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How California campuses are fixing the problem of pricey college books (scpr.org)
84 points by palidanx on Feb 15, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 133 comments

Some tips for textbooks I wish I knew when I started college:

1. Wait until classes start to buy textbooks. You want to have a chance to talk to your actual professor and hear what they say about the textbook and/or look at the syllabus to determine what, if any, readings are actually required from the textbook. In many cases, textbooks are chosen at a departmental level, so some professors may use them sparingly or not at all.

2. If you determine that the textbook is probably needed for you to finish the course, and there is an older edition available less than 5 years old, then buy the older edition. It will be available online on eBay, Amazon, etc. for a much cheaper price than the most current edition. In most cases, the reading content will be very similar, if not identical. Problems sets might change, but if you are assigned them, you can ask another student to take a look at their textbook, or borrow one from the school library. I started doing this my last couple of years at college, and never had any issues.

3. If you do buy a textbook, read it in its entirety. Remember that you are taking classes to learn, not to blindly follow a course syllabus. So read your textbook - all of it - even the parts that aren't assigned.

Unfortunately a lot of textbooks come with a unique code to access the homework problems and an older or used textbook can't be used.

I’m able to get most of my books online for free, and have been lucky with professors not requiring textbooks. This semester though I’m forced to purchase a $200 textbook just so I can turn in my homework through some online system, it’s a joke.

> This semester though I’m forced to purchase a $200 textbook just so I can turn in my homework through some online system

Walled gardens encroaching on education.

Can you mention what system it is? There's a few thousand entrepreneurs on this site that might be interested in disrupting broken business models like that one.

Probably Pearson My$subjectLab. Educators hate it too.

There exist free alternatives at least for math but it's kind of a MS-office vs libreoffice situation.

My profs write and grade their own problem sets. Turn them in via email or Canvas. There are other alternatives.

You go to a rare school that isn't a scam.

When I was doing Algorithms and Data Structures at the University of Otago, the required textbook was Cormen's Introduction to Algorithms first edition. More than $NZ130 at the time, and we got a few weeks into the course before they told us we didn't actually need it for coursework, they just wanted to make sure we had a copy.

I see it's available for $US6.61 used on Amazon now...

edit: had the price about $50 too high.

When you say "they just wanted to make sure we had a copy" you mean - they made you buy it as a "requirement" (that there was no way around it), or they just told you and most of you bought?

And by "they" you meant the faculty (professors etc) or college administration or some other office office? Just curious about it. I am from India and there are no fixed text books here (at least the colleges I know about - central Govt. funded). There are syllabi and you are free to study the course with anything you want - books, or no books. My college library solved textbook problem for almost 40% students and rest were solved by hands-me-downs from seniors, 2nd hand book stores (some of them have very capable xerox machines too), and then there's "online".

Yep, there is a nasty little trend of textbooks whose homework assignments require a code for a publisher site. The student is then required to fill out the answers on that site. It mostly happens in lower level classes. Why grade students when the computer will do most of the work?

On a side note, I saw a video of some professor ticked off that students got a hold of a test battery from a publisher. This "get all the questions from the publisher" makes me think these folks don't want to put any effort into the class. What is the difference between a prestigious university and a community college given that level of effort?

> What is the difference between a prestigious university and a community college given that level of effort?

The tuition bill.

4. Digital copies are often available online for free.

Students should feel absolutely no guilt in pirating textbooks. The whole industry is a racket, designed to exploit kids in a situtation where they have no choice. I did things the "normal" way my first year of college back in the day and realized how stupid paying $400 a semester in books was before I just nabbed pdfs (and finding them was a challenge in the days before The Book Bay was a thing).

Old guy question: what is the book bay? None of the search engines helped me, and I don't know anybody under 72 years old that I can ask.

Parent post may be referring to the infamous Pirate Bay, from which you can obtain links to torrents of textbooks. Another source is Library Genesis, which is a russion site hosting many technical books - the URL changes sometimes, but a quick search should help you find it. For journal articles, check Sci-Hub. Happy reading!

> Students should feel absolutely no guilt in pirating textbooks.


> The whole industry is a racket, designed to exploit kids in a situtation where they have no choice.

True. But your previous sentence does not follow from this. The bad actions of others do not justify your own bad actions, no matter how tempting it becomes to think otherwise.

