Students Struggle to Find Affordable Textbooks

-James Osborne, News Editor

A new semester and new classes bring college students back to two familiar questions: “Why do textbooks cost so much? And how can I save money on my textbooks?”

Many students get frustrated by the high price of textbooks. “I paid $355 for my German textbook last semester,” said Kendyll Covington, a sophomore music theater major. Kristen Leigh is a senior English major and said that because of her major, many of her books are available by other means. “However, I’ve paid $130 for intro math and was expected to shell out $280 for an intro biology course,” said Leigh.

“Nothing can convince me that the prices set by the publishers are anything but extortion for students with few options. I always buy at least one edition back with little textual difference but great price difference. The constant updates also cause resale for these expensive books to plummet; so, if you do splurge on a new book, your resale value is tentative at best,” said Leigh.

Marcelo Eduardo, the dean of the Mississippi College School of Business, said that there are probably three main factors for the cost of college textbooks. One of the biggest reasons is that many students use student loans or some type of financial aid and because of this, students are less sensitive to the price and the publisher can charge more for the book. Eduardo said the price sensitivity falls on the faculty too, because the faculty may not know how much the textbooks for their classes are costing the students. They may not be concerned about the price because the textbook is needed for the class and there is no getting around that. A third factor is how comprehensive the textbook may be. Other factors include the cost to make the books, the demand, and any special items that come with the textbook like CDs or codes for online tools that are used with the text.

In a recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “The $250 Econ 101 Textbook,” economics professor Craig Richardson stated lessons to be learned from the high cost of college textbooks. Richardson said that a key lesson of economics is carefully weighing benefits and cost, yet many professors are unaware of the high cost that their students pay for the books they assign, as some textbooks are even expensive on Amazon. He goes on to explain that since students are usually not paying out of pocket for the books themselves when they purchase them, but are using financial aid, the students are not as concerned about the price. According to the article: “Since 1985, prices of all consumer goods have about doubled, but textbook prices have risen six fold according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics…The cardinal lesson is that prices rise unchecked if the people who order the goods aren’t paying the prices.”

“Per the standard across the industry, textbook cost is primarily driven by the publisher,” said MC Bookstore manager Karen Barnes. “The Mississippi College Bookstore works hard to keep prices competitive. While pricing is primarily driven by the publisher, the bookstore helps students save on textbooks by offering choices like rental, digital, and the largest selection of used books in the industry.”

The MC bookstore is owned by Follet, a college bookstore company, and Follet gets its books from three publishers: McGraw Hill Education, Cengage Learning, and Pearson PLC. While no contact was made with the Cengage and Pearson public relations offices, a customer service representative from McGraw Hill was able to shine some light on how the company determines prices after speaking with her manager. At McGraw Hill there is a business unit, made up of five people, who determine the prices of their textbooks. The business unit determines price after looking at factors discussed with workers from finance, inventory, sales, and the development group. The development group is the group that works with the authors in designing and making the book.

There are a few ways that students can save money on books. “Look for lower cost alternatives,” said Eduardo, “like rentals, and Amazon. Talk to faculty to make them more aware of the prices.”

“We advise students to start shopping early for first dibs on popular options like used and rental,” said Barnes. “Also, check your options – the bookstore understands that every student is unique and their choice in course materials ties to that. Depending on what class you are taking, how you learn or study and what fits within your budget, there is a different course material choice that is right for you,” said Barnes. She also said that the most popular option among students is rental. The rental gives an average of 50 percent or more.

“I use Chegg because I trust it, and it is much cheaper than the bookstore,” said Alex Dougherty, a senior majoring in chemistry and medical sciences. “If you decide you want to change classes at the beginning of the semester, you can easily send back your book for free. Free shipping on all orders over $85 which every student is going to spend at least anyway.” Dougherty also said that students get the first six months of Amazon Prime for free.

 textbooks

Another option is the Mississippi College Textbook Exchange Facebook page, where MC students ask about books and sell their used books. Erin Morin, a 2014 MC graduate who majored in history and English literature, created the page her senior year. “With textbook prices being too high for many students to easily afford, I decided it would be beneficial for the Choctaws to have such a service,” said Morin. “I knew that my books alone could cost up to $1,000 in the bookstore,” said Morin, “Most college students simply can’t afford that.”  She would spend weeks scouring Amazon Marketplace or eBay for reduced prices, but even then the cost was expensive, especially when factoring in the cost of shipping and the risk of delays in receiving the books.   “Some of my friends would post on Facebook asking if any of their friends had certain books,” said Morin, “I thought that creating a page for all students to buy, sell, or trade their used textbooks would make it even easier for students to get access to the books they needed.  Most students are willing to take less than $50 for any given book, which is much more manageable for most college budgets.”

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