College Textbook Publishers Guilty of Pumped-Up Pricing

A national student activist organization says college textbook publishers continue to rip off students by using all kinds of gimmicks to inflate the costs of textbooks artificially.

A new report released by the National State Public Interest Research Groups, or PIRGs, accuses the college textbook publishing industry of using several ploys to drive up prices. State PIRGs spokesman David Rosenfeld says the most common gimmick used by the publishers is to produce new editions of the same textbook with little or no significant difference in the content. For example, he points to a particular calculus textbook produced by a company called Thompson Learning.

“Calculus itself hasn't changed in 250 years,” Rosenfeld says, “yet Thompson Learning has produced a new edition of this book literally three years after the previous edition. There's absolutely no change between the books.”

The State PIRGs representative says more than 500 math professors from 150 universities around the United States have called upon the academic publisher to stop producing new editions of the calculus textbook until actual new content has been added. However, he notes, “So far Thompson Learning has refused, and that's been the general reaction of the publishing industry overall.”

Rosenfeld says many textbook publishers also “bundle” textbooks with CD-ROMs, workbooks, and supplemental materials, which serves to drive up the cost of the textbooks and make them harder to resell. And worse yet, he says, academic publishers often charge American students 20 to 70 percent more than they charge overseas students for the same textbooks.

College students will spend up to $900 on textbooks in a given year, Rosenfeld says. He believes the academic publishing industry must change, starting with textbook publishers producing their materials with an eye toward price. Also, he asserts, “They need to keep editions on the market unless there is actually significantly new educational content to justify a new edition.”

But such change may not come easily, the State PIRGs spokesman acknowledges. “And quite frankly, the only way it may actually happen is by more public scrutiny,” he says, “and more faculty members pushing back on the publishers and negotiating better prices and refusing to buy products that are unnecessary new editions or unnecessary bundled items.”

Without such changes, Rosenfeld suspects college textbook prices will continue to skyrocket. And as long as book publishers keep up their price-inflating practices, he suspects college students will keep having to shell out more and more money for the latest editions, whether they are actually getting more for their money or not.

(This article courtesy of Agape Press).

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