The bad actions of others do not justify your own bad actions, no matter how tempting it becomes to think otherwise.

Dunno. 15 years ago all the Ivy League libraries campaigned against Elsevier's pricing and achieved precisely nothing. We had to wait for Scihub.

I have yet to hear a valid argument why pirating educational matetials is a "bad action" in the first place

If you think the right to education trumps the right to property, then you've done nothing wrong.

> Students should feel absolutely no guilt in pirating textbooks.

Textbook publishers aren't really hurt by this as much as the legitimate textbook purchasers (your fellow students).

The solution isn't to pirate/steal the content. It's to vote with your feet before you go to a post-secondary that chooses expensive copyrighted books when there are free or very affordable alternatives.

Are you really advocating that children should turn down attending to the best university they can get in to over the choice of textbooks in classes they haven't chosen that are taught by different professors on a rotating schedule? Do you really think that is reasonable or even feasible?

The thing about children is that they generally don't have the experience or knowledge to make decisions like this.

Besides, voting with your dollars is a fallacy.

> The thing about children is that they generally don't have the experience or knowledge to make decisions like this.

very true.

>Besides, voting with your dollars is a fallacy.

in an oligopoly such as education where the purchase and sale of goods/services is subsidized then the power of voting with your dollars is diminished. the core concept is not a fallacy, and is actually a good metaphor for market action.

the problem is that 18 y/o young adults are able to borrow far more money than they ought to be able to, creating a market of naive buyers with extraordinary buying power. its no surprise that some of them buy things like comparative literature or gender studies degrees.

We're not talking about children, these are college students. They can weigh the risks/benefits of piracy.

>voting with your dollars is a fallacy What do you mean by that? Are you suggesting that companies will survive without any customers buying their product?

The only situation in which voting with your wallet doesn't work is when you have no choice. In this situation, the students do have the choice to pirate the books, buy used books, or bite the bullet and buy the book.

> In this situation, the students do have the choice to pirate the books, buy used books, or bite the bullet and buy the book.

Definitly not true. Many classes require entering a code just to submit homework

voting with your dollars is a fallacy.


5. Buy the east asian english edition of the textbook.

This was all the rage when I was in school, especially since our bookstore sold at retail price (or about 80% for a used copy) and _generously offered_ to buy the books back at the end of the semester for 3-10% of list price. College bookstores are a racket.

> since our bookstore sold at retail price (or about 80% for a used copy) and _generously offered_ to buy the books back at the end of the semester for 3-10% of list price. College bookstores are a racket

There are already business models that have started to chip away at this type of racket. Chegg and Amazon rentals are decent examples.

Sadly I'm unimpressed with the progress it has made. I'm convinced replacing expensive formally published textbooks with cheaper or freeware digital books is superior. The problem is with department deans and professors that hawk their own books in their courses.

Yeah, absolutely don't buy from your college bookstore. Hell, just purchasing the book from Amazon cut the cost by at least a third for just about every item.

In my country, we don't use textbooks, and instead professors hand over the material.

After studying for a semester in Canada with textbooks, I did not see any added benefit to using textbooks.

It is probably the sign of a good professor that they are producing their own course material rather than just telling students to go and read a certain text book chapter. That material is what they think is important and is in their own style, if that style clicks with you then great, if not then you're out of luck. With text books, you get everything, not just what someone thinks is important and you can go to the library and find one with the right style to suit you. I still have all my text books, and I actually do use some of them occasionally if I need to revise some topic.

The maths department where I attended did this for first year material. They put together a ~100 ish page packet that we paid something nominal for, making all other textbooks optional.

So who sets the question paper and homework assignments? If it is the same prof who hand over the material, that's not a very good class. I wonder which subject this might work well for.

It works well for courses which are based on critical reasoning such as physics and mathematics. Going both with and without textbooks for many courses I can say that the textbook doesn't make much difference if the notes from the course are done well. If they aren't then the class can be a real pain.

4. Don't forget that you can include the cost of textbooks in figuring the American Opportunity tax credit. Keep your receipts.

It took me a couple of classes of barely or never using books to start doing #1 in conjunction with the library/sharing of #2. It also helps if you can get an idea of the books in advance from someone who just took the course, giving you a chance to grab a library copy before they are all checked out.

