Is there any hope that textbook prices will ever drop?

  • #1
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Is there any information out there regarding this topic? I know open source textbooks seem to be becoming popular in some places, and there is now a good amount of free textbooks (legal textbooks, I mean) online. In particular, there's an entire page of free online math textbooks on the University of Georgia page.

Meanwhile, my total cost for required textbooks this semester (combined with required access codes to homework) will be somewhere between $600 - $850, which is highway robbery of the highest degree. I'm wondering if there is some kind of trend towards dropping textbook prices or alternative ways to do this stuff. If not for me, at least for the sake of me avoiding going into debt over the cost of my future children's textbooks (which, at this rate, I expect to cost somewhere around the GDP of Switzerland).

Before anyone mentions them, no, ebooks do not count. For one, they often have formatting errors in scientific/math/engineering textbooks, and two, on Amazon, it currently costs 115$ to rent the digital version of one of my textbooks this semester (they're not even pretending to be fair anymore at this point).
 

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  • #2
mheslep
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Today's WSJ, apropos

http://www.wsj.com/articles/craig-richardson-the-250-econ-101-textbook-1421192341

So what is going on? Since 1985, prices of all consumer goods have about doubled, but textbook prices have risen sixfold, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reason is such an interesting one that it’s surprising it doesn’t find its way into the first chapter of every economics textbook. The cardinal lesson is that prices rise unchecked if the people who order the goods aren’t paying the prices.
 
  • #3
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When I was in college, 30 years ago, books cost me $800 a year. Adjusting for inflation, that's $900/semester in today's dollars. Somehow I don't think it will change your opinion on highway robbery.
 
  • #4
phinds
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Despite your dislike of eBooks, I think in the long run they will likely rule the roost. Sure they can have errors. So can hardbacks, and it's a LOT easier to fix them in eBooks AND the eBooks can be updated. It's my understanding that a lot of profs like them for because of the ease of updating (but not the profs who WRITE textbooks and want the money :smile:

EDIT: the most serious drawback to eBooks to my mind is that with current devices, the graphs and diagrams are too small but I don't think that will last. Enlargement capabilities already exist for some.
 
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  • #5
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When I was in college, 30 years ago, books cost me $800 a year. Adjusting for inflation, that's $900/semester in today's dollars. Somehow I don't think it will change your opinion on highway robbery.
I'm curious as to the methods you had of buying the textbooks, though. Were you limited to your campus bookstore? Certainly there was no Amazon or Chegg to browse for lower prices on. As it currently stands, I calculated that buying my books for this semester alone from my campus bookstore would cost $908, and including homework access codes, $1112
 
  • #6
Larry Gopnik
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See here at my uni (In England), everyone in my course has been given our books by the university -they said 'you're paying £9000 a year to be here. May as well get your moneys worth' Anything I don't have, I can get for a 2 month loan at the university library.
I've seen while looking at Blackwells in Oxford that textbooks can get into stupid money - however given the choice between books and ebooks ID still choose books. I guess I'm old fashioned like that.
 
  • #7
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I just paid for my wife's Spanish textbook and it was $140. It's not even hard cover!
 
  • #8
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Were you limited to your campus bookstore?
Effectively, yes. They couldn't frog march us down and make us buy from them, but as you say, there was no Amazon.
 
  • #9
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Prices? Depends on the book: classics that no one uses, but everyone refers to --- cheap (Harned & Owen cost me $30 new in 1973 and is $40 used now on Amazon). Hirschfelder, Curtiss, & Bird cost me around $30 at around same time --- used $300 on Amazon and $800 for "collectible."
Committee authored intellectual property? Prepare to buy condos in Vail, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, Tahitii, and Monaco for each member of the committee.
 
  • #10
gfd43tg
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My cost are usually around $10-15 per semester for books. I buy older editions and they almost always work out just fine. Old editions can be found on amazon for 5-10% of the newest edition price with very little content change.
 
  • #11
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When I was in college, 30 years ago, books cost me $800 a year. Adjusting for inflation, that's $900/semester in today's dollars. Somehow I don't think it will change your opinion on highway robbery.
When I was in college, from 1973 to 1977, textbooks were the same price as any other new book comparable in size and number of pages. The price of texts was a non-issue. No one felt they were expensive.

I guess sometime between then and when you went was when someone realized college students were a 'captive audience' who could be milked mercilessly for their required class material. The current high price of texts is completely unnecessary: it costs no more to print a textbook than any other book. The huge price of texts is due to someone gouging people who have to have the books and have no alternative source for them. It is highway robbery.
 
  • #12
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I'm wondering if there is some kind of trend towards dropping textbook prices or alternative ways to do this stuff. If not for me, at least for the sake of me avoiding going into debt over the cost of my future children's textbooks (which, at this rate, I expect to cost somewhere around the GDP of Switzerland).
People don't lower their prices unless they have to. What's needed, I think, is a nationwide organization of students and concerned people who will study the college textbook industry and find out who is doing the gouging where. Then those people have to be targeted and exposed.

Additionally, teachers have to be pressured not to assign expensive books. I read (though I haven't researched and confirmed it) that the way this gouging got started is that the booksellers gave the teachers kickbacks for assigning expensive texts over the normally priced ones.

It's going to take a large organization to stop it. I don't think enough people realize it's not normal inflation, which is why such an organization has not already been started.
 
  • #13
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Just buy pirated Indian textbooks from ebay like me. Can't fight globalization.

Alternatively, you could just print entire books out from the library. Immoral? Yes, but less immoral than demanding $40k tuition and $150 for a textbook.

