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Textbooks are big business

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By Joseph Kunkle

By Joseph Kunkle

There is an ongoing scam in this country and the Riverside Community College bookstore is part of it.

With sleazy business practices, the publishing industry is openly ripping off RCC students and if you want to learn, you have to pay, and pay, and then pay some more. Are we powerless to stop this?

Not entirely.

The big three textbook publishers, Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Thomson Learning have literally nothing to stop them from demanding beyond-inflated prices for textbooks. At current prices, college students will spend an average of just under $900 a year for textbooks.

In “Ripoff 101: 2nd Edition” a national survey conducted by the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), American students will pay Thomson Learning an average of 72 percent more for textbooks than do students in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Corporate booksellers like Barnes and Noble will also use some slightly underhanded ways to gouge you even harder.

Some of these tactics you will probably recognize, such as shrink wrapping bundles with one book you need and some weird book or CD you don’t. The Bookstore in many instances won’t carry the book unbundled and don’t even bother to ask them to unwrap one for you. The chances are good that your instructor won’t even use these extra materials. PIRG findings indicate that 65 percent of instructors used these items rarely, if at all.

Another shady practice to boost sales is shuffling the pages on a virtually identical textbook in order to issue it as a new edition with a correspondingly new, higher price. Up to four times the rate of inflation according to the PIRG survey. The publisher will add a few graphics and a new cover and presto! A new edition! Most textbooks are released in new editions on average every three years, and many of these have only minor cosmetic changes with limited new content.

The sellers will try to limit the availability of used books. The RCC Bookstore is run by Barnes and Noble in an agreement with RCC and despite the posters offering “up to 50 percent” of value for your used books, you will be lucky if you get a fraction of that. You see, new books are more profitable than used, so it is not in Barnes and Nobles’ corporate best interest to offer to buy back the books. If you try to sell your used books to other students in the store, you might get kicked out, permanently. If you try to sell them outside the bookstore, the management and/or employees will stop you.

Do RCC students have to continue to bow to this type of shenanigans?

Textbooks can be purchased online and the prices are somewhat cheaper, but the costs are still too high in my opinion. Some of the big three publishers now offer online books but it is not difficult to see the idiocy of that solution, and the prices they ask are still too high, $51 for a limited semester license. No thanks. Solutions to the often crippling cost of textbooks and the negative impact these costs have on people being able to attend college is something that RCC should take very seriously.

How about the possibility of organizing an A.G. Paul Quadrangle book exchange for the first two weeks of each semester?

Or maybe RCC can explore possibilities with textbook rental or negotiating lower prices directly with the publishers.

The textbook industry is too comfortable from having customers with limited alternatives. They continue to get top dollar for printing flimsy paperback textbooks while instructors are forced because of limited back issues to use the newest editions, and students must pay more for the same textbooks with a new cover and bundled with irrelevant materials. With rising tuition costs the price of a higher education is high enough.

Add expensive textbooks and many students have to quit because they can’t afford to continue. For the big three textbook publishers, college students are just numbers on a spreadsheet and the big three know that if things continue this way, the numbers will be sweet for years to come.

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