In my experience I did get a couple of professors that weren't pleased when I didn't get the book(s).

One frustrating thing was professors assigning their own books. There were a couple of cases where much of the class was directly related to it, but otherwise it was for vanity/$$$.

4. Buy as many textbooks on the subject as possible. Many times it helps a lot to study the same topic from different books.

This is a bad article. Renting textbooks is not unique. As others have said, schools have typically sold books and bought them back at the end of the semester. (Of course when they come out with a new version you were stuck with it)

Textbook companies are pushing electronic books hard. They say that they have studies showing students learn more because it is interactive and such. I am skeptical though and think it is mostly so they can sell a license to the material and kill off used book sales. Sure it costs less but there is no way to make any money off of selling it and some companies only allow you to access it for a year or so and so even if you wanted to access it later in life you can't (I think there are some that offer lifetime access but that is really lifetime of the software platform).

The real cost savings is Open Educational Resources (OER). Basically Creative Commons books that are free for students and educators with no drm. https://campustechnology.com/articles/2014/07/02/16-oer-site...


I don't know if this passage was meant to fool me but it fooled me: By one estimate, college students nationwide spent $701 each year on textbooks in 2008. By 2017 that cost dropped by more than $100. - Which I initially read as "to $100", which, unlike a $100 drop, is impressive.

$100 drop is a speed bump and if they can only manage such a speed bump, the whole thing is like a press release.

I think it's impressive that _any_ college expense has come down at all.

Also you're not taking into account the fact that inflation alone should have increased costs by roughly $100 since 2008. But instead there's a net decrease.

Looks to me like they are not calculating the net cost. Since they don't mention selling back and all and then attribute some of the fall in price to rentals.

Most people would come out farther ahead buying on Amazon and then selling back after the semester. Rather than rent.

If their calculations do not include selling the book back, my guess is students are actually spending less up front but spending more overall.

I teach math at a community college. The courses we teach cover content that hasn’t meaningfully changed in a long time yet textbooks change frequently. About 10 years ago I decided that I would never require paid content for my courses. I make my own problems sets and lectures. I use lectures on YouTube and where possible free, open source textbooks.

The publishers got too greedy. Their websites all suck. Their lectures are generally terrible. Their books sneak in ads. There is nothing user friendly about that industry. I hope it withers and dies and gets replaced by something more palatable.

Not all heroes wear capes sir. Thank you for not supporting the problem.

Edit: Thanks for the down votes for expressing thanks. Would expect nothing less.

NOTE: I didn't downvote you. I almost never downvote people, and here on HN specifically I don't have enough karma anyways

I wish there was a way to both downvote and anonymously provide feedback.

With the thread of retribution downvotes I can understand not wanting to both downvote and publicly say you did so, but it would be nice to have a way of saying what it is you objected to.

I also wonder if websites could then use that data to fight astroturfing (e.g., if an account consistently downvotes without providing feedback does that indicate a higher likelihood that the account is being used to influence the site without trying to contribute to and improve it?, etc)

Totally agree. I just wanted to say thank you.

If you don't get updated textbooks, how do you deal with all the changes to the cosine function or the pythagorean theorem? /s

Thank you for doing that - I'm sure your students appreciate it.

One of my professors specifically told us to get an older version of the textbook used, presumably to save us money. I was able to get it for ~$10 used on Amazon instead of $150 and I'm pretty sure the content was identical.

Book reuse is also key. I was able to use my Calculus book for three semesters. And like you say the content does not change that much.

Are there no appropriate open textbooks available in electronic form for your courses?

There is an excellent College Algerva I and College Algebra II open source textbook. It’s very high quality. There is a passable Calculus I and Calculus II open source textbook. I haven’t found any other high quality opens source textbooks for the math courses I teach. Hence I create my own lectures and problem sets.

http://www.stitz-zeager.com open source pre-calculus

The form isn’t as important as the price and churn.

> By one estimate, college students nationwide spent $701 each year on textbooks in 2008. By 2017 that cost dropped by more than $100.

The reason for this is piracy. People save money pirating books and it also provides competition to what was a formerly the extortionist monopolistic practices of publishers.

