Publishers get Schooled

Textbook costs continue to rise to outrageous levels, prompting research to aid students in their pursuit of an affordable education. The California Public Interest Research Group released research that focused on publishing companies and the high rate of mark-up between wholesale price and the retail price charged to students.

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By Stephen Barnett

By Stephen Barnett

Textbook costs continue to rise to outrageous levels, prompting research to aid students in their pursuit of an affordable education.The California Public Interest Research Group released research that focused on publishing companies and the high rate of mark-up between wholesale price and the retail price charged to students.With publishing companies changing editions on average every 3.5 years, new editions are driving back the used book market. Publishers and authors receive no income on the sale of a used book, and must therefore recover their investment by selling a smaller number of new textbooks before the used text erodes their market. “They’re just trying to make money. There is no reason for the new editions,” Riverside Community College student Tim Hidalgo said.According to the research group study 59 percent of the students who searched for a used textbook were unable to find any. Their only alternative then is to purchase a new textbook for an average $102.44, while the used text would have only cost $64.80.”I think it would be better for students to have the opportunity to buy a used textbook. In most cases they’re on a limited budget,” RCC student Rudy Cajas said.Publishers could offset this problem by keeping a text out as long as possible while retaining the content. Furthermore the publishers could include the small revisions to the text in supplementary information packets. “They should put all the updates online as supplement information you can print. That way they wouldn’t have to make a new edition each semester and I could actually get more than ten dollars for my used book,” student Anne Smith said.The research group however, is not alone in its findings and after their release of Rip-off 101, the Association of American Publishers launched a counter investigation of its own with Zogby International. They polled 1,029 instructors and their findings showed that 80 percent of faculty want their course material to be as current as possible and 49 percent of the faculty said that old textbooks are inadequate for student needs.Many students on campus are willing to settle for slightly outdated content. As the price of tuition continually rises, students will spend an average of $900 on textbooks every year, which makes up half the cost of attending RCC. Those students who cannot afford this can turn to libraries in the hope of using one of the few texts offered there. They could also turn to an outdated edition in which the only difference between that and the new edition is the price. One book that is pinpointed as an example of the rising cost in texts is “Calculus: Early Transcendental,” which according to the research group, contained only cosmetic changes to the material. One significant change was the $120 price of a new book, while the used copy goes for anywhere from $20-$90. In response to public criticism Ronald G. Dunn, the president and chief officer of the academic and international group Thompson Learning said, “More than 25 percent of the problems in the book are new, and there are five completely new projects. These changes go well beyond what CALPIRG erroneously called cosmetic.”In response to this statement Eduardo Cattani, a professor of mathematics at the University of Massachusetts, replied in an email, “I don’t know if Mr. Dunn is a mathematician, but if somebody convinced him that there was a mathematical need to revise calculus books every four years, he should fire that person. Indeed, calculus books today contain less substance than calculus books from 30-50 years ago. No honest mathematician would disagree with the statement that the overwhelming rationale for revising calculus books is to kill the used book market. Indeed, CALPIRG is absolutely right in calling the changes cosmetic.”Over 500 mathematics faculty members and students from across the nation now stand up against Thomson Learning and the frequent edition changes to calculus textbooks. The results of this combined effort were seen when Thomson Learning met with the University of California, Los Angeles Math Department and bookstore to negotiate a deal, which lowered the cost of three calculus books by 25 percent, including “Calculus: Early Transcendental,” the same textbook used here at RCC.RCC student Richard Hertz feels the college should get the same offer. “Yes, if the deal is offered to a public university why not to RCC? It doesn’t seem fair that other public colleges should pay less,” Hertz said. The research group raised the question of equality when it uncovered the fact that “Calculus: Early Transcendental,” which is sold for $125 to American students, is only $65 for British, Middle Eastern and African students.Bruce Hildebrand from the Association of American Publishers made a statement in February 2005 to the LosAngeles Times defending the publishers’ practice of charging American students more for their books.”The U.S. is the richest market in the world,” Hildebrand said. “You sell what the market can handle. It’s like Coca Cola sold for less overseas.”While the ongoing debate over the high cost of textbooks continues, there are students and faculty around our nation such as CALPIRG, who are standing up and demanding change.

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