If book publishers are trying to screw you, why not fight back? Let's not live in fairy-tale land and pretend the prices they demand are not a result of carteling and monopolies.
 
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  • #14
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I requested most from the library for free, so in the end I only bought 3 calculus books (20€-30€ each), and Serway's Physics which was the most expensive one. Others the good old Google gave me a hand, which was something the teachers encouraged anyway lol.
 
  • #15
Pythagorean
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Moral of the story: if you want to make money in science, become a publisher.

Wouldn't hurt to fight against open access, either. With all your lawyers and money.
 
  • #16
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The problem with the "textbook publishers are gouging us" theory is that this doesn't explain why Houghon-Mifflin-Harcourt went bankrupt.

You also have the problem of how one finances advanced textbooks. There are 700 PhD graduates in physics per year. How many copies of Bjorken and Drell are sold in a year. 200? 300? These are subsidized by introductory-level textbooks today. It may be that one can reduce the price of one of these textbooks from $150 to $145 - but only by increasing the price of a seldom-used textbook by hundreds.

The best book on secondary beamlines is Dave Carey's The Optics of Charged Particle Beams. It's rated #11,680,000 on Amazon and costs $250 if you can find one. Do we really want to make publishers have even less incentive to produce these books?
 
  • #17
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The problem with the "textbook publishers are gouging us" theory is that...
...is that no one proposed that particular theory. My assertion is that someone, somewhere in the chain linking publisher to student is artificially inflating the price. I don't know who, which is why I said people need to investigate the situation. As I said, the thing I read alleged that middlemen were approaching professors and tempting them to order certain overpriced texts with the promise of kickbacks. The publisher may not be getting the lion's share of the inflated price at all, rather it would be these people who created the position of text book broker for themselves.

When I was in college text books were no more expensive than any other kind of book. 10 or so years ago I was shocked when I became aware of how much they cost now compared to all other kinds of books.

I've been out of college for decades and this isn't my problem, but I'm surprised students aren't digging into it and seeing what, exactly, is going on and how it can be changed.
 
  • #18
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Kickbacks! I'd like to see some evidence for that. The closest thing to that is that the instructor can sometimes get a free copy.
 
  • #19
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It makes perfect sense. Professors choose the books. Something is certainly not kosher.

"Students are paying too much for textbooks, plain and simple," said Ethan Senack, a higher education associate at U.S. PIRG, in a call with reporters. "The textbooks market is broken and students are paying the price."

The problem, Senack said, comes from a lack of competition in the textbook market -- professors, not students, are responsible for selecting course textbooks.

"They can't shop around and find the most affordable option, meaning there's no consumer control on the market," Senack said.

As a result, publishers can keep costs high by printing new editions every few years -- eliminating the option of reselling old books -- or bundle the books with expensive software add-ons.

Because there isn't strict control over the prices of books, costs have grown by 82 percent during the last 10 years -- three times the rate of inflation, according to the report.
http://www.usnews.com/news/articles...tbook-prices-have-college-students-struggling

-----> "...three times the rate of inflation..." <------
 
  • #20
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Only if we give publishers an incentive to be more reasonable in pricing.

Personally, I always try to figure out if an older edition can be acceptable. If homework is not going to be given out of the textbook, then I've found it's rather easy to get away with an older edition and save a few hundred dollars.

International versions can be an order of magnitude cheaper, this makes me wonder whether the high costs we pay in the US are truly out of publisher necessity.

I've also found that libraries can be good places to look. Especially now since so many library catalogues are combined into massive networks online, it's become very easy to search for a spare copy of a specific title.

This all adds up to many completely legal ways to put the pressure on publishers to be more competitive.
 
  • #21
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doesn't explain why Houghon-Mifflin-Harcourt went bankrupt
Publishers do have business problems in terms of markets. No questions or arguments.
how one finances advanced textbooks.
Copyright costs, publishers' set-up fees?
How many copies
For what are "specialty markets?" What used to be McGraw-Hill's turf; Dover may be poaching a bit.

There are still "short-run" publishers out there.
There may be an ignorance among college faculty of how to go about finding publishers who handle short runs, or an aversion to doing business with Presidio, or other houses who deal with "warmongers, or a preference for high-priced publishers.
 
  • #23
Dr Transport
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I paid $150 for a used copy of an organic chemistry text, the solutions guide was also used and a model kit was required. All told, the amount for that 2 semester course was $300. I forked out $250 for an environmental engineering text for my college student last semester and ~$650 for him this semester.

Having said that, the cost of a text book as is everything else, based off of what the market will bear, plain and simple economics.
 
  • #24
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What I've found out recently, is that there exists a large number of textbooks published for the 'International' market. Which apparently means 'India'. Their pricing is adjusted for the local economy, so they are very cheap. There are of course companies specialising in delivering these books to the States and elsewhere.
I'm told they have or might have some content changed from Western market editions - mostly in the order and numbering of problems, but It might just as well be a myth to discourage the practice, as some people suggest.

Right now, I'm holding a freshly-arrived copy of Boas' 'Mathematical Methods in the Physical Sciences'. What it definitely lacks in is the quality - no hard cover, worse paper and print. I'll try and compare the contents with a Western market copy some time in the near future, and report if there are any readily visible changes.
Anyway, if you want a copy that'll last you forever and look good on your bookshelf, then this might not be the best option.

Make a search at Abebooks.com. Probably also Ebay and other similar sites. Some are single-digit cheap. Pay attention to shipping costs, as these range from free to many times the price of the book itself (which is still cheaper than the alternative, mind you).

Apparently buying those in the States it's also completely legal, if unintended by the publishers.
http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-03-19/a-high-court-gray-market-win-for-costco-ebay
 

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