I took a class where the book was hundreds of dollars, only used for homework problems and nobody could find a PDF. One of the students bought it, "scanned" every page with their camera, and returned it. Piracy is definitely how students are saving money on books.

I've come dangerously close to starting a shadowy organization at my university for the sole purpose of maintaining and operating a couple DIY book scanners.

I'm sure that's part of it, but there are plenty more factors. I was in school 2007-2013 and I saw a huge decrease (> half) in cost over that time because a local business started doing rental/buyback systems that significantly undercut what the school was doing. I also saw more courses going with cheap/free online content.

The fundamental problem is that the people selecting the books aren't the ones paying for them in US colleges. There isn't much incentive to choose cheaper books.

But that seems to be mostly because courses require very specific books, which certainly could be changed. My experience in Germany was very different, for almost all courses there were no required textbooks, only recommended ones. You were free to buy them, don't buy them, buy different ones or rent books from the library. And the prices are much lower, the most expensive textbook I bought was 80 EUR.

Coming from Germany, I find it hard to understand the scope of the problem described in the article. In my course, less than half the students bought any textbook at all during their entire bachelor's program. The professors made almost all their lecture notes available online and if you needed a textbook, there were plenty stocked in the library.

Same in France. I've never bought a single textbook, as we either had to take notes during classes, or study documents printed by professors for us. Many professors would actually either write handouts notes, or ask student at some point to write one and would let anyone download it the years after.

They sometimes recommended books for us, that were sold for 30-40 € in any library.

> And the prices are much lower, the most expensive textbook I bought was 80 EUR.

That's because all parts of the world that aren't the US or Canada get the international edition of textbooks, which is much cheaper and more often than not page-for-page exactly the same.

This isn't only the case for books, by the way. I've heard stories of North American students having to pay over 50 or even 100 USD for MyMathLab for a single course. On the other hand, at my European university, a MyMathLab code is 15 EUR.

What's up with these "international editions"? I've seen textbooks with strongly reduced prices that were only supposed to be sold in third-world country, which makes sense to me. But surely the publishers don't consider every country outside the US and Canada a third-world country in need of cheaper textbooks?

BTW, the cheaper prices here in Europe don't only apply to the original English editions, but also to translations. Quick checkup on Amazon.com vs. Amazon.de:

  Begon, Ecology, 4th edition: 86.73$ vs. 53.99€ (= 67.39$) -> original English edition
  Campbell Biology, 10th edition: 246.62$ vs. 99.95€ (= 124.75$) -> German translation
Why the heck is that?

> But surely the publishers don't consider every country outside the US and Canada a third-world country in need of cheaper textbooks?

Apparently, they do. I suppose competition might be healthier here: if a lot of students were to complain to a lecturer that the textbook for his course was prohibitively expensive, they would probably look into possible alternatives.

>A new copy of the textbook for Intermediate Accounting II sells for $373.25, but the same book can be rented for the semester for $149.30. Students can write on and highlight rented books. The bookstore also sells cheaper electronic copies.

My community college did this 25 years ago. Though they "sold" us used books at a huge discount, and then paid us a portion of that when we sold them back. In the end, it was basically a "rental" but if you screwed up the book, you didn't get as much for it.

The ridiculous part is that accounting II is a course taken by a huge number of students. This isn't a small run problem.

The actual solution to all this is to have universities pay for books. They can shop more diligently, roll their own, use out of date books, go digital... Lots of options that are open to the college, but not the student.

When the decision maker is not the user, price systems fail.

That's exactly how they do it in public schools before college: the school buys the book and you get to use it for the duration of the course. Oh, and you have to get a book cover (in some districts) to protect it from damage.

Nowadays you can do the same sort of thing (for some books) but not through the campus bookstore.

Go online, find a cheap, used copy, and get that shipped to you. (Not all books are available like this, but many are)

The prices online are so good that the online-used-book industry basically killed the 'book' part of the campus bookstore.

The private college my wife did her masters at some 5-6 years ago also did the same thing. Some of her teachers just produced their own material for the students and ran off that instead of overpriced books.

The public university I went to had some teachers like that. It also had some who produced their own material and made you buy it from the university bookstore.

$200 for spiral bound 1/2" thick pile of black and white paper that's "totally different" from the one my roommate bought last semester? Ugh.

