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Can someone explain to me why college textbooks are ridiculously costly ?

  1. Jan 17, 2010 #1
    I was looking on amazon.com and looking at Leonard susskind's black hole war and David Griffith's Introduction to quantum mechanics and they were both hard cover and Leonard susskind's book contained more pages than Griffith's Introduction to Quantume mechanics costs 5 times as much as Susskind book, even though they are both hardcover and susskind's book contained more pages than Griffith's book. What is the explanation for the ridiculous uncompromising price of a college textbook? Is the price ridiculously expensive because publishers of college textbooks knows that they will have a limited audience when they published a college textbook much like the ridiculous price of academic journals ? textbooks should not be more than the cost of most ipods and the latest video games.
  2. jcsd
  3. Jan 17, 2010 #2


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    The disconnect between the person who chooses the book and the one who buys it eliminates price competition. In addition, there is planned obsolecence and anti-competitive tactics.
  4. Jan 17, 2010 #3
    wow, I was searching Griffith's intro to em and quantum mechanics too. Their way too expensive, not worth it. I'll get it from the library. :(

    The quantum mechanics is $35 more in Canadian then U.S. :( WHY?
  5. Jan 17, 2010 #4
    there is also a trend toward the price including more than simply a book. publishers like pearson will also have online content and online testing. so, the students are now paying an extra fee in addition to tuition for someone to evaluate their performance.
  6. Jan 17, 2010 #5
    There are many (cheaper and better)alternatives to Griffiths.

    Anyway, textbook prices are too high, you have to find:

    1. A GOOD bookstore(you often see 30-50% discount on good books, if you find a good store. Try to find one locally owned instead of chains like Borders if you can).

    2. Alternatives. Mainstream books do not always mean the best or most insightful. By getting an alternative, you can save a lot of money. I do not think I have ever liked the "standard recommendations" (Griffiths, Goldstein, Jackson, Sakurai, Rudin, etc.) anyway, so it worked out for me and it might work out for you.

    3. Lecture notes. Sometimes, lecture notes are better than any textbook. For example, Terrence Tao's Analysis lecture notes were better than any book on Analysis available(not anymore since h then wrote two books on Analysis).
  7. Jan 17, 2010 #6


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    Simple, you are paying $X*10,000 a year for tuition you aren't going to care about a few $1000 in textbooks.

    It used to be the one area where the UK was cheaper, the same textbooks (sometimes in paperback) cost 20-30GBP instead of $150-180 - simply because tuition was free.
  8. Jan 17, 2010 #7
    something else i thought of. in addition to the online assignments and grading, the books are also coming with "test banks" and software to automatically generate exams for the teachers. lots of features are being added to convince professors to choose the book. and these features cost money. it's no longer like you're paying some guy that writes a book and finds a publisher for it. your money goes to support a production company.

    and now, this is what i'm seeing at the lower undergrad level as a returning student. for upper level classes, the books were always expensive, and often very thin (which makes you feel even more ripped off when you can't use it for 4 quarters like an old calculus book). for a grad level text, you have no economy of scale to bring the price down, so the price is probably actually somewhat fair.
  9. Jan 17, 2010 #8
    There is more area on a page, and the quality of paper is much higher than that of a cheap paperback or a hardcover. Also many textbooks are printed in color, with graphs and photographs. That adds to the tab.
  10. Jan 17, 2010 #9
    Note: It gets better as you advance, since the upper level books lack the expensive "gloss,"

    That is cruel business!
  11. Jan 18, 2010 #10
    Not having an education is way more expensive.
  12. Jan 18, 2010 #11
    Sooo true...

    On a side note, for most books, whether they be in the science realm or anywhere else for that matter, the actual number of pages matters very little. I recently purchased a large 800 page paperback book, for roughly $15 (list price), yet a small book on Antimatter, roughly 150-200 pages, costed me about $25.
  13. Jan 18, 2010 #12

    Ben Niehoff

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    You can get good deals on Amazon if you wait till about 3 weeks after the semester begins. They always jack up the price during the prime buying season.

    And you can get even better deals if you have some Indian friends...
  14. Jan 18, 2010 #13
    The books are cheaper in Europe, it is funny how on all American books we use there is a note on the back "Not for Sale in the U.S.A. or Canada". By the way it is the same thing with medicine.
  15. Jan 18, 2010 #14


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    The elasticity of demand for textbooks is relatively inelastic; therefore, with monopoly pricing, the prices will tend to be far above costs.
  16. Jan 18, 2010 #15
    I just saw Griffith's book costs $108 (discount from $137 even) on Amazon, which is indeed ridiculously high. I have the book myself (live in the Netherlands) and I'm pretty sure I paid only about 40 euros for it, which would be $57 now probably more like $45/50 back when I bought it (with different exchange rates). It does indeed note clearly that it's not for sale in the USA or canada, hehe.

    I don't know if I should recommend the book for you, as I've never read a similar book to compare it to, but I enjoyed reading it a lot, much more than any other textbook (on different subjects though).
  17. Jan 18, 2010 #16
    A quick tip is to buy the current edition minus one. i.e. my thermodynamics class required the 9th (newest) edition of the book priced at $160, while the 8th edition was going for $20-$30 on sites like amazon and half.com. The difference between ed 8 and ed 9? Cover art, a few grammar and spelling mistakes, couple of HW problems reworded, and introduced some new errors (probably so edition 10 could be released a couple years later).

    Doesn't work for every book (books that have many editions work best). Use the library to make your best judgement.
  18. Jan 18, 2010 #17
    foreign pricing is often different, and much lower for the foreign sold item. for example, prescription drugs cost much more in the US than what they're sold for in a foreign market. you simply gouge a market to the extent that it can withstand the gouging.
  19. Jan 18, 2010 #18


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    But then you will miss out on all the new discoveries in Algebra, Classical mechanics and Intro Calculus in the last year!

    A friend had to teach an intro class in a major N American Uni. They were required (by the dept) to put a quiz in every lecture which used a hand held electronic selector gadget that came with the testbook.
    Apparently this was to promote interactivity in the lecture - only a cynic would think it was to force people to buy the textbook.
  20. Jan 18, 2010 #19


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    It was just a bit of a shock after having to pay 1GBP to $1 for computer books (and computers !) that US textbooks were 5x the price.
  21. Jan 18, 2010 #20
    Is it possible to buy books from another country is its cheaper?
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