very good for the prices of the textbooks to be out in the open and not hidden in secret shame. This allows the student more time to search for cheaper editions, as is mentioned later in the article. I am also intrigued by what is written about students being able to access books for free online. That would be a true miracle and if SOU offered that option easily, I would certainly choose it over going out and buying books.

School is already expensive enough so I don’t see the reason why one should have to dip into their life savings or kiss their ideas of retirement goodbye every time they enter the bookstore. I support anything that lowers textbook prices to a reasonable amount.

About Ed Battistella

Edwin Battistella’s latest book Dangerous Crooked Scoundrels was released by Oxford University Press in March of 2020.
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