Most do, but textbook publishers caught on, which is why they released a new edition every couple years: it forced the next students to buy new books. The student at the end of the chain ended up with a worthless book (which he may have had to buy new if there were not enough used books to go around as was often the case)

Obviously textbook problems are not of a world shaking scale. But, this is so obviously a case of market gone badly. Reshuffling chapters in in order to make books unusable is not an economically useful (in the abstract sense) activity. Price systems are known to do weird things when the person doing the buying is prescribed a shopping list by another person, whether in a bookstore, pharmacy or prison.

Where the hell are all the universities' economists?!

If a university's compost was horribly buggy in some way, there would be overqualified ganderers all over it, out of curiosity if nothing else. The bookstore problem is even an interesting one, and a useful one to solve.

It may be more insidious than it seems too. Universities are (I assume) going to be changing the way they teach in the coming years of decades. The way schools use technology to teach is important, and doing a decent job at this is important. One approach to figuring it out (that I hear is well underway) is letting individual lecturers use stuff from the open market. Ie, prescribing to students. Ie, the same problem.

I actually think it's not a bad idea letting students buys stuff a la carte^, even bid for lab tutor time or pay for weekly exams. Universities do too much prescribing anyway, but at least if they prescribe they should pay. I think if economists need to prove their salt. Fix this and then we'll have a little more confidence in your idea about global insurance reform or whatnot.

^Obviously not in a way that just means students pay more or leverage wealth competitively.

> Where the hell are all the universities' economists?!

Authoring textbooks. It's now in fashion to create campus-specific editions of textbooks (in partnership with some professor, of course) who then gets royalties from sales... to the students that they mandated purchase this specific book.

So, we're willing to introduce legislation to bring a $700 textbook bill down to $600, but ignore the fact that tuition is over $50,000 in many institutions. I guess we can call this a small win, but my goodness, that is a small win indeed.

> but ignore the fact that tuition is over $50,000 in many institutions

These textbook prices do matter! If you're paying 1k in textbook fees and 8k-9k in tuition, then those books are eating up a significant percentage of your total burn.

9k is not a made-up number, by the way. Public colleges and universities without active research programs have tuition in the ~9k range [1]. Which is still a lot, but a student who works a part-time job and lives at home can get out with relatively little debt (or even no debt with a modest scholarship and impressive work ethic).

You don't have to go to Harvard or even the state flagship. And you definitely don't need to go to one of the many second-rate schools that charge Harvard prices for access to a much less prestigious network and in many cases inferior education.

If a student attends a school with an active research program and chooses not to leverage that expertise in order to level up their career prospects, then that student made a bad decision. Perhaps we should be doing more to shield people from bad life choices, or at least not enable those choices with easy access to huge piles of debt. But in most states, there do exist (more) reasonable options in the current market.

IMO we should be moving to self-published open source books, with hard copies sold in the 20-50 dollar price range and with all profits going to the actual author. The online auto-graded homework assignments are an unsolved problem for some courses, but that's nothing a sabbatical or two can't solve.

[1] https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/highlights

"Pay the authors" is a really good strategy to incentivize the production of quality content. Get rid of the publishers and just have a short supply chain: author --print_on_demand--> readers. With a price tag in the 20-50 range, a prof could make a living from this book, even if the book isn't popular. When using print-on-demand and cutting out all the middlemen, the margins are very good (50% of list price vs 5% if going with mainstream publisher).

The useful part of a publisher is developmental editing (product) and copy editing (Q/A), so there is an opportunity for "lightweight" publishing companies that help expert authors produce the book—like self publishing, but you don't have to do the boring parts. I'm working in that space. We have two textbooks out: https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992001005/noBSmathphys and https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992001021/noBSLA

> ignore the fact that tuition is over $50,000 in many institutions

At what California state institutions is the in-state tuition anywhere near $50,000 (unless you mean for the entire degree program)?

The average in-state tuition for Public Universities is $7,407 (2014) [1]. That amounts to $30k/4 year degree. You have to find a private school to _consistently_ hit the $50k tuition number, and I often find these graduates to be less prepared, _on average_ than graduates of state schools.

[1] http://www.businessinsider.com/most-expensive-public-univers...

Including room & board gets you to $25k per year easily.

