The Textbook Monopoly
Biology. Chemistry. Microeconomics. Anthropology.
Anyone who has been, is, or will be a college student at any point in their lives is probably already aware of the fact that textbooks are expensive.
Most college students average fifteen credit hours per semester, which is about five classes, and the potential for five textbooks. In our capitalist economy, textbook companies have the right to charge whatever they like for textbook - and clearly, they are charging whatever they like. But is it fair?
Thanks to the power of the internet, it is now much easier to buy and sell textbooks than it ever has been.
Students have the benefit of selling their used textbooks through websites like Amazon.com and Half.com, and they are often able to sell them for close to what they paid for them. Some students are even able to make money off of their textbooks - buying them at extremely discounted amounts and then selling them back for more than they initially paid.
Unfortunately, this puts textbook companies at a disadvantage. A textbook company can make a large profit off of a textbook for about a year. Once it has been purchased new, it circulates it's way down the used-textbook chain, and none of that money is going to the textbook company. In order to ensure sales, the modern textbook company has resorted to several different methods to force students to pay more for textbooks.
One thing that textbook companies do to boost profits is to release a new edition of a textbook every few years. Don't be fooled - the sixth edition of your Microeconomics textbook is basically the exact same as the fifth edition. What the publishers do to re-market it is to mix up the chapter order, swap out a few pictures, and flip around a few words.
In some cases, students can get by with an older edition of the textbook, even if their professor recommends the latest upgrade - but there is a definite disadvantage once your professor moves on to the next edition.
Another sneaky move by the textbook companies is the inclusion of an online access code.
Many textbook companies have created large online components as companions to the textbook. In order to access these materials, a student needs an access code. Simple, right? Except that the access code comes prepackaged with new textbooks, and it can only be used once - for one semester's-worth of access.
Don't worry. You can buy online access separately. For somewhere north of $40.
There are also supplements like workbooks, lecture notes, and other items that textbook companies can charge college students - which become slightly more affordable ONLY if the student chooses to buy them all packaged together as a bundle.
So why are these textbook prices so high? Simply - students will pay for it.
When a professor requires a certain book for class, there is rarely any way around it. Students need the book in order to read for the class, in order to complete homework assignments, and in order to do well on tests. Requirements of certain workbooks and online access codes serve as significant portions of the students grades, and only supplements the sales of these over-priced textbooks.
Do you remember the steep prices of textbooks from your college days?