NEWSFLASH: College textbook prices are insane

I have never, once, ever, seen a book in a used/half-price bookstore that might even possibly be a textbook for a class I’ve taken. Mind you, I’m a math/science person, which makes it more difficult than a history or english class. On the other hand, I don’t recall ever looking at a history or english required book and thinking “Oh my god, the price of these things!” I’ve seen many a science/math book like that. (Or really, textbooks about any technical subject.) I think the most expensive one I’ve ever run across was about $180.

I agree that used book stores are generally better depositories for history/lit-style books than science/computer books mainly for their usefulness in long-term use.

Generally I’ve seen specialized history books go for $100 or so, and you can’t even get them discounted.

— Alan

Heh. I’ve gotten to the point where $100 for a book seems imminently reasonable. There was one a few weeks ago which I thought might be really useful to have as I transitioned into my postdoc, but I decided I’d live with the library copy when I found out it was $245 or so.

Then again, if it weren’t for university subscriptions, I’d need to shell out $25-$40 per article for the journal articles I need to keep up with for research, so that makes the books look like a tremendous bargain!

Depends on the book, binding, paper, edition, and publisher really… I saw some recent Napoleonic books (new prints) go for $200+ but usually I don’t shop that high. $100 for specialty stuff is about as high as I’d go for stuff that’s non-degree related (haven’t looked for Masters or PhD stuff in awhile).

For science and math related fields will skyrocket accordingly.

— Alan

Whoah, I think that’s the first time I ever seen that smiley. Stop showin’ out, college boy!

Uh, college textbooks cost a lot because they are a stonecold racket of changing required editions. Who is going to say no to buying an $80 book when they already dropped $800 on the class? They need that book to pass. R&D? There’s no R&D in writing a textbook.

The university that I’ve taught at the longest specifies a core text that must be used by all adjunct (non-fulltime) faculty, so textbook decisions are generally out of my control. That said, most intro & intermediate psychology texts run about $100 new; $65 used. In contrast to math & science, upper level undergrad psychology texts are often cheaper than intermediate texts; they usually have a paperback edition that runs $65 new.

Lately, publishers have been including a lot of supplements packaged with the text (interactive CD-ROM, study guide), without an option to buy the textbook alone. I didn’t learn well from study guides as an undergrad, so I wish today’s students had a cheaper alternative without the supplements.

As an instructor, I appreciate texts that regularly update editions. There’s a lot of new research, often incorporating new medical and biological technology, that is important to get an accurate picture of the discipline. I usually allow my students to use one past edition (i.e., if the text is on the 10th edition, I’ll accept 9th), but they take their chances for test questions if they go any further back.

Finally, there is one advantage to today’s students because of technological advances. Like most instructors, I require my students to read additional articles. In the past, these were bound into a coursepack (or two), and often had sizable extra binding & copyright fees in addition to printing costs. Now, as long as I choose articles from journals to which my university has a subscription, online electronic access to the articles through my course websites is covered under fair use copyright. My students don’t have to buy additional coursepacks; they can read the articles online, & print them on their own if they wish.

But they still complain. Damn kids…in my day, we had papyrus and quills, and we were grateful.

Here’s real kicker:

Like prescription drugs, computer science textbooks have cheaper overseas versions. An indian version of Computer Architecture: a Quantitive approach can cost $50, the US version sells for 2 times that much.

Well, that’s because everything is cheaper in India, not because of government regulations/subsidies or lack thereof.

As a philosophy major, I never really got hit with these prices during undergrad. And then when I taught during grad school I simply used primary texts: the Penguin editions of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, etc. or the Christian Bros. editions of Boethius, Augustine, Des Cartes. Even the more contemporary courses on feminism and postmodernism, where I couldn’t use primary texts because no one understands what the hell these people are saying, I could still find affordable paperbacks. So my courses never cost more than $40 in books. I never realized it was a big deal until I started reading my evaluations and 1/2 the students thanked me every year for assigning affordable books. The prices are indeed unbelievable.

And because of vastly different quality and/or copyright restrictions as well. I’ve seen the international versions of books (mostly from India, some from other similarly less affluent countries) and they’re printed on thin paper, generally softbound, etc… Not really a problem I suppose if all you want to do is get through the class with as little outlay as possible. It’s not very useful if you intend to keep your textbooks as reference material.

(Maybe my perception is just skewed due to my background, though. Do people not keep textbooks in their major generally? I can’t imagine selling back a textbook from a course in my major that I expect to work in unless the book was abysmally bad past, say, freshman year core classes.)

Also, I thought I was getting off cheap with my single $75.00 book for my online course taken through the same university. No so fast there, Tyler. That’ll be an extra $150.00 in computer course fees. I understand that part of that “fee” is for the development and maintenance of the site on which the classes are conducted that contains all kinds of nifty features. However, the two classes I attend on-campus have a different, but very similair structure for their online tools and resources related to the classes and they are very free.

Books are a scam. The one thing that really pisses me off is when I buy my book and we don’t even fucking use it!!! Why the hell did you tell me to shell out $150 for a book that we didn’t use once. This has happend to me like around 10 times. On a side note, I remember this computer class we had to take, the exams were on paper? WTF? I suppose that would make too much sense to have, you know, a computer class test, ON THE COMPUTER!!! God I hate university.

1st and 2nd year classes my books I think averaged $120 or so. 3rd and 4th were around $150, although some classes were pretty cheap at only $80(paperback). I think the most exspensive book I bought was for an economics elective that cost me around $210 or something. I mean the book was about 300 pages thick!!

Anyone notice you don’t even get quality for the price you pay now? I mean hardcovers, at least part of the reason for actually purchasing them was the quality and durability of them with the bindings sewn rather than glued.

So, this accounting text I had to buy, and my Prof wrote the thing, fell apart after the semester. And considering I skipped almost every class and probably opened it 3 times(mid-terms and exams), wtf? The binding on this ~$120 book was glued together.

The funniest was how they glue a strip of cloth on the top of the pages to make it look like it was sewn. So I checked all my other hard cover texts, and not one of them has a sewn binding. You’re telling me for my $100+ you can’t even spend a few cents more and sew the fucking things together?

That’s what happens when you have monopolies. Less for more lol.

Nice assertion, but totally unfounded. Writing a textbook is not easy. It requires a lot of R&D by the person doing it, including researching other texts to make sure you haven’t missed anything, determining which format will best introduce the information, coming up with examples, problems, or picking proper texts, etc. If the book is an anthology (say for an English class) you also have to pay publishing fees for using all those other works. If it is a history text, you must look up and cite information you use.

Textbooks aren’t just a matter of spewing out introductory material that all professors know without having to think about it.

I am not saying they should be so expensive, but there are costs that you guys aren’t taking into account.

BTW, when I assign books, I use primary sources instead of anthologies whenever possible. They tend to be cheaper. I also go to Amazon and make sure the books won’t be too expensive. I can’t comment on whether other professors do this or not.

That’s what was so great about my Personality Theory Psych Professor’s text: he mostly cited himself. That, and he only taught the class every few years, so the text was always a no-resale.

I’ve had success buying textbooks off Half.com. I recently started back after a long break, so the price kind of caught me by suprise too. One thing that pissed me off was when I accidently bought a 6th edition when I needed the 7th (which was $30 more). I ordered the 7th edition and compared the two when it arrived, the only difference I could find was a different cover and a different forward by the author.