Which is why the comparison is given as "tuition".

These are different things.

If you want to compare total costs of college then do so. But if you're comparing tuition, then stick to that metric.

Anything to kill the textbook cartel, in league with the campus bookstore. I’m reminded of a brand new Calculus textbook that was mandatory, though the subject has been intact for centuries.

Luckily the internet gives so many options to combat this, but would still appreciate open source textbooks.

This is so true. On thing I used to do is just buy the previous edition for less than $10. Content was 99% the same, but pages sometimes differed.

If the textbook is just a reference and not being used for exercises, then it worked most of the time.

Another tip: if you buy a new copy, consider an international edition if it is available.

For example, suppose your calculus class uses Apostol's "Calculus". You can buy the US edition, which is an utterly ridiculous $270 on Amazon at the moment, and that's just for volume 1! Volume 2 is similarly priced.

(It's particularly ridiculous because today's edition of Apostol is still the 2nd edition, from the 1960s. At least with those calculus books that they make gratuitous changes to each year to discourage use of used books, they can at least try to claim that the price keeps going up because they keep doing things to the book).

The international edition, which is exactly the same content as the US edition, but in paperback instead of hardback, and on thinner paper, is around $20 [1] per volume from numerous small booksellers. There's even a couple that are Prime and fulfilled by Amazon.

(I've heard that for some textbooks, the US edition uses color and the international edition is only black & white. For Apostol the US edition is black & white so it does not matter, but if you are considering a book that is in color keep this in mind).

If Amazon does not have the international edition, try AbeBooks.com. It is far more likely that AbeBooks will have a seller with it than Amazon, actually.

Similar to AbeBooks.com is Biblio.com. Occasionally one will have a textbook that the other does not.

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/8126515198

Some Universities will have an edition that puts their name on the cover, with a unique ISBN. If you look through the first few pages, it may be possible to find the original ISBN number from book the content came from and buy that for a significant savings.

FTA: "A new copy of the textbook for Intermediate Accounting II sells for $373.25, but the same book can be rented for the semester for $149.30."

I'm pretty sure that the basic principles of Intermediate Accounting haven't changed for decades. Any recent changes are industry specific and you sort of pick up as you go along professionally.

That's especially unconscionable when it's subjects like basic physics, chemistry, and math. Why do we have to use the latest edition linear algebra textbook, when you can get older editions for pennies on the dollar? All they do is change up the pages and switch the problems out.

That's especially unconscionable when it's subjects like basic physics, chemistry, and math.

I'm staring at textbooks for next semester, Legal Ethics. Brand new book, 5th edition. $328. 3rd edition? $75.

Boondoggle isn't even the word.

> Boondoggle isn't even the word.

Boondoggles are unintentional. This is working as intended.

When I look it up, it doesn't seem to imply an unintentional effect:

> _work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value_

> _work or activity that is wasteful or pointless but gives the appearance of having value_

The verb version is "waste money or time on unnecessary or questionable projects."

Basically the project is useless and unnecessary.

For textbooks, things are working out very well indeed and just as intended for textbook companies and the professors who write the textbooks that are required for their own classes.

Elaborate? You lost me

When you are performing a boondoggle, you generally had a reason or purpose in mind, and what you're doing right now is pointless towards that purpose.

For instance, let's say you wanted to improve the educational quality of a university and you build a new chemistry lab that costs a lot of money. You're about 80% of the way through when you realize that the lab is never going to help education if you can't attract competent professors. Oops. That's an example of a boondoggle.


So what word would we use for charging 'new' costs for textbooks containing 'old' data, with the only substantive changes being an updated graphic (updated as in: a photo of a law office taken in 2017 whereas the third edition featured a photo taken in 1992), and some reworded paragraphs-where ultimately the core academic content remains the same?

I'd go with "blackmail" and "price inelasticity of goods without a substitute."

I think that 'bio, chem, and math' haven't changed is the stronger argument to make here - accounting is a bit different.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act happened in 2002 (1.5 decades ago) and Trump & the Republicans just made some major changes to the tax code (which accountants need to understand).

Moreover, even though Accounting is taught in college it's really job prep (like teaching Law to lawyers). You don't need to cover all the details in your first Accounting 101 class, but you gotta be current on the stuff you do cover.

Also - just to be clear on where I stand - I think that more than $50 for a textbook is outrageous. Personally, I think $20-30 should be more than enough.

So it seems like the issue is: Given that we want to (and need to) update the books, how can we keep prices down?

Open Education Resources (OER), anyone?

Well, bio changes every single month seems like but the basic stuff stays the same in any field like accounting.

Changes in the tax code and the SO act are pieces of litigation that may or may not affect you. SO in particular is less concerned with basic accounting and more systems of control, disclosure, and investigations of conflicts of interest. You only do that in positions of power, because you have to set up and enforce all those systems.

But for tax code changes, you need to figure out amortization schedules, accurate cost basis per unit sold and book reconciliation. Those things haven't really changed for decades, maybe hundreds of years.

Undergrads aren't learning the nuances of this year's tax law. That's continuing ad.

Accessing the material is becoming less and less of a problem, for all the reasons already stated - piracy, international editions, OER, etc. The real issue is that the textbook publishers know this and are pushing more and more access codes so it doesn't matter where you get the book, you still have to shell out $100 to be able to submit homework. I still haven't seen a good solution for this issue.

Why would you need a textbook code to submit homework? As long as I can read the text of the book (that I pirated), why can't I solve the homework and submit it to my school?

Some classes don't accept paper homework these days, everything is completed online- The textbook publishers have started selling access codes to online homework websites. So s physics professor might decide to use "MasteringPhysics" for all the homework in their class, so every student has to pay ~$100 for a access code (subscription) to that website.

The professors that use these systems like them because they don't have to grade anything. The departments like them because they don't have to pay graders and can have bigger classes. An the publishers LOVE them because students have no choice but to pay.

This is making me sick. Seriously horrible.

They're selling automatic grading systems to professors and administrators as well.

Can I just buy an automated professor and administrator?

MyStatLab. $110 just to submit homework I already paid for. I don't get to keep any of it either. I just have my class notes which were never that good.

Pretty ridiculous.

Since at least some university professors should be able to write a good textbook on the subject they teach, the university should give them a semester or two off of teaching classes to write one, give the professor a little royalty ($1/book?), and then publish and sell the book at cost. $15 to $30 per book. Then don't change it until necessary (calculus could be the exact same book for decades) so that even cheaper used books are plentiful. Many universities even already run their own publishing houses.

I'm not sure where the friction is that prevents this from happening? University presidents like to have fancy dinners with textbook publishing house CEOs?

That's good in theory, but what currently happens is a professor takes a fully paid sabbatical and writes the book for a publishing company. That company sells the book to students for $300 a copy and pays the professor $50 a copy (with a possible sizable amount up front). The professor and friends of the professor requires it for their classes.

The friction that prevents your plan from happening is that the professors won't do it for so cheap. There is a ton of money they can make under the current system.

One professor I work with has produced a textbook for a class she teaches [1] and it is only $60. Some professors are interested in the subject they teach and research. Having a good textbook for your students that you control the content of is great. She produced it in LaTeX and keeps an updated version online. Professors give away their publications to journals all the time so I don't think them holding out for a big paycheck is the reason books don't get produced.

[1] https://www.ucpress.edu/ebook.php?isbn=9780520946378

Can the University press offer a similar deal to their employee/professor, undercut the commercial publisher, save the student money and still profit?

It's possible but what happens often now is the professor is getting paid twice. Paid sabbatical and bonus money for the book. If the University was doing it, they wouldn't pay a person twice for one job. At least that's how my university would view it. Also, I'm not sure if a professor gets much credit from the University toward tenure for writing a book. Because of this, if there is no money involved, I doubt many professor's would do it. They do it for the money only right now.

I don't understand why open textbooks aren't more common. Sure, some things are changing quickly, but a calc or linear algebra? Seems like a quality book (or a couple) could be made for lots of courses. Most schools have a print shop and can do binding. $30 bucks maybe, if you want a hard copy?

A few of my professors did this in college. They wrote their own text (usually focused enough to complement or expand upon the lectures), which cost around $20 at the bookstore. It was a double benefit, because professors who cared enough to do this tended to be better in other ways too.

One excuse is lazy teachers. If you force everyone to buy the latest yearly edition, every year, chances are most students won't have access to the teacher's edition solutions guide yet.

Don’t teachers get rewarded for requiring latest edition of expensive textbook?

No. What gives you the idea, one would think that most people on this forum have seen a university from the inside.

Because they fanatically demand latest edition of expensive book, which has minor changes from previous edition.

I mean, how much editions of well established math book you could do? Every year new one.

If they are getting kickbacks or incentives, I'm guessing they are keeping that on the down low.

Not mentioned here: My college had many textbooks on reserve in the library. You'd check it out for two hours. I didn't buy books for a lot of classes because I just used the reserve copy when I needed it.

Fun trick: grab the international editions. They are usually soft-cover, and the practice problems are often renumbered so you have to find a friend with the US edition, but they are often 1/10 of the cost of the US editions.

I did this all throughout college. I never found them to be different in content in any way, so ESID I guess.

Endorsed by US Supreme Court.

This is all just fluff PR. Follett's continues to have a near monopoly on campus book stores and Pearson has outsized influence given demonstrated (in)competence.

Want cheaper prices? Cut those 2 out, put out more public bids for service, or gasp if you are a 23 campus university system maybe negotiate on behalf of all 23 campuses instead of 1 by 1. Microsoft gave umbrella rates for all of the CSU system, so why not ask publishers to do the same?

Virtually all textbooks are available as pirated copies for free on library genesis. Of course it may be illegal in your jurisdiction to download them. So in a sense this problem is currently fixed, if your ISP allows access to libgen and if you are not worried about the consequences.

Tor is an option.

If a campus were serious about textbook prices they would set up a LON-CAPA server (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LON-CAPA) and employ a dedicated instructional faculty member to maintain the questions database. What students are really paying for is the online homework (the Canada-based Top Hat is a venture-capital based upstart, otherwise each publisher has their own system) because faculty are just too overworked with grading the stuff.

Politically it's easier to shift the burden to the students (and mandatory homework doesn't even count as tuition) than finding funding for the Loncapa maintenance man or the teaching assistant that helps grade the stuff.


What do US students and teachers think about openstax? I've made use of short excerpts of some chapters as extra content in my own teaching (UK, not university level)

I'm a long time out of college but even back then, textbooks were hugely expensive. One trick my school had was the EE/EL club ran their own used book store. We'd buy books at the end of a term and resell them next term for a small profit. Students who sold and/or bought got a great deal and we made money for out club to pay for activities.

A new copy of the textbook for Intermediate Accounting II sells for $373.25

Looking at the prices for accounting books on Amazon, there are two kinds - books for people who need to do accounting for a business, which sell for about $20, and textbooks, which sell for $100-$300. Most of the textbooks come from Wiley or McGraw-Hill.

... Here's some crazy ideas for how to deal with the problem of pricey college books.

1. Stop requiring the latest edition for a class. I strongly doubt that the science behind Physics 201 has changed in the past two years - you can probably teach to the 2008 edition of the textbook, instead of the 2018.

2. Stop requiring textbooks containing one-time digital codes.

3. Stop allowing professors to require their own book as a source for the class. It provides a terrible incentive.

For most of the physics taught to undergraduates my textbooks from '74-'77 would do just fine. Newtonian mechanics, thermodynamics, electromagnetism, and special relativity have not changed. Neither has the mathematics used to describe them. And as for the idea of homework assignments, that's just ludicrous. The only reliable way to demonstrate, both to yourself and others, that you have understood something is to successfully explain it to someone else who can ask searching questions; for instance to a tutor or tutorial group.

Set up digital books for content.

Prohibit/censure teachers for 'requiring' books they wrote when they were never used in class.

Universities should be ranked on based Availablity of Textbooks (i.e. essential for courses offered) as well. It is not uncommon for a University library to claim that they have a gazillion books but when you go to find a course textbook, they have like 3 copies of those.

Universities will do anything for the rankings.

The fundamental issue w/ college prices probably comes down to 1) lack of state/federal funding for institutions, 2) availability of student loans, and 3) lack of good jobs for people without degrees. What is being done to address the fundamental problems?

How about the Netflix of textbooks, pay 30-50$ a month and access all the textbooks on demand?

The rise of Netflix has almost ended the piracy of movies, the same would happen for textbooks if this